“Club WPT,” the new poker combination of World Poker Tour Enterprises and Fox Sports Network, premiered this Sunday afternoon.
“Club WPT” is derived from WPTE’s membership based and legal online poker site, clubwpt.com. For a $19.95 monthly fee, poker players can compete in as many poker tournaments as they can handle. One of the options is the opportunity to battle it out with other online players for a shot at playing on television and walking off with the $5000 first place prize.

From the start, it is obvious that WPTE and FSN have dedicated a tremendous amount of effort into the show. While the playing arena may not be as ornate as the now-familiar WPT stage, it still gave the players (and viewers, for that matter) the feeling that they were participating in a prestigious tournament. Coverage of the event was handled excellently by noted sports announcer Barry Tompkins and former “Live at the Bike” commentator Bart Hanson.

The show followed the well established WPT format: viewers get to know the participants in the tournament through vignettes that allow them to develop a rooting interest at the table. As the players are eliminated, they have interviews with the amiable hostess of the program, Alison Waite.

It is obvious that the players at the table are nervous about their appearance on the program and/or have not been around the live game much. They do make some mistakes based on their inexperience – such as taking action before their turn has come – and some of the play shows their poker backgrounds might not be deep. Still, the players came at the game with a zeal that you don’t often see and the table conversation was quite entertaining and a departure from the norm of a WPT final table.

Where “Club WPT” is a refreshing change to poker television is in the possibilities that exist for the program. After several episodes, a “Tournament of Champions” would be an excellent way for WPTE and FSN to bring back previous champions (or players that were notable during their appearance) and develop a poker series type atmosphere. Another possibility that exists is the chance to bring online players on to battle top poker pros.  With their announcing duties at the WPT, Mike Sexton or Vince Van Patten would be good choices as well as Antonio Esfandiari, the WPT “ambassador”.

“Club WPT” will air weekly on regional FSN stations at 4PM locally with an encore broadcast at 11PM (due most likely to some regional FSN stations having contractual obligations and thus ensuring that the show will run at least once). The show does bring the excitement of online players to live action and could drive many people to participate in the action at clubwpt.com. As it is, it is a nice appetizer before FSN brings on the seventh season of the World Poker Tour in the next few months.

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