World Poker Tour is the show that first helped me to start winning at poker, so of course I love it. The World Poker Tour (WPT) is a series of freeze-out (elimination) no limit Texas Holdem tournaments that travels around the world to famous casinos like Foxwoods, the Mirage, the Bicycle, the Horseshoe, and the Borgata, in exotic locales like Aruba, the Bahamas, Paris, San Francisco and, of course, Reno and Las Vegas. Hundreds of diehard gamblers converge on each World Poker Tour event to risk thousands of dollars for a shot at hundreds of thousands, often millions, though in this arena many players vie for the title of champion among champions even more than the money. The six-player final table of each tournament airs Wednesday nights on cable’s Travel channel, with rebroadcasts and occasional special events (like the star-studded Hollywood Home Game) on weekends.
The World Poker Tour attracts the best of the best players, including all the big-name poker stars, who follow the tour from city to city, laying down enormous sums of cash to compete against their peers. Even those amateurs who manage to make it to the final table still beat out hundreds of seasoned players to get there. By getting to see the players' cards as each hand is played, I learn more about poker from one episode of the World Poker Tour than I've learned in a lifetime of play.
As with any televised sport, the World Poker Tour has its regular hosts who impact my enjoyment of the program more than I'd like. As far as I'm concerned, Vince Van Patten is the show's biggest drawback. The limited selection of quips he regurgitates ad nauseum are tired and witless. (If I hear him say that a player's laid the twigs and branches over their spider-hole one more time…) Often I mute the television and watch the game in silence because of him. By contrast Shana Hiatt is always a sight for sore eyes, delivering her periodic info-segments with charm and grace. Rounding out the cast is Mike Sexton who is neither great nor terrible at what he does.
Most likely because so much of the game of poker is mental, and thus devoid of action, the producers try to spice up the format with poker trivia, a pop-up poker glossary, player interviews and bios, and mini-docs on various poker-related topics. Once the fourth player is eliminated from the table, there's a flashy production made of bringing out the prize money and laying it on the table for last two players to salivate over as they duke it out head-to-head. It's all cute, but not entirely necessary. I know that to squeeze a game that could run upwards of 6 hours into a 2-hour time slot, the producers have to edit out the majority of hands, broadcasting only what is deemed the most relevant and exciting. I understand why they do it, but I wouldn't mind seeing more of the game.
What's most exciting for cash-poor, poker-loving homebodies like me is that the World Poker Tour does not have to be merely a spectator sport. Many websites, including Party Poker and Ultimate Bet, offer satellite games with super-cheap buy-ins that give amateurs the chance to join the pros at the next World Poker Tour table. In season 2, online casinos sent 30 internet poker winners to play in the World Poker Tour championship at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, a game with a $25,000 buy-in and a $2.7 million first prize. I've consistently seen satellite players at WPT final tables, and I expect I'll see increasingly more as time goes by. With poker's booming popularity it's almost a sure thing, and those kind of odds are hard to come by. Who knows who'll show up next on the World Poker Tour?
-- by Sage Kalmus