The 12 Best Poker TV Shows and How to Watch Online
Although poker TV shows have largely been relegated to the realm of niche enthusiasts there was a time in the early-to-mid 2000’s where it seemed to go hand-in-hand with the meteoric rise of the game.
In fact, it may have largely been responsible for it.
The World Poker Tour had moderate poker TV success before ESPN’s WSOP coverage in 2003 just blew the top off the whole thing.
For several years after that it felt like you couldn’t go through a round of your channel guide at any hour without seeing 2-3 simultaneous poker TV shows airing.
With US government legislation in 2006 largely signaling an end of the poker explosion the demand for poker on traditional TV took a sharp decline.
- 1 The 12 Best Poker TV Shows and How to Watch Online
- 2 Poker TV show reviews
- 2.1 Poker Central
- 2.2 EPT
- 2.3 The Big Game
- 2.4 The Shark Cage
- 2.5 ESPN’s World Series of Poker
- 2.6 High Stakes Poker on GSN
- 2.7 Poker After Dark on NBC
- 2.8 World Poker Tour
- 2.9 Poker Superstars
- 2.10 Celebrity Poker Showdown
- 2.11 Poker Royale
- 2.12 Ultimate Poker Challenge
Today’s poker TV is in a good place
Poker TV shows may have decreased in quantity, but not necessarily in quality.
Poker enthusiasts are in a good place right now with the World Poker Tour still kicking, primetime coverage on ESPN of the WSOP every year, and Poker Central finally bringing the concept of a 24-hour poker network to fruition.
I’ve reviewed 12 poker TV shows over the years, which you’ll find right here.
Some are newer productions like the EPT and Poker Central while others like Celebrity Poker Showdown are cringe-worthy relics from the height of poker TV madness.
How to watch poker TV shows online
There are a number of sources where you can (legally) watch live poker coverage from your phone, tablet, desktop, or TV.
Here’s a rundown:
Surprisingly, poker seems to be one of the main uses of twitch.tv aside from video game streams.
In the poker section you’ll find streamers hosting a mix of old syndicated poker reruns like High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark, big online tournaments with pro commentary, and individual streamers showing their current games.
Each channel can be streamed instantly simply by clicking the thumbnail. There’s no software install necessary.
PokerStars has become the only poker site shrewd enough to target the streaming space and they’ve done it very successfully.
Here you’ll find all of their replay streams and live streams of hours upon hours of EPL and Global Poker League.
The productions are all very well done and it’s easy to get lost for hours in their wealth of video content.
During the WSOP schedule you can watch various live streams of current events, but the massive library of past events makes for excellent viewing.
There are dozens of previous events archived here for streaming with some as long as 6-8 hours.
I love Poker Central, which debuted in 2015 as the only 24/7 channel dedicated to poker. They mix original programming like Pokerography with syndicated classic poker shows like High Stakes Poker.
One thing they lack is a live stream option, but you can watch on many streaming devices connected to your TV like:
- Apple TV generation (4th generation and beyond)
- Amazon Fire TV
- PlayStation Vue
- Xbox One
- Xbox 360
You can watch a sampling of their programming straight from their website, however.
Poker TV show reviews
Apart from PokerStars, the latest player in the poker TV shows arena is Poker Central.
With a clearly stated mission to revive the televised poker the people behind this project have put forth some truly commendable efforts to create exciting and appealing content with a potential to attract even the casual viewers.
According to their own statement, Poker Central is the only 24/7 poker TV network in the world.
When it comes to their own production they’ve attracted the most attention with the shows like the Super High Roller Bowl and the Super High Roller Cash Game, gathering some of the biggest names in the industry and reminding us all of the good old days of High Stakes Poker.
A portion of the Poker Central schedule
Poker Central is a full-fledged poker-only channel and they aren’t limited to these exclusive shows. Some of the other featured titles include:
- Pokerography – a documentary series about careers of some of the best known players, like Phil Hellmuth, Erik Seidel, and Antonio Esfandiari (Mondays at 9 PM ET)
- Live at the Bike – live streaming of cash games played at the Bicycle Hotel & Casino in Los Angeles (Wednesdays at 10 PM ET)
- Global Poker League matches (Tuesday – Sunday at 2 PM ET)
- High Stakes Poker reruns from the beloved GSN series
- Poker After Dark reruns from the old NBC airings
The list goes on. You can check out the full schedule on their official web page and find out when your favorite shows are aired.
