The Pro-Am Poker Equalizer, which has been seemingly one of the harder poker programs to find on the television dial, began airing its final few broadcasts over the weekend on ESPN.
Originally, the show was to have aired on ABC during the fall and early winter of 2006. Due to conflicts with two of ABC's most popular weekend programming, college football and basketball, ABC delayed broadcast. This was quickly fixed, however, by ESPN (ABC's sister network) being more than willing to fill their weekend schedule with the eight episode series during the early part of 2007. Although it would have been fantastic for the poker world to have the show on a national network such as ABC, the concept that makes up the Pro-Am Poker Equalizer is pretty unique, so it is great that people have gotten a chance to see it.
Filmed at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas last year, each episode of the show is a six person sit and go, with four professionals squaring off against two celebrities and the winner advancing on to the championship round. The "Equalizer" part comes into play with the starting chip stack that the celebrities begin with. While the pros have a 100K chip stack to start the tournament, the celebrities have been given a 50K addition to their 100K, which gives the celebs a chance against some of the greatest players in the game. After seven tournaments, each winner advances to the Championship Table, where the grand prize of $500,000 is divided up. What has been interesting about the show is the choice of the celebrities to play the tournament and the "amateur" status of one in particular.
Many of the Full Tilt professionals are a part of the show, including Phil Ivey, Erick Lindgren, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Howard Lederer (making a move to the tables rather than his usual analyst gig) and Jennifer Harman. Pros from outside the Full Tilt circle have included defending World Champion Jamie Gold, Ted Forrest and poker analyst Gabe Kaplan. The celebrities have been well chosen, including actresses Cheryl Hines and Shannon Elizabeth (who both played well), actor Don Cheadle, model Cindy Margolis (who seemed lost sometimes, to be honest), former baseballer Jose Canseco and (perhaps in a surprise) 2005 WSOP Ladies' Champion Jennifer Tilly. Tilly's choice as a celebrity is odd, as well as Kaplan landing on the professional side (albeit understandable, as Gabe is a long time high stakes poker player), but we'll let the organizers of the show slide on that one!
One bothersome thing about the program is the seeming lack of excitement from the audience. With most poker programming with an audience, the crowd is heavily involved in the action and picks their "favorites" with their cheering. With the Pro-Am Poker Equalizer, though, it seems like the audience is watching a chess match rather than an entertaining poker tournament. In one particular episode, professional Clonie Gowen has Jennifer Tilly all in and only has one out to a straight flush to eliminate Tilly (who had the nut flush draw). On the turn, Gowen hits her one-outer and…the audience seemingly barely recognizes it. This was a much more exciting hand than the way the audience reacted and something that was missing, in my opinion, from the program.
Even with these things said, the Pro-Am Poker Equalizer's wrap-up this weekend should prove to be some entertaining poker. Already qualified for the final table are Phil Ivey, Phil Laak, Andy Bloch, Allen Cunningham and celebrity player Nick Gonzalez. The final two episodes will air on today at 3PM (Eastern Time) with the Championship Round scheduled for 5PM. With $500K on the line, you can expect both the pros and any other amateurs who make it to battle it out to the end when the Pro-Am Poker Equalizer wraps up on Sunday. For more information on the tournament, head to proampokerequalizer.com and catch up on what's already gone down.