Celebrity Poker Showdown      
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Celebrity Poker Showdown

Celebrity Poker Showdown
is worth watching for one reason and one reason only: the banter. (I assume you really want to learn something about poker from, so I'm being very blunt here!) In other words, watching Celebrity Poker Showdown should be for the same as why you might watch Hollywood Squares; nobody banters like celebrities banter, and if you just wanted trivia, you'd watch Jeopardy. If you just want poker, there are better options, with the World Poker Tour and the 2005 World Series of Poker at the top of the list.

The NBC-owned BRAVO network launched Celebrity Poker Showdown in December of 2003. The show is now in its fifth season (six episodes per season) and going strong. In each two-hour episode, five celebs of stage, screen, and sports duke it out for charity in a freeze-out (elimination) game of No Limit Texas Hold 'Em. The sixth episode pits the winners of the first five games against each other for what hosts call, "the lion's share", of the prize pool.

The game is played in front of a live studio audience at the Palms Casino resort in Las Vegas. The prize pool is a fat $250,000 and is divided as follows; all players are guaranteed $5,000 for their chosen charities, 5th place gets $7,500, 4th - $10,000, 3rd - $12,500, 2nd - $20,000, and 1st place wins a whopping $100,000.

One humorous element of Celebrity Poker Showdown is the gaudy "Loser's Lounge" where four of the players inevitably filter to watch and comment on the rest of game. It's somehow gratifying to see how self-deprecating (and drunk) a millionaire TV star can get.

For many poker fans a significant bonus to Celebrity Poker Showdown is the number of women at the table, something seen far too little in most televised tournaments. Of course it's not the tournaments' faults that men far outnumber women in professional poker. But in the somewhat arbitrary domain of a TV game show, the producers are not so tied down. There are a ton of female poker players out there, and as Celebrity Poker Showdown proves, quite often they dominate the table. In fact, the first two season's champions are women (though I won't name names and completely ruin the surprise).

A make-or-break element of any televised sport is the announcer or announcers. Either they educate and inform, or they clown and distract. They're either a John Madden or a Dennis Miller. Celebrity Poker Showdown host Dave Foley is of Miller's ilk. I understand that the old TV shows "The Kids In The Hall" and "Newsradio" were funny. Alas, Dave Foley is not. Fortunately, two-time World Poker Tour champion Phil Gordon is eminently likable and his poker knowledge is solid. Plus, he'll come right out and say, "Now that was a stupid play. Why would anyone want to do that?" I appreciate his candor.

Yes, the players on Celebrity Poker Showdown are for the most part novices and they make terrible mistakes, time and time again. But from a viewer's standpoint, this can be useful. Part of the thrill of any televised poker game is trying to figure out what move a player should make before they make it. From, say, the World Poker Tour, I generally learn to improve my game by watching the pros make completely different, and significantly wiser, plays than I would have.

But in Celebrity Poker Showdown, it's the reverse. When Phil Gordon and I both simultaneously rub our foreheads in utter disbelief, I feel like I’ve learned something.

I admit, I liked rooting for Dule Hill (The West Wing) and Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction). And if another celebrity I like is playing, I won't hesitate to watch this show again. Besides, it's fun to see stars get blotto, and they do; the scantily clad cocktail wait staff sure keep those drinks coming. But all kidding aside, I'm truly glad Celebrity Poker Showdown exists, if for no other reason than for the good causes that receive the prize money.
Still, the greatest personal thrill I get out of this show is when I root for Phil Gordon in other, more serious poker tournaments then the fluffy Celebrity Poker Showdown.

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