How to watch Poker Central now
Poker Central is available through numerous streaming hardware, including the Amazon Fire TV, the newest generation of Apple TV, Filmon.tv, Roku TV, PlayStation Vue, and Xbox One.
Summing up Poker Central
In my opinion, Poker Central launched at just the right moment. With poker content on TV really dwindling and even popular shows like WSOP coverage on ESPN moving to less attractive time-slots a poker-only TV network is just what poker fans have waited over a decade for.
They’ve also put forth quite an effort to reach outside the box and attract the audience via other means (like the increasingly popular Twitch).
Poker Central guys have really stepped up their game and came up with the custom-tailored product guaranteed to satisfy avid poker fans and casual viewers alike.
Although not without any faults, I’ll give Poker Central 9 out of 10, primarily because they’ve done what no one else would do and created a highly specialized network for poker aficionados across the globe. In my eyes, that deserves special respect.
PokerStars owns of the European Poker Tour, probably the most famous tournament tour after the WSOP.
As such, it is only natural that the tour is given quite extensive coverage, including both live video production and edited shows featuring the biggest and most important moments.
The Main Event of every EPT stop receives the full attention from the production team.
Apart from the standard announcing duo, Joe Stapleton and James Hartigan, many big names make appearances in the commentator’s box, including the likes of Jason Mercier, Liv Boeree, Daniel Negreanu, and many others.
You can pretty much find the entire EPT coverage on PokerStars.tv and on different YouTube channels.
My comments on EPT
The quality of the production and the commentary are really excellent. While watching live play of the final table may not be everyone’s cup of tea, edited episodes of EPT main events are very enjoyable.
It is not only a fun show, but these days one can learn a lot about poker strategy listening to in-depth analysis and thoughts of some of the most brilliant poker minds.
EPT coverage gets an easy 8 or 8.5 of ten. There are always things that can be improved on, but overall it is one of the best poker shows these days and, most importantly, it happens throughout the year.
The Big Game
With televised cash games really lacking since High Stakes Poker ceased production, The Big Game was quite refreshing.
The entire idea behind the show was quite an interesting one as it would pitch one online qualifier against five hardcore pros, giving him or her a chance to win big.
The Loose Cannon
This qualifier is known as “the loose cannon” and they are staked $100,000 to play with. These $100,000 they are free too lose without any consequences, but they can only take home the amount won over the initial stake.
Each loose cannon gets to play 150 hands and if they are not busted before hitting that mark, they can take home every dollar over the initial $100k.
At the end of every season, the loose cannon with the biggest profit also receives the NAPT passport valued at $50,000.
Comments on The Big Game
The Big Game is not only entertaining to watch but it also had some very touching episodes. While we all love to see professionals play, there is a part in each one of us that roots for the underdog. And loose cannons on this show are underdogs and it’s not even close.
However, some of them managed to win really decent amounts which, no doubt, helped them a lot in their everyday lives.
The idea of pitching a long-shot amateur against experienced professionals, giving them a chance to win significant monetary amounts is a recipe for success and The Big Game was hugely popular among the fans.
Sadly, it was discontinued and it doesn’t seem like it is coming back.
The Big Game gets a strong 8 out of 10. What makes a show little weird is that loose cannons who win a big hand early on hardly have any motivation to try and play against the people who clearly outclass them.
This doesn’t take anything away from the production, but it would be nice if there was some sort of an option, like reserving half of the winnings and letting them play with the rest.
The Shark Cage
The Shark Cage is another tournament format show with an interesting mix of professional players, celebrities, and one online qualifier per show.
The show consists of series of six-handed sit and go tournaments, with winner from each individual tournament advancing to the finals. In the finals, the winner takes home $1,000,000, while everybody else walks away with nothing.
Many big names took their seats on the show, including the great Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, beautiful Miss Finland Sara Chafak, etc.
The special excitement was introduced to the show by the “shark cage” element. Whenever someone pulled a successful bluff on the river, he or she would send their opponent to the cage, where he would have to miss an entire round of play. Of course, if the bluff gets called, the bluffer takes his place in the cage.
