When I was a kid my dad used to watch pro bowling on ABC every Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I remember as a kid thinking nothing could be more of a waste of my time than watching some guy named Earl Anthony do on TV what my dad and his buddies used to do every Thursday night.
But now, thanks to the glut of poker on television, I now know the joy my dad felt watching professionals compete in a completely un-athletic contest that he could also compete in. I admit it: I love that the poker boom that hit about five years ago is still alive and well.
I learned to play the game when I was 11 or 12 from Chuck, my crazy cousin's psychotic husband. He taught me the basics -- 7-card stud and five-card draw -- as well as crazy games like Midnight Baseball and "Chase the Bitch." I'm sure in whatever penitentiary Chuck presently resides in, the game "Chase the Bitch" has taken on a whole new meaning.
Anyway, for years, the only place outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City to play was in your home and the only way to watch it on TV was on ESPN once a year at 2 in the morning. But now, thanks to the movie Rounders and college kids spending their tuition in online poker games, I can now drive less than an hour to find a legal game.
Better than that -- I can now find a poker game to watch on television every night of the week. NBC's Poker After Dark comes on at 2:05 a.m. nightly, after that robotic hipster Carson Daly does whatever the hell he does in the middle of the night.
The show -- which has to be viewed via your Tivo-like device of choice thanks to its late start time -- is not for everyone. It's not like coverage of the World Series of Poker or the World Poker Tour, where you have an announcer calling every bit of the action.
This is basically six people -- usually well-known pros -- sitting around, talking and playing winner-takes-all poker for $120,000. There is an announcer who occasionally interjects something less-than witty and the ceremonial, meaningless "hot girl" interviewer to talk to the players as they get eliminated, but by and large, it's just six guys (and/or girls) playing cards and talking shit.
In between bluffing and raising, they tell stories about a bad beat they took at the table 15 years ago, or great stories about the "good old days" of high-stakes poker. They talk about playing golf at several thousands of dollars a hole, and strange bets they've won and lost over the years.
The casual poker fan probably won't get or enjoy this program. But if you love the game and the personalities like Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Mike Matusow and my personal favorite Scotty Nguyen, then this is the perfect show for you and well worth an hour of space on your recorder.