I'm not exactly sure what caused this massive new poker renaissance that everybody (including me) seems to be enjoying, but it's safe to say that the classic old game of Texas Hold 'Em has pretty much become the new black. I get three phone calls a week from friends who are dying to get a tournament together ... and just about every week I lose money betting on two pair against my old college buddies' three of a kind. Perhaps it was the appearance of online sites like PartyPoker.com that helped to bring poker back in a big way, but it's a craze that's a lot of damn fun.
And if you can take a few nights off from your neighborhood poker game, I wholeheartedly recommend you get your hands on the 3-disc DVD set entitled ESPN's 2004 World Series of Poker -- because all ten episodes are all sorts of addicting.
Here's how it works: Just under 2,600 contestants get together in a Las Vegas casino to play Texas Hold 'Em. The last person standing receives a whopping 5 million bucks for their efforts. From the fresh-faced newcomers to some of the game's oldest and most admired veterans, they all play in this tournament. And if you're looking for just one poker event to peer in on, this is the one. The World Series of Poker's "main event" is absolutely the Super Bowl of Texas Hold 'Em.
But if you get your fingers on this set (and I highly recommend you do), do yourself a favor and ignore the back cover if you're a first-time viewer. The fine folks at ESPN logically assume that anyone buying this set has already seen the ESPN coverage -- but I had not. Therefore, my perusal of the back cover absolutely spoiled the finalé ... because the back of the DVD case tells you who the winner is! If there's one thing a newcomer will notice about the ongoing drama of this event, it's that they really can't wait to see who wins!
Masterfully edited together from what must have been hundreds of hours of footage, the ESPNgineers have compiled a 10-episode series full of drama, comedy, excitement, and delicious tension. If the World Series of Poker collection were a movie, that movie would be loaded with three dozen colorful characters, all of whom you'll come to know and grow to love (or hate) before it's all over. Cheer along with your favorite contestants and chuckle contentedly when the obnoxious ones get ousted. The broadcast producers did one helluva job in creating a gaming event that's as entertaining as it is unpredictable.
Whether you're a hardcore Hold 'Em hound or you just want to know what "all this poker hoopla" is about, do yourself a solid and consider giving this set (at least) a rental. It's just a whole lot of fun, and if you're a poker novice -- rest assured that you won't be once these ten episodes have run their course.
(Last warning: If you haven't seen this series yet, do NOT read the DVD case or peruse the supplement-laden third disc. I made that mistake and found myself wishing I hadn't. But I still had a ball watching each successive player get bounced from the tourney!)
Video: The episodes are presented in their original fullscreen format. Picture quality is precisely what you'd expect from an ESPN series that utilizes a roving camera format and teeny little hidden lenses. I've no complaints at all regarding the visual presentation.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, which delivers the whoops, the whines, the hurrahs, and the hollering in fine aural form.
Extras: You'll find five episodes on Disc 1, and another five on Disc 2. The third platter is where you'll find all the extra gravy, and ESPN has done a fine job at delivering a lot of supplemental goodies.
First up is an 80-minute Tournament of Champions, which sees ten of the world's best poker players battling for a $2 million purse. Great stuff here.
Top Ten Moments from the 2004 WSoP runs about 7 enjoyable minutes, and the content is pretty much self-explanatory.
"Winner's" Commentary: Final Table - For those who have yet to watch all ten episodes, I'll keep the winner's name a secret, but you can enjoy the final table a second time as the 2004 WSoP champion contributes an audio/video commentary along with the action.
Also tossed in for kicks are a trilogy of extra tournaments: The $1000 Buy-In Texas No Limit Hold 'Em, the $2000 Buy-In Pot Limit Omaha, and the Kansas City Lowball. These are great for people who'd like to discover that there is a poker world outside of 5 Card Draw. These are basically a bunch of "highlights packages," but they're a lot of fun for the poker aficionadoes, and great inclusions to the collection. Taken all in one sitting, these bonus episodes clock in at over 80 minutes!
Rounding out the supplemental features are a Stu Ungar Feature that offers a history lesson on one of poker's most legendary winners; a pair of extra featurettes starring Champion X (the winner of the 2004 WSoP); and a great little poker lesson entitled Beyond the Felt: Poker Talk, in which several of today's best players share their thoughts, anecdotes, and advice.
Anyone who's been recently bitten by the poker bug (and trust me, there are a lot of us) will have an absolute ball with this fantastic three-disc set. The Championship episodes are full of colorful characters, exciting drama, and more than a handful of surprises. The third disc full of goodies is just the icing on the felt-covered cake. And take this as a piece of advice to all my poker-lovin' buddies out there: Watch these discs, and I can pretty much guarantee that you'll become a better Hold 'Em player. And you'll have a darn good time while doing it.
(If you have any trouble finding the DVD, you can purchase a copy at ChampionshipDVD.com.)