Comments on Shark Cage
The idea of the show is not that bad, although it can be kind of underwhelming for the qualifiers who can be done with their adventure on a simple bad beat. But, more importantly, the structure of the tournaments was very fast and it would quickly turn into a crap shoot.
The shark cage element is certainly entertaining, but it doesn’t have much to do with poker, really.
It is clear that The Shark Cage was produced with the idea of picking up some traction with the casual viewers who are not necessarily that interested in poker alone.
It is hard to blame PokerStars for this attempt, as attracting fresh blood is always a good thing, but for the players and serious fans it can be a bit annoying.
Overall, I’d give The Shark Cage a decent 7 out of 10. The attempt to attract new fans is a valid effort, so I won’t hold the cage idea against them too much.
ESPN’s World Series of Poker
ESPN has been showing the Main Event for a couple of decades and you can catch reruns of older events at times on ESPN Classic.
Unfortunately, these tournaments were pretty dull to watch on TV until the early 2000’s when the hole card camera was introduced into the featured tables.
The WSOP is the biggest poker event of the year, which has traditionally taken place at the Horseshoe in Las Vegas.
The Rio bought the rights to the event and they built a massive poker room to accommodate the huge number of entrants in 2005.
The WSOP consists of many events held over several weeks with different poker variations. The Main Event is the biggest individual tournament, which has always been no-limit Texas Hold’em.
Structure of WSOP programming
Due to poker’s increase in popularity, for a while ESPN have televised most of the events. They would show a new episode or two each week, which typically will cover each of the preliminary events.
The Main Event, however, takes up several weeks. Lately, however, the interest for televised poker has been declining, and the coverage is not as strong as it used to be.
These tournaments are open to everyone who buys-in directly or wins a satellite, so you’ll see many amateurs make the final or features tables. Fortunately, you’ll also see your favorite pros make the final tables.
The WSOP Main Event continues to be the biggest event in poker with the largest prize ever of $12 million being awarded in 2006, which was the year that saw Jamie Gold take home the most coveted WSOP bracelet.
How does ESPN do?
In my opinion, ESPN does a good job of covering the WSOP. Unlike other shows that only televise the final table, ESPN sets up a “featured table” during the entire Main Event.
They do a nice job of balancing coverage of side tables and make it interesting by returning to some of the real characters at the event. The announcers are humorous, knowledgeable, and poignant.
The production is also top-notch with excellent lighting, video quality, and just the right amount of background insight into the lives of the players.
Along with High Stakes Poker this is one of my favorite poker shows on TV from an entertainment standpoint. In terms of significance to the poker world no one can touch World Series of Poker.
Out of 10, I give ESPN’s WSOP coverage an 8.
High Stakes Poker on GSN
High-Stakes Poker began airing in early 2006 with an idea unique to the TV poker world: air the biggest cash games in the world instead of big tournaments.
It seems like a simple enough idea, but GSN’s the first network to try it out. Featured in a private room at the Golden Nugget in Downtown Las Vegas, the show films some of the top professional poker players (and some wealthy amateurs) playing for real cash.
Each player buys in with his or her own money, with virtually no maximum limit. Probably for dramatic television effect, players can even bring stacks of cash to use along with their chips. While typical buy-ins are $50,000 and $100,000, you’ll occasionally see players with over $1,000,000.
The game is my personal preference for ring games: No-Limit Texas Hold’em with $400/800 blinds. While these ultra-stakes games between professionals are usually mixed games switching after every round, the game is restricted to Hold’em on the show for simplicity’s sake.
The initial season was 14-weeks long and feature players like poker legend Doyle Brunson, his son Todd Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Ted Forrest, Phil Hellmuth, Barry Greenstein, Johnny Chan, L.A. Lakers owner Jerry Buss, and a wealthy local physician whose name is currently escaping me.
It is hosted by AJ Benza and Gabe Kaplan sits alongside him for an insider’s take on the game.
I always find unique sounds to be extremely entertaining and I think that Kaplan has an interesting voice combined with a nice touch of humorous sarcasm.
High Stakes Poker Cancelled
To a great dismay of poker fans High Stakes Poker was discontinued in 2011.
