The latest entry into the poker television world is Full Tilt Poker’s Doubles Poker Championship. For those who watched the team championship competition in last year’s World Series of Poker Europe, the playing format is the same as the doubles matches that took place there. The game consists of two-player teams, in this case four sets of players beginning each match. One player on the team plays the cards pre-flop, and then passes them to his/her partner for flop play. The players continue to alternate action on the turn and the river. Each team is allowed one 30-second timeout during the match, where the players can actually discuss the hand and decide on an action together. Otherwise, each player is on his/her own when playing. Each match is played as a freeze-out tournament, with the team finishing fourth getting zero points, third place taking four points each, second place amassing eleven points and the winners banking twenty points apiece.
Although the championship is played as a team format, each of the thirty-two players who began play is ultimately playing for himself, as players are paired up with different partners in each round, and advancement into the playoffs is based on individual total points scored during the four preliminary rounds. Each player buys in for $50,000, theoretically of his own money, and the team assignments are made by blind draw.
The announcing team for the telecasts includes David Tuchman and Brandon Adams, with Lacey Jones as the sideline reporter, and all of them are certainly up to the task, although not nearly as polished, humorous or insightful as the Rose-Stapleton-Leatherman team on The Big Game. The production itself has some major issues. Unlike any other poker show, it is impossible to see the bet amounts from one of the two teams on the screen, as they disappear out of the bottom of the frame below the players’ names. Similarly, the outs needed to win the hand for a team that is all-in are largely out of the frame on top. Since the announcers are often just noting that players are raising without naming specific amounts, the effect is extremely disconcerting, and makes it much more difficult to get a sense of what is truly going on at the table. These seem to be very simple technical items that any beginning production team should be able to handle, and so it is a mystery as to why they were not corrected by this very experienced group before airing the shows.
Tonight’s telecast featured two third-round tournaments. The first paired David Oppenheim with Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Gavin Smith with Andrew “Lucky Chewey” Lichtenberger, Nick Schulman with Erik Seidel and Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond with Greg “FBT” Mueller. Going into the match, Oppenheim was in desperate shape with just 4 points, Mueller was in almost as much trouble with 11, Ferguson and Smith had 15 apiece, Seidel had 20, Schulman 24, and Galfond and Lichtenberger sat with a comfortable 31 points.
Oppenheim felt that he needed to gamble to try and get the 20 points, and the opportunity arose early on in a hand where Mueller completed in the small blind with and Ferguson made it 4,800 with pocket deuces. Mueller called, and the flop brought 4-4-3, with two diamonds. Galfond checked and Oppenheim bet 6,200. Galfond decided to push all-in with his inside straight-flush draw, and Oppenheim called time-out. Ferguson made it known that he was OK with either decision from his partner, and Oppenheim decided to call. The on the turn completed the flush, and the on the river sealed the deal, eliminating Ferguson and Oppenheim in 4th place.
Smith and Lichtenberger were the next to go out when they ran K-J into Schulman and Seidel’s A-J. The board ran out 10-Q-6-2-3, and Smith and Licthenberger collected four points for 3rd place.
Galfond and Mueller took the lead when their A-Q went up against Schulman and Seidel’s Q-8. The flop of 9-7-Q was a dangerous one for Seidel, and he just check-called Mueller’s lead bet on the flop. However, when the fell on the turn, Schulman decided to lead out, and Galfond called a time-out. He and Mueller discussed a couple of options, and decided to push all-in to make their opponents pay if they had a draw. Schulman called, and the river was the , pushing Mueller and Galfond into a huge lead.
Galfond and Mueller wound up taking down the match when the two teams got all the chips into the middle pre-flop, with Galfond pushing with and Schulman making the call with . Although Schulman had a huge lead going into the flop, the flipped the two teams’ chances around. The on the turn gave Galfond and Mueller the wheel and the match, and Galfond a lock on a playoff position with 51 points. Schulman and Lichtenberger (35) and Seidel and Mueller (31) remained tightly bunched for spots in the next round, while the others lagged far behind.
The second match of the night saw Howard “The Professor” Lederer (31 points)-David Chiu (15 points), Andy Bloch (8)-Justin Smith (11), David Benyamine (0!)-Erick Lindgren (31) and Gus Hansen (11) Vivek Rajkumar (31) squaring off. Most of these players needed to score points in a hurry, with just one more preliminary round to go before the semi-finals, with Benyamine being in the unenviable position of almost certainly needing to win BOTH his remaining matches to have any hope of advancing.
The first team to go out was Hansen-Rajkumar. Bloch raised with pocket queens to 5,600, and Benyamine called on the button with . Hansen decided push all-in with A-10, and Bloch also put all his chips in the middle. Benyamine folded, and the flop brought 2-6-K. The on the turn and the on the river knocked out Hansen and Rajkumar with zero points, meaning that Hansen’s run in the championship was almost certainly over.
Lindgren raised to 7,000 with pocket jacks, and Chiu immediately pushed all-in with A-2. Smith folded and Lindgren called. The board brought , and Lederer and Chiu were out in 3rd with 4 points, likely spelling the end for Chiu as well.
With the two remaining teams fairly even in chips, Lindgren found pocket nines on the button and raised to 8,000. Smith then pushed all-in with a pair of eights, only to see the bad news when Lindgren called. The flop of J-7-A was no help, and the and the finished the match, with Lindgren moving into a tie for first place with Galfond, and Benyamine staying alive going into his final match.
The show’s format is a very interesting one, however, the matches have a much choppier feel to them than other poker shows that are currently on the air. It almost feels as if the producers are trying to get too much done in each hour, and as a result, the show winds up feeling like a series of disjointed hands, rather than a polished whole. As the playoffs approach, we’ll see if things smooth out in the weeks to come.