The first installment of the Pokerstars.net Million Dollar Challenge aired Sunday after football on Fox, and like the NFL action, there were plenty of winning plays and brutal beats as Father John Trapp did his best to earn a seat at the show's final table and a chance to win the $1 million grand prize.
The first thing that struck me while viewing the show was the overall set design. Featuring a colorful soundstage with phenomenal lighting, the PMDC is an attractive show to watch, which helps during the show's slower moments. Designed to replicate some of the top game show sets, the PMDC set lived up to its hype by giving viewers plenty to look at during the show. It may be the unsung hero of the program.
The people behind the show quickly scored several points with me thanks to the PMDC's veteran poker announcer, Chris Rose. Unlike other poker shows' announcers on television, Rose did a great job of carrying the commentary while the players went after each other. Some have struggled because of their lack of experience with the game, but Rose did an excellent job of keeping things moving while providing solid color commentary.
As the show progressed, it became clear that although the show may be about contestants winning $1 million, Daniel Negreanu is the show's star. Although the South Carolina priest provided an interesting story line for the first episode, it was Negreanu who stole the show with his warm demeanor and the sometimes hilarious commentary and advice he offered Trapp.
The show moved quickly as Trapp got off to a good start after facing John Salley, a former four-time NBA champion. Bolstered by Negreanu's advice, Trapp made quick work of the former NBA great while providing one of the more hilarious moments in the show when he pulled out his rosary to get some help from "the higher power." Not one to be outdone, Salley, a devout Buddhist, whipped out his prayer beads as well. Fortunately for Trapp, his hand held, and he moved on to the second round of play.
Having won a trip to the Bahamas by winning the first round, Trapp set his sights on a seat at the show's final table. His next opponent was Team Pokerstars Pro Vanessa Rousso. Although during this round Negreanu wasn't by Trapp's side, he was in the show's isolation booth offering advice that helped Trapp beat Rousso. Once again, Negreanu gave viewers an insight into how a top player thinks when profiling a hand or player. Fortunately for Trapp, Negreanu's advice helped push him over the top as he soundly defeated Rousso to make his way to the $100,000 round.
Despite having the chance to keep the $25,000 he won in the previous round, Trapp decided he was going to try to win the $1 million to help build a new church for his parishioners. Supported by the parents of his future godchild and the studio audience, Trapp pushed forward against Negreanu as an opponent in the third round. It was obvious that Trapp faced a challenge in matching wits with Kid Poker as he desperately tried to keep Negreanu from picking up any tells he may have found while working with him before the $100,000 round.
Unlike on other shows where the players seem to have little vested interest in a challenger winning, it was obvious that Negreanu had taken a liking to Trapp, and this added to the excitement of the $100K round. Fortunately for Trapp, his road to the $1 million promised land will continue because he dispatched Negreanu with a pair of eights that outlasted Negreanu's double gutshot straight draw. Trapp will return to play in a final table sit-n-go against other $100K winners where, if he wins, he will get to take on Negreanu for the $1 million.
Although Trapp's storyline was interesting and made for great television, especially because he kept catching cards the way one thinks a holy man would, Negreanu dominated the show. Poker has a lot of stars, but few can carry an hour-long show the way he can. Unafraid to voice his opinions or shed light on his poker tactics, Negreanu gives insight without hesitation on what it takes to be a winning player. His interest in seeing an opponent like Trapp win was evident, which makes the show's story line more compelling because of the student-teacher relationship. He wants his student-opponents to win, so you can see his frustration with having to play them for the additional money. Fortunately for the television audience, Negreanu had no problem shifting from instructor to one-man demolition team, so fans can expect him to felt more than his share of players during the show's run.
In the end, the PMDC is a solid addition to poker programming because it brings exciting action to audiences without compromising the human element needed to cross age and cultural boundaries. Thanks to the fact that the show follows the NFL, the PMDC may succeed when it comes to finding an audience, and if the first show is any indicator, there is plenty for fans to tune in for.
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