Wasn’t looking so good at first, as Washington scored a touchdown within the first minute of play. When Carolina countered with a safety, I noted that the score -- 7-2 -- resembled the kind of hand Carolina fans had been dealt all year thus far. Got as bad as 17-2 in the second half, but somehow the Panthers got their act together and won 20-17. Good news for my team, More Cowbell.
After the game, I kept the tube on to watch the premiere of the “PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge” on the Fox network. I’ll be honest -- my hopes for the show, which from what I’d read sounded not terribly unlike the less-than-thrilling “Face the Ace,” were not that high. I’d be pulling for it, just as I had pulled for the Panthers. But like with the Panthers, I can’t say I was expecting greatness.
Really not fair to the show, coming at it with such low expectations. But I find myself wondering what exactly shows like “PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge” and “Face the Ace” have to offer those of us who are already fully immersed in the poker scene? (More on that below.) By the way, there are spoilers here, so if you are planning to watch the show online or on your TiVo or whatever, you might just skip to the last three paragraphs.
The show was hosted by Chris Rose, who calls MLB and NFL games for Fox and has hosted Fox Sports’ “The Best Damn Sports Show Period.” Rose appeared much better suited for this sort of thing than was Steve Schirripa on “Face the Ace.” (The pretty Michelle Nunes also had a little face time to announce a freeroll on PS for viewers.) As a PokerStars production, there were a number of PS pros shown on the set, but only a couple participated in the proceedings, with Daniel Negreanu announced early on as “the star of the show.”
Like with “Face the Ace,” what we have here is poker being squeezed into a “Deal or No Deal” game-show type format, with a contestant first playing a heads-up no-limit hold’em match versus a celebrity (a non-poker professional). If the contestant wins that first match, he or she gets a paid trip to the Bahamas during the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. (No entries or anything, it sounded like.) The contestant also wins a second match against a PokerStars pro, and if he or she wins that one the prize is $25,000 and the chance to play one more match against Negreanu for $100K. (If the contestant loses the third match, he or she apparently also loses the $25K.) Winning the third match also gets one entry into another sit-n-go down the road, the winner of which takes home $1 million.
There were a number of gimmicky twists thrown in as well involving Negreanu. He sits at the table with the contestant for the first match, coaching but not looking at cards. He then sits in a booth with a headset and advises the player during the second match, this time being able to know the contestant’s hole cards, too. There are other particulars in there involving time outs and whatnot, but you get the gist.
The featured contestant for the first episode was actually a Catholic priest, Father Andrew Trapp of Garden City, South Carolina. You can read more about Fr. Trapp and the whole question of where poker and/or gambling fits into Catholic teaching here. On the show, some fun was had now and then when Fr. Trapp blessed the cards, thanked God when a fortunate river card completed his flush, and so forth.
Indeed, in the first match in which Fr. Trapp played former NBA player John Salley, he was all in and needed a river spade to survive. When the came on the end, Fr. Trapp turned to the camera and said “For all the non-believers in our viewing audience, that was proof that God exists,” getting a laugh from Negreanu and others. Salley countered that it proved “God is dangerous,” and we cut to commercial.
Salley proved a predictably awful opponent, and soon after Fr. Trapp’s fortunate flush the basketball player horribly mangled a hand resulting in the priest winning the match. Five hands were shown in the Salley match. Fr. Trapp then moved to face Vanessa Rousso. They shared some table banter during the three hands shown, which concluded with another win for the priest. Fr. Trapp, who’d noted that the money he won would be going toward the building of a new church, went for the third match against Negreanu, and in just four hands he’d won that one, too.
On his Twitter, Pokerati Dan yesterday noted that while he’d missed the second half of the show, he liked the first half. “Overall a pretty good infomercial,” said Dan. Indeed, my read of the Twitter crowd was that the show was basically well received, with several noting that it was more fun to watch than was “Face the Ace.”
As I suggest above, I personally couldn’t get into the show very much and was wondering while watching what exactly I was getting from it. Negreanu is certainly a smart, funny guy and has a winning enough personality to make a show somewhat interesting, but like Dan I found myself responding to the show with the same sort of ambivalence I do when watching an infomercial. The only difference here is I have already bought the product (having long ago opened a PokerStars account). Of course, whenever I linger over other infomercials, I never, ever buy the product, so my sense of detachment there is in fact quite similar to what I was experiencing yesterday afternoon watching “PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge.”
The show might well prove a bit more compelling as it continues, with different contestants and that prospect of the million dollar sit-n-go at the end drawing closer. And while my interest might increase eventually, my hopes for the show remain tempered, not unlike my hopes for the Panthers for the rest of the season. In other words, I ain’t expecting any miraculous conversion on my part to occur.