There were many petitions and requests sent to GSN to return the show, but, unfortunately, at this point it no longer seems likely.
I commend GSN for finally catching on and airing what actually earns these pros the big bucks.
Easily, millions of dollars are exchanged during each session and many amateurs don’t realize that tournaments are really only about the glory, the respect, and the win for these professionals. This is where the real money is.
The actual show is pretty entertaining, although I usually find GSN’s poker coverage somewhat dry. It certainly doesn’t have the production value of the WSOP or WPT, but it’s a different format and I like it. As usual, there are way too many commercials for me to stomach so be sure to set up your DVR for this one.
Overall, I would give High-Stakes Poker an 8 out of 10 and I’ve been looking forward to catching new episodes. Hopefully, the series’ contract is renewed for another round following the initial 14-week initiation. (It was, and for several years to come)
New episodes of the show used to run on Mondays at 9pm with reruns at 2am late Monday night and throughout the week.
Poker After Dark on NBC
NBC’s Poker After Dark began airing in early 2007 and airs 6 nights per week at 2am in most time zones.
The show lasts one hour and each week’s worth of episodes focuses on one specific 6-player single table tournament.
Monday-Friday night’s episodes feature new tournament action until a winner is determined and Saturday night includes a recap of the action with commentary by the players.
Structure of the game
Each week’s Poker After Dark tournament has a $20,000 buy-in with the winner taking the entire $120,000 prize pool.
The tournament is invitation-only with star-studded fields including pros like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Barry Greenstein, Mike Matusow, Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, Howard Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, John Juanda, and a slew of poker’s biggest names.
Ratings have been strong for this late-night newcomer so expect it to become a TV poker mainstay.
NBC’s Poker After Dark is unique in that it is one of the few poker TV shows that actually shows most of the action.
As they have an entire week to air a single tournament there is minimal editing for time as opposed to a similarly-formatted show like Poker Superstars.
Poker After Dark has several hours to work with and airs seemingly insignificant hands like blind-steals and small pots.
While this may seem like filler to casual TV poker fans, actual poker players will appreciate the opportunity to follow the strategy of the full tournament rather than just watch highlights of all-in action.
The total airtime of the tournament is about the same time it took to actually play the tournament. Besides the occasional live poker on holidays, this is very unique.
Minimal commentary on Poker After Dark
Another aspect that I appreciate in NBC’s Poker After Dark is the minimal commentary during the action, which gives way to the pro table talk and subdued atmosphere (unless, of course, Hellmuth and/or Matusow are at the table) of the typical poker sounds.
While I often enjoy pro analysis, Poker After Dark provides a different and minimalist approach that appeals to both fans and players of the game.
This also suits the overnight time slot, which is the prime viewing time for poker players. The production, set, lighting, and graphics are top-notch, which is would you would expect from a major network.
NBC has embraced poker programming in general with airings of the National Heads-Up Poker Championship and the first season of Poker Superstars.
The invitation-only format also makes for better television as the field can be hand-picked to those we really care to watch. Personally, my interest level in a poker show is much higher when I can watch 6 recognizable poker pros playing a good poker game with solid strategy and a mutual respect for each other.
Fortunately, you won’t have to deal with amateur antics, internet-level gameplay, and a half-dozen satellite winners who ran well for a few days.
I would much rather watch Poker After Dark than most episodes of the World Poker Tour because of the non-edited play and the professional field.
Even though it’s for much less money, it’s simply a better poker game with better players.
Essentially a Sit and Go
The actual tournament structure of NBC’s Poker After Dark is very much like a 6-handed Sit ‘n Go with all players starting with the same amount of chips and a fairly slow increase in blind levels.
What’s great about this is that poker players at home can actually learn strategy for online tournaments. Because the play isn’t edited to death you’ll get to see the small plays that truly matter to the final outcome.
My rating of Poker After Dark
Basically, in Poker After Dark, you get to watch a bunch of pros play a Sit ‘n Go. What better learning learning tool can you have than that?
Much like GSN’s High Stakes Poker is brilliant for picking up professional-level cash game strategy, NBC’s Poker After Dark can be a good strategy tool for shorthanded Sit ‘n Go tournaments.
