Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. Originally published (1999) in the Gambler magazine.
Additional note: I registered the domain name ExtremePoker.com many years ago, thinking I would do something with it. When I decided I had too many projects to juggle a few years ago, I yielded to a large offer, selling the domain. My warped vision still lives (and I still have GrudgePoker.com). — MC
Good. This is one of those columns where I get to present a personal opinion to my poker friends. The more I think about it, the more I realize this is really a good way to end up without any poker friends. Oh, well, that never stopped me before.
You’ve heard of Extreme Fighting, right? If you haven’t, I’ll try to explain. As I understand it — which is not all that well, but as well as I want to right now — it’s a blend of traditional boxing, kick boxing, martial arts, and barroom brawling.
Apparently, Extreme Fighting has — in the past couple years — captured a large and loyal audience. These fans are attracted to the literally no-holds-barred brutality, the intense action, and the thunderous thrills as combatants pulverize each other.
You’d think, judging by that small and vocal group that advocates the abolition of traditional boxing, that Extreme Fighting would have been banished before it was ever broadcast. However, it seems to have leaped into the public arena so suddenly that it took hold before resistance rose.
Extreme Fighting either brings an activity to a level that a vast number of people seek to sink to, or elevates it to a level of semi-chaotic thrills — depending on your point of view.
So, what does this have to do with poker? Plenty. For years I semi-seriously have teased poker publishers about how to stretch their market beyond the mere spectrum of regular players. You need to find human interest stories where poker is the vehicle, but the real story is human emotions.
I suggested headlines like Husband’s Quest to Win Lung Replacement for Ailing Wife Fails When He Gets Jacks-Full Cracked at River and Teacher Forced to Sell Her Baby to Communists After Long Losing Night of Hold’em. Sick? Sure, but those are exactly the kind of stories people — especially non-poker people — want to read.
It’s the same deep, dark drive that compels people to watch Extreme Fighting. So, I ask you, what about Extreme Poker? Several times entrepreneurs have tried to snare me in their plans to televise poker matches. I’ve always told them that poker doesn’t boast a broad enough appeal to go into general markets.
You’d need to run the program in non-prime hours or on gambling-specific or sports-specific channels. I further advised them that poker hands need to be shown secretly to the audience as the players act, not afterward, and that the best dramatic presentation of poker will happen in heads-up telecasts, not in eight-handed games.
What I didn’t tell them is what you really need to make such a program work. It’s simply Extreme Poker, and here’s how I envision it.
How it works
The program begins with dramatic music and MTV-type, flashed, half-second images of losing hands, people in shock, pitiful tears, and relieved winners.
The title “Extreme Poker” fades in while the announcer booms, “And now, it’s time for the game of all games, where people’s greatest hopes are realized…or ruined, where fortunes change on the flip of a card, and where you will see personal futures unravel before your eyes. Welcome to Extreme Poker. Today, Dennis Dayton of Houston, Texas takes on Hal Houston of Dayton, Ohio in a winner-take-all battle to rescue one of their lives. First, a little about today’s poker combatants…”
At this point there are one-minute snippets of the lives of Dayton of Houston and Houston of Dayton. We learn that both have wonderful families. Families that really care about them. Families that are very fragile and that depend on them. Dayton is on the verge of bankruptcy, his house about to be repossessed, his relatives all dead, and nowhere to go but the street. We see his nine-year-old daughter hugging him, blurting, “You’re going to win, Daddy. I don’t want to live in the car. I know you’re going to win, Daddy!”
In the next one-minute intro, we learn that Houston has 15 children that he sired during a brief period of great personal wealth. Later, even while his finances failed, he was diagnosed with a grave, rare psