The history of Late Night Poker and what the players actually think of it

Full Tilt Poker continues its British TV poker renaissance with the sponsorship ?of landmark show Late Night Poker. PokerPlayer goes behind the scenes

When Late Night Poker was first beamed into British living rooms ten years ago, few could have predicted its success, its influence or indeed its longevity. By introducing under-the-table cameras or ‘hole cams’ allowing audiences to see players’ hole cards, it transformed a card game into an absorbing spectator sport, and converted a nation of insomniacs into avid poker buffs.

The pioneering Channel 4 show also overhauled poker’s seedy backroom image, transferring it to the sophisticated environs of a modern television studio. It was here that Jesse May quickly became the ‘Voice of Poker’, as he helped to convey the drama and excitement of poker to those unfamiliar with the game. Late Night Poker’s success was far-reaching, with many players across the world attributing their interest in poker to hours spent in front of the box, transfixed by Devilfish, Hellmuth and co. playing Texas Hold’em for what seemed like a fortune.

Full House

The profile of the show, however, has suffered somewhat in recent years against rivals like Poker Million and the ever-popular High Stakes Poker. Fortunately, Full Tilt has thrown its weight behind the latest season, snapping up sponsorship rights and injecting fresh life into the tournament by filling many of the heats with its high-profile list of pros.

The new show comes with an increased entry fee and prize pool, too, in a bid to draw some of the American stars into the mix. Sadly, this has led to disappointment for some poker players, with season two champion Simon Trumper failing to sell a big enough percentage of himself to play.
Nevertheless, with an added $10,000 from Full Tilt, a prize pool of $500,000 and first prize of $200,000, the event has been given fresh impetus and a new sense of prestige.

Most of the seven heats have already been aired on TV, with one of the highlights being the long-awaited confrontation between Andrew Feldman and Luke Schwartz, which Schwartz owned. We spoke to a Full Tilt representative who said, ‘They have a lot of history, none good, and they got heads-up in their heat. Putting them together must have been someone’s idea of a sick joke. Let’s just say you could cut the tension with a knife.’

We spoke to some of the finalists to get their opinions on the heats and overall competition…

Patrik Antonius

Playing a TV tournament like this is different from big high stakes cash games. Luck plays a large part and being on television makes it more about not wanting to give a bad performance. You don’t want to look stupid – you want to come along and play good poker.

In my heat, David Benyamine’s the guy I’ve played with the most in the past few years. I haven’t played with Erik Seidel that much, but we ended up in one important hand which broke him on the second level. He raised with A-K and I called with 4h-5h – it’s an obvious call for me as I might flop something unpredictable. It came a dream 4-4-5. He bet and I called. I checked the King on the turn, which was a perfect card. Erik bet, I raised just the right amount and he made the call. Since he made that call, we had a situation on the river where there was over 10,000 chips in the pot and he had around 6,000 left. I bet the rest and he called with A-K, so it worked out well.

Tim West

Tim West qualified for Late Night Poker online but he’s no slouch. The 23-year-old poker pro from California is something of a phenom in internet circles, where he’s better known as ‘Tmay420’. He rose to fame online after a succession of final-table finishes in medium to high stakes MTTs, catapulting his online cashes to nearly $1.5m. He then effortlessly transferred his skills to live play with several WPT cashes and two WSOP final table finishes in 2008.

‘I won a $300 satellite on Full Tilt to get into Late Night Poker. It was shown in the US about five years ago and was pretty much the first poker show I watched, so becoming a part of the whole experience was a lot of fun. The first heat was pretty nerve-racking because I travelled all the way from California to Wales, and if I’d lost I’d have had to go straight home! The person I was most worried about was Ben Roberts, who was on my direct left. It was a great feeling winning my heat because I knew I had a final table to prepare for with a few days to rest to get over the jet lag.

Being the unknown player was great, but the fact that they knew I was an unknown with a good idea of how to play was even better. I was very excited and any worries about being intimidated on the final table went out the window. It was the strongest final in Late Night Poker history, but I didn’t worry too much about that because I was the dark horse, which gave me an edge.

Gus Hansen

In the first heat, the online qualifier gave me the most trouble – he bluffed me off one hand early on. I didn’t have anything either, but thought I could call and maybe win it on the turn or river. He bet again on the turn and I improved to an open-ended straight draw, so I figured I’d call one more time, as I still wasn’t sure what he had. On the river, there were two pairs on the board, which could have counterfeited him, but he led out again. Normally I’d call, but it just didn’t feel right or make sense. I didn’t think he was experienced enough to make a bet on the turn with that kind of hand. As it turned out he was bluffing. Obviously, you never want that to happen – to call on the flop and the turn only to then finally fold the best hand on the river. But he made a good bet, so all credit to him. I don’t think he was trying to make a move against me, he thought he had the best hand.

I had no sleep before the final table, but that’s the advantage we poker players have compared to someone like Roger Federer, preparing for the Wimbledon final by getting a good night’s sleep. Obviously, it’s preferable to be well rested and maybe work out a little before a final, but it’s not the end of the world if you’ve been out the night before. In poker, you can still wait around for the right time, which means leaning back and being quiet, which you can’t afford to do in any other sport.

As I hadn’t had any sleep I wasn’t in the best shape, but I think being at the table with really good opponents got me going. It was obviously a very tough final table. Beforehand I was thinking, ‘What game are people bringing to the table today? Is Patrik alert and on his A-game or has he just been playing some big online game?’ Annette’s always going to be dangerous and aggressive. Luke Schwartz definitely likes to trash-talk, but I know how to deal with that. He also knows who he’s capable of rattling and shaking up. It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen but maybe he knows Patrik and I have a lot more live experience than he has so he’s not going to get any great result talking a lot of bullshit to us.

Huck Seed

I’ve got a lot of energy going from winning the NBC Heads-Up and two final table finishes at the WSOP. When I have a nice win, it always seems to turn into a bit of a streak. It’s easier for me to play better when I’ve got some confidence. When you’ve got the winning feeling, you can latch on to that and take something from it to keep it going.

I was feeling really good the day of my heat. I had a nice energy from travelling and was in a fresh city. I feel like I outplayed everyone and coasted through the heat, making a lot of really cool plays, including bluffing Mike Matusow off a hand.

Sometimes opportunities come up where you can make a cool-looking bold play or you can check-raise with nothing. I felt like I played somewhat cautiously because I didn’t know the people. As I got into the flow, I made the cool plays and they seemed to be right, but I didn’t get out of hand with it.

Gus and I went out the night before the final until pretty late and we got accosted by his fans and young kids. They were like, ‘Oh my god, Gus Hansen! What are you doing in Cardiff? This is amazing.’ He’s very famous in Europe, and I’m not – people didn’t really know me in Wales. They were all taking their picture with him and were kind of like, ‘Who is this guy?’ to me.
I don’t drink but Gus was, and as it turned out he ended up staying out all night. We went to a couple of bars and there was a fight, which I hadn’t seen in a while, but I guess it’s pretty common in the UK late at night. I only got five hours’ sleep and wasn’t feeling nearly as good as I was the day before. I woke up a little groggy.

I rode in the taxi to the studio with Luke Schwartz and we had a nice conversation. I thought he was a gentleman and a funny, interesting guy, and was very surprised he has a reputation as an abusive trash-talker.

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