Overall, I throughout enjoy NBC’s Poker After Dark and would recommend it to both poker fans and players. You can usually catch new episodes on Mondays during the Fall.
World Poker Tour
The World Poker Tour has completed its 3rd season, which was clearly its largest to date.
The WPT airs the final table (6-seated) at some of the world’s largest live poker tournaments. Some of their biggest prize pools come from the Bellagio Five Diamond Classic, Aruba, Foxwoods, and Bay 101.
It’s a two hour program hosted by Mike Sexton (from the old days of Party Poker) and Vince van Patten.
WPT events are open tournaments
Events on the WPT are open to anyone willing to front the buy-in, which typically ranges from $10,000-$25,000.
The final table usually consists of at least one unknown amateur or two who’s had a great tournament after qualifying through a satellite. Of course, you’ll recognize many of the poker professionals who consistently grind it out and make final tables.
Pros like Gus Hansen, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Ivey will often be found on the show. In fact, Gus Hansen won three of these televised events during the first season – an amazing feat considering today’s enormous tournament fields.
This program largely seeks to make poker stylish with concert lighting and techno for pivotal tournament situations.
Right behind Poker Superstars, I also like the WPT.
You get to see the final table of some huge tourneys, and their coverage is pretty well done.
I like the fact that these are open tournaments that anyone can enter, but at the same time I like to see my favorite pros consistently battle off satellite-winners.
Mike Sexton and Vince van Patten make a good team and their analysis of hands is usually right on.
While the show is somewhat bloated in its two-hour time slot, it does allow you to see a good number of hands.
Besides, I can’t stand that many commercials, so I only watch it on DVR. Fast-forwarding through the commercials, you can watch it in about 70-80 minutes.
Out of 10, I give the World Poker Tour an 8. You can usually catch episodes on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
This is right up there with my all-time poker show son TV.
The concept of Poker Superstars is to hold an invitation-only tournament for some of the biggest names in poker.
I believe they started out with 24 players in the second season and the tournament is in a playoff format rather than a shootout for all the money.
There are single table elimination matches at the start of each season with each episode. Each table is a group of 6 players, which compete against each other 2 or 3 times.
Structure of this invitation-only tournament
Players are rewarded with points for finishing in the top places. After a few rounds of elimination matches, the players with the most points survive.
Each week, Fox Sports shows a new single-table match.
The field gets down to 16, and each point accumulated during the elimination matches gives the player more starting chips in the next round.
At the “Super Sixteen”, the tables only feature 4 players per table.
The final two rounds are heads-up matches. The winner of the entire tournament takes $500,000 and winners of individual matches also take home a little cash.
Tournament invitees included names like Doyle Brunson, Todd Brunson, Mike Caro, David Sklansky, Johnny Chan, Scotty Nguyen, and Ted Forrest.
Comments on this unique show
Not only is it cool to be able to watch a tournament made up strictly of poker legends, but the playoff structure makes the event really interesting. As opposed to rewarding one excellent performance (like the WPT or the WSOP does), Poker Superstars rewards consistent play over an extended period of time.
Watching the convoluted strategy that players often have to employ to advance to the next round is interesting. For example, at the 16-player level, the top 2 point-earners advance from each 4-player table. They play two matches against the same players, so if a player finished in last in the first round, he would have to knock out the other players in an exact order to be able to advance.
The play during this series is fascinating to watch and you won’t see very many strategic mistakes from these top players. Since every match is shorthanded it serves up a lot of action. The announcers are also knowledgeable and fairly humorous without being obnoxious.
Poker Superstars is a great show for poker fans, overall.
Out of 10, I give Poker Superstars a 9. You can check out a new episode weekly Sunday nights on Fox Sports.
Celebrity Poker Showdown
Celebrity Poker Showdown airs on Bravo and seems to be playing just about every night. The show features a handful of invited A and B-list celebrities playing in $250,000 no limit Hold’em events for charity.
The clueless celebrity play is commentated by Dave Foley and Phil Gordon and takes place at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. Each show lasts 2 hours and winners or individual events go on to compete in championships later in the season.
This is easily my least-favorite poker show on television. While I’m all for helping raise money for charity I just hate to watch this show. It really isn’t much like an actual televised tournament.
The gameplay from 9 out of 10 of the celebrities is clueless, and it can be painful to watch for anyone who knows anything about poker.
I give some of them credit in that they seem to have actually studied the game before embarrassing themselves on TV, but most players are just terrible. Sometimes they’ll have a celebrity on who’s actually a poker enthusiast like Ben Affleck, but his awful competition will usually draw out on him somehow.
Wasting talented commentators
The biggest shame may be the waste of Phil Gordon and Dave Foley. Phil Gordon is a highly respected poker professional and it must be painful for him to watch some of this play. I’m sorry, but when I watch poker on TV I want to see some poker being played.
Dave Foley was so great on Kids in the Hall and Newsradio, but what is he doing here?
Out of 10, I give Celebrity Poker Showdown a 2. Don’t watch this show unless you care about the celebrities for some reason and can tolerate the madness.
Poker Royale is the Game Show Network’s (GSN) take on televised poker. Instead of filming actual tournaments on the circuit the network hosts these invitational events, which usually includes 6 pros.
The tournaments are usually themed, such as the “Battle of the Ages“. This particular incarnation pitted 3 poker veterans against 3 young stars. Other episodes have included “Battle of the Sexes“, “The James Woods Gang Vs. The Unabombers“, and “Comedians Vs. Poker Pros.”
Each tournament has an individual prize pool, or prizes for winners of a series of events. Episodes are typically 60 or 120 minutes and air on “Casino Night”, which is on Friday nights. Of course, the format is No-Limit Holdem.
You can catch reruns during late-night hours throughout the week. Regulars include Phil ‘Unabomber‘ Laak and David Williams. Poker Royale is hosted by John Ahlers and poker professional Robert Williamson III does the commentary.
Comments on Poker Royale
There are definitely some positives about this show like the fact that they invite some of my favorite pros that you don’t see too often on TV (Phil Laak and Dan Harrington).
Plus, it’s always nice to have some variety in your poker television diet.
I also like the commentary by Robert Williamson, but he can be a bit brutal on the players at times.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have all of my bad moves at the table recorded and analyzed.
Anemic production values
Anyway, some misses include an anti-climactic production, which doesn’t add up compared to other shows like the WSOP or Poker Superstars. The hosts could get a little more excited about bad beats and big wins. Instead, they seem to be more like play-by-play announcers without much emotion.
Also, the themed match-ups are sort of strange. The Unabombers against the James Woods gang? It seems like a stretch. Also, why do they have to invite comedians to play poker? It just reminded me a bit too much of Celebrity Poker.
The prize pools are usually minuscule and you don’t usually see too many of your favorite pros on the show – it’s usually the up-and-comers. Still, I occasionally DVR an episode when I’m in an especially poker-starved mood.
Out of 10, I give Poker Royale a 6 or a 7. You can usually catch new episodes on Friday nights.
Ultimate Poker Challenge
The Ultimate Poker Challenge was one of the smaller players in the poker TV space.
While this program started out well during the height of the TV poker boom the airings ended up being relegated to overnight Saturday time slots and usually only air once per week on syndicated channels like WGN or UPN.
The format is the final table of No Limit Holdem events in Las Vegas. You will occasionally see one of your favorite poker pros, but these events usually have a smaller prize pool and you’ll see a lot of amateurs battling for the small prizes. Each season, they host a championship event that draws the largest number of entrants.
It’s pretty easy to see the difference between the poker TV shows with budgets and the have-nots. Ultimate Poker Challenge certainly belongs to the latter.
While I like to see any new poker TV show make a go of it this show can get pretty dull. Personally, I’d rather see faces I recognize playing smart poker than a bunch of amateurs duking it out.
Amateur tournaments are fine for the local cardroom, but I’d rather watch the pros on TV.
Poor production value
Also, this program puts less into the actual production, which sort of kills the dramatic effect.
To produce a low-budget program, they rely largely on advertising and it gets sort of invasive with big digital banners overshadowing the cards on the flop.
Still, I’d rather have more programs to choose from than less and I’ll still set up the DVR occasionally to record the occasional late-night UPC.
My rating of Ultimate Poker Challenge
Out of 10, I give Ultimate Poker Challenge a 5. You can usually catch new episodes late on Saturday nights.