Wild Bill Hickock could never have imagined it Poker has moved from the back of the bar room to the living room, where whole families watch televised tournaments, rooting for their favorite players. TV has reshaped the face of poker. Now, televised poker itself is being reshaped as the Ultimate Poker Challenge bursts on the scene, toppling the competition.
After only weeks in syndication, the unique format and innovative approach has made this newcomer the highest-rated poker show on the air today. How does a new show take the industry by storm? After all, poker is poker and Texas Hold’em is Texas Hold’em.
Its stellar entry is no accident; executive producers, Dan Pugliese and Sam Riddle, are successful veterans of both poker and television. Their secret is adding Las Vegas glitz and glamour to the game. Filmed at the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Ultimate Poker Challenge is produced more like a variety show that a sports program.
It’s fast paced, informative, and most importantly, it’s fresh. Instead of the same tournament played over and over again on cable, Ultimate Poker Challenge has 26 original tournaments. The player who wins the week’s event automatically moves on to the semi-finals and the chance to win the ultimate grand prize, over one million dollars.
Each week, players have the chance to win game points, a free vacation, and a percentage of the prize money, which can total $116,400, if there are 200 players. The buy-in is $1,000 and every participant is issued $2,500 in chips. The game is No Limit Texas Hold’em, you can bet it all in one hand.
Ultimate Poker Challenge players are a well-rounded mix of professionals, rising circuit players, and amateurs. A doctor, sports psychologist, computer consultant, construction worker, engineer, stockbroker, and a surfer have all gotten a chance to play with top competitors like Todd Brunson, Chris Ferguson, Andy Bloch, Barry Greenstein, Thor Hanson, and Scotty Nguyen.
Riddle says one of the most amazing aspects of tournament poker is that it’s a chance for the average guy to play with champions. “You can’t do that in any other sport. No one is going to get a shot boxing with Mike Tyson or golfing with Tiger Woods. In poker you can compete with the best players in the world, sometimes you get lucky.”
Riddle knows all about how to make someone a star. He was a creator of Star Search, the popular talent show that preceded American Idol. Ultimate Poker Challenge is turning celebrity poker pros into household names by using them as co-hosts. Many of these players have turned out to be hams with great personalities, but their real contribution to the show’s success is that they give a different slant to the narration than the normal play-by-play announcers.
These masters put themselves at the table to determine what they would do during each game. Their expertise gives viewers the unique perspective of an inside look at what it’s really like to play professional poker.
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