Let's look at Face the Ace in culinary terms. When it comes to the current crop of poker television shows, NBC's Face the Ace is like a fish fillet on a Vegas buffet. It might look appetizing from afar with those grill marks and the little chopped chives sprinkled on top, but once you dig in, it's cold, underseasoned, and in desperate need of some acid. The first two episodes of Face the Ace were universally reviled, and, thankfully, before the show returned in its regular Saturday afternoon time slot this past weekend, the producers engaged in a bit of retooling for the broadcast. The results? Far fewer cringe-worthy moments but we're still far from "Must-See TV." Let's call it a passable dish, but not one we're dying to try again.
One of the best decisions that was made behind the scenes of Face the Ace was to increase Ali Nejad's presence onscreen while scaling back some of Steve Schrippa's (painfully unfunny) banter with the contestants. More Ali Nejad is always a good thing when it comes to poker television — he's smart, articulate, and with his other gig as the voice of Poker After Dark, he's becoming a familiar voice to fans when it comes to commentary.
This week's episode also had a far more outgoing, energetic contestant in Adam Erlich. Sharing the fact that he once tried out for The Apprentice was a good move but revealing that he'd read the book "How to be a TV Contestant" before appearing on the show didn't exactly endear him to the audience any further. Although his personality bordered on grating, and he tended to the overdramatic while tossing in those reraises, Erlich was head and shoulders above the previous contestants when it came to chatting up the pros and talking the audience through his thought process.
Chris Ferguson and Phil Gordon, the episode's two featured "Aces," were clearly comfortable in front of the camera and their banter with Erlich was smooth and friendly. This was a marked improvement from past episodes in which conversation was awkward at best. Remember when Phil Ivey attempted to chat up an utterly star-struck Jonathan Nygaard?
Production also scored points by throwing some interesting bread crumbs to inspire discussion between the pros and the contestants. We learned about Ferguson's history with early online poker, and Gordon's apparent new career as a llama farmer. He owns two, Dalai Llama and Barack Ollama.
The audience also appeared far more engaged this week, or at least more liquored up. Inviting the contestant's supporters to crowd around the table during all-in situations created more drama and tension while the crowd called for all-ins and booed when anyone folded. One rowdy spectator even shouted "Roshambo for 200!" at known rock-paper-scissors aficionado Phil Gordon.
Erlich was confident at the table and after getting his money in with the best hand and losing several times to Chris Ferguson, he was finally able to come out on top, picking up $40,000 for his win. After deciding to let it ride, he sat down against Phil Gordon in his $200,000 match. Gordon was surprisingly conflicted over his role as “dream killer.”
“It’s really tough to sit over here. I want you to win but I still have to play my best,” Gordon said.
Ultimately, Erlich got the rest of his chips in with against Gordon’s , but Gordon hit middle pair on the flop. Erlich couldn’t find an ace on the turn or the river, and his $40,000 went up in smoke leaving the amateur to exit the set empty-handed but graceful in defeat.
Despite some substantial improvements, when it comes down to it, the quality of Face the Ace truly hinges on the chemistry between the contestants and the pros they play. Unfortunately for viewers, that’s not a draw that is going to hit every time.
Face the Ace returns to NBC on October 31. Think you can take on the pros? Open an account on Full Tilt Poker and earn your spot on the show.