Poker on Screen: Pro-Am Poker Equalizer (2007)

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Each week, we look into an example of how poker has been brought to the small screen or silver screen. While this ranges from the hackneyed scene that has been crowbarred into a movie to give it some glamour to television shows that are centred around the game it’s a labour of love.

poker-on-screen-pro-am-poker-equalizer-2007Poker brought to life on screen is one of the brightest aspects the game played regularly by hundreds of millions of people every week can be viewed in.

It’s easy to see why the Pro-Am Poker Equalizer show was a slam dunk for television executives when it was made and released in 2007. The idea was simple but engaging; four professional poker players and two celebrities take each other on at a six-max table, with  the pros being given only half the chip-stack of the celebrities in question.

Here’s the first episode of the only series of Pro-Am Poker Equalizer:

While this premise is a fun set-up for the series, the first episode nearly encapsulates the problem. The players are: Phil Ivey, John Juanda, Daniel Negreanu, Erick Lindgren, Jose Canseco and Cheryl Hines. As you tell from that list, there’s a pretty disproportionate amount of poker skill in the line-up and while the stacks are a disadvantage for the pros, they’re not so crippling as to make it nearly difficult enough for them to make it through their heat.

Of the six heats, only one saw a celebrity make it through with Nick Gonzalez, an actor best known now for playing Alex Santiago in the TV show Resurrection Boulevard and Dr. Neil Melendez on the ABC series The Good Doctor, the sole survivor from the non-pro celebrities reduced from a dozen hopefuls to one also-ran.

The final saw Ivey (Episode 1’s winner) and Gonzalez joined by Andy Bloch, who would go on to win the $500,000 top prize, with Phil Laak runner-up for $150,000. Huck Seed and Allen Cunnigham were the other professionals to make the six-handed final episode.

There were, essentially, two problems only with the show, but they were big enough to take the wheels off the vehicle at the first corner.

Firstly, the split of celebs with double-stacks to pro’s with smaller ones was too small. It needed to be three of each to make a decent sweat. Secondly, and perhaps vitally, either the chip-chop needed to be more brutally in favour of the ‘Ams’ in the Pro-Am title or the structure needed to be so fast as to render the shorter stacks of the pros more difficult to maintain.

Oddly, despite the series going to air 13 years ago, there is still a website dedicated to the show. The title was so good and the format so rich with possibilities that we could certainly see it coming back but without those quirks, there’s no way your favourite celebrity is making it far enough to remain interesting. Maybe they should relaunch and invite every sporting or acting ‘ambassador’ for brands like partypoker and PokerStars along as the amateurs. It might insult a few of the, but it would be a good way of finding out if Kevin Hart knows his hearts from his elbow.

Originally commented on by the now legendary Phil Gordon and Ali Nejad, the fact that the latter now voices much of the content on PokerGO should fill us with hope that one day the Pro-Am Poker Equalizer might be back.

If it does return, then the ‘equalizing’ will need to be better for it to survive second time around. It would be a fun show to see back in the mix, and with the advent of Hollywood stars happy to raise money to fight COVID-19, the timing is perfect. Who wouldn’t want to see Hank Azaria and Kevin Hart face off over the felt?