`Poker Dome' covers new angles

ON GAMBLING

The Kickoff

May 30, 2006|By BILL ORDINE

Televised poker took another twist this weekend with the debut of Fox Sports Network's Poker Dome Challenge, a show that will rely more on technological pizazz than on riveting world-class poker play.

The show was taped live Saturday and broadcast in many markets at 11 p.m. Sunday. Locally, the show is listed on the Comcast SportsNet Web site for airing at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

In most poker shows, it's the players who are the stars - frequently familiar card sharks with distinctive playing styles - but in Poker Dome, it's the gadgetry that takes center stage.

The dome is a cross between a contestant's isolation booth from a 1950s quiz show and Maxwell Smart's Cone of Silence. The players are sequestered in a see-through, soundproof dome. While the audience sees and hears the action, the players are completely isolated.

The live and TV audiences will not only see the players' hole cards, as has become the norm, but they'll also get an up-to-the-minute count of the players' chips and see a graphic that reflects the players' heart rates.

Beyond the electronic gimmicks, there are two further elements to Poker Dome that should prove interesting.

For starters, this will be speed poker. Rather than having a protracted time to make decisions and stare down opponents, a player will have just 15 seconds to make a move. If a player fails to make a decision within the 15-second time limit, that hand will be declared dead, meaning it will be folded if the player is facing a bet or checked if there is no bet.

In regular tournaments, players get generous leeway on time and are put on a clock only when another player requests it. The 15-second limit is expected to increase the number of hands from a normal 15 to 20 per hour to 80 to 100, which is more akin to Internet play. And the quicker pace will certainly diminish the importance of reading "tells," non-verbal reactions that give away a player's hand; there simply won't be enough time.

And finally, the TV production turnaround for the Poker Dome programs will be just 24 hours. Many markets got the show a day after it was taped Saturday at the Tropicana casino in Las Vegas. The most familiar poker programs, such as the World Series of Poker on ESPN and others, are aired weeks or months after they're actually played.

If FSN can put out a crisp, compelling show on such a quick turnaround, it could pave the way for more immediacy in TV poker tournaments so that they become more like event programming rather than documentaries.

What will be missing from Poker Dome are the top pros. The program is backed by an emerging online poker site, MansionPoker.net, and players win their way into the live tournaments by playing on the Web site for free.

The 43-week show will be aired in seven-week segments with the winner of each episode earning $25,000 and a seat in that tournament's final table. The six finalists compete on the seventh week with the winner getting $50,000 and a seat in the grand finale. At the end, the six winners of each tournament play for $1 million winner-take-all.

Several months ago, FSN and MansionPoker announced what seemed like an unbelievable $10 million buy-in tournament with professional Phil Ivey as the first player to sign up. It turned out to be, well, unbelievable, at least for now. Plans have been put on hold for a year and instead, FSN plans to air a live $1 million tournament July 12 with players also qualifying on MansionPoker.net.

Upping the ante

In recent years, the high-end poker action in Las Vegas has gravitated to the Bellagio, scene of the so-called Big Game where pros and high rollers play for tens of thousands of dollars, often more, on a single hand.

More recently, two more Vegas Strip heavyweights have opened large poker rooms hoping to grab a slice of the well-heeled poker market - and whatever associated revenue follows that traffic, such as play at other casino games and spending at upscale restaurants.

Caesars Palace opened a 63-table room (30 for cash games and 33 reserved for tournament play) on New Year's Eve and last month, the Venetian introduced an 11,000-square-foot room with 32 tables on the main floor and seven in a high-limit area, which also happens to have butler service and gourmet dining.

To help gain ground on the competition, the Venetian is offering a promotion that obviously hopes to capitalize on the poker play coming into town for the seven-week World Series of Poker at the Rio from late June through early August.

The Venetian will hold a $500,000 free-roll tournament, meaning no buy-in or entry fees, Aug. 11-13, for players who put in the required amount of playing time. Players can qualify with either 50 hours of play each month in May, June and July or with a total of 200 hours by July 31. The play has to be at cash games and recorded by poker room personnel.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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