The Best of the Worst in Poker TV - Celebrity Poker Showdown
August 4, 2021

In the years immediately following Chris Moneymaker’s World Series of Poker win, it seemed as though there might be no bottom to the well of poker shows being conjured up by television executives.  For a while, it seemed as though television producers had absolutely no idea of how poker was played and would gladly throw any C-Lister behind a mic while some haphazardly collected group of people attempted to play.

While a few shows went to establish themselves as great television, many more fell to the ratings wayside.  But as is the case in many forms of media (see “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred), the best of the worst is pure gold.  In the world of televised poker, the measuring stick might just be Celebrity Poker Showdown, which ran from 2003 to 2006.

The format for the show saw five heats of five players (that’s right, it was five-handed) with every place paying out anywhere from $7,500 for fifth place to $100,000 for first.  The winner of each heat went on to play in a championship where even more money for charity was on the line.  Keep in mind that a good chunk of the actors in the show hadn’t worked in some time and could probably be accepted as registered charities themselves.  One lineup consisted of Rosie O’Donnell, Penny Marshall (of Laverne and Shirley), singer Travis Tritt, Eddie Cibrian (who starred in Vanished at the time) and comedian Mo Gaffney. As you might imagine, it provided for a ton of flat-calls and on-the-fly learning of the game by its contestants.

For the bulk of the show’s existence we were treated to commentary from the usually funny Dave Foley as well as Phil Gordon, who tried to keep up with the often circus-like antics of the players.  You can imagine how great Gordon’s expert opinions on the game meshed with Foley’s ability to make poker-related jokes about playing poker.

But don’t let the smack-talk stop you from re-visiting the show.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend picking up the DVD box set, but I wouldn’t ever miss the chance to watch Neil Patrick Harris recreating scenes from Doogie Howser or some some fantastic slow rolls. David Cross appeared in the first season and provided a few laughs, actually working in real jokes.  Unfortunately Dave Navarro and an unusually quiet Seth Meyers didn’t provide a whole lot of backup.

Celebrity Poker Showdown disappeared in the summer of 2006 with Jason Alexander taking down the final championship game

Of course, poor televised poker wasn’t restricted to the years immediately following the poker boom.  After all, we’ve still got Face the Ace and non-cash game episodes of Poker After Dark to contend with.  If I have to watch Chris Ferguson play one more hand in a six-handed sit-n-go, I’m going to rip my hair out.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually found some time to play some small stakes cash games online when I wasn’t trying to dig up highlights of Celebrity Poker Showdown.  In that time I’ve managed to get myself on track to make Silver Star at PokerStars by the middle of the month, something I’ve been meaning to do for the last few months, but hadn’t had time for.  If I can turn a profit while doing so, I’d like to make Gold Star in September.  However, if I run the way I’ve been running lately, I won’t have to worry about the added pressure. 

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