Six players - 2 dealers - 15 seconds per decision - 150 people in a live television audience, plus millions of viewers at home, and $25,000 cash on the line in a winner-takes-all format. That's pressure. That's Speed Poker. That's the MansionPoker Poker Dome Challenge.
This completely new poker television show is being filmed for a few more days at the Tropicana in Las Vegas before being moved into the newly constructed Poker Dome at the Neonopolis in downtown Vegas. The Poker Dome Challenge pits six players against each other and the clock in a high-pressure, high-speed poker showdown where only one player walks away the winner.
Through tvtickets.com, I was able to secure tickets to the Poker Dome Challenge taping on July 9th, and by a happy coincidence, my friend and writer Jen Leo won a chance to compete on that very show. I am not able to disclose anything about the outcome of the show until it airs on July 23rd, but I felt that Jen was definitely one of the top players there and acquitted herself very well.
The feeling in the studio was anticipatory as we filed into our seats. There are 12 flat-screen TVs on the wall arranged by competitor, with one main center screen as well. Each player has a monitor all to themselves, showing their facial expressions and reactions to the crowd. Below that, each competitor has a monitor displaying their hole cards, chip counts and heart rate. Chips have radio transmitters in them to keep the chip counts accurate at all times.
Players start with 50,000 chips, with starting blinds of 1,000/1,000. With 20-minute levels, players definitely have a chance to play some poker. The tourney is structured to give players room to make moves, and to avoid becoming an all-in fest. Veteran Tournament Director Matt Savage is on hand to make sure that things run smoothly, and on the episode I watched, his job seemed very simple indeed. No rulings needed, no questionable calls were made, and everything was run very smoothly.
And very quickly, the format of the tournament is speed poker, an interesting blend of online poker speed with live poker excitement. Action is pot limit betting pre-flop, then no-limit on all following streets. Once only two players remain, all action is no-limit. Each player has 15 seconds to make their decision before the hand is automatically checked or declared dead if there is action ahead of them. To assist in making difficult decisions, players have one 30-second time extension that they can use, and they are granted another time extension if they last to heads-up play.
An innovation unique to the Poker Dome that may well carry over into other tournaments is the "all-in" chip. When a player wishes to declare themselves all-in, they simply toss the oversized All-In chip on the table, saving the hassle of shoving large chip stacks into the middle. The use of an All-In chip in other tourneys might have led to Doyle Brunson going deeper in 2005's WSOP Main Event, when his opponent misunderstood Doyle's verbal declaration of "All-In" for a call and Doyle was outdrawn for his tournament life on an inadvertent call.
The six-person winner-take-all format lends itself to aggressive play, and we witnessed massive swings of chip leads before a winner was finally crowned. The crowd was into the action from the first hand, and it was fascinating to watch the hole cards and critique the players as they were making moves on their opponents or calling down suspected bluffs. The heart rate monitors added an additional level of excitement to the show, letting the audience see exactly how thrilling this format is for the players. The Poker Dome Challenge is an exciting way to spend an evening, so check it out starting July 29th at the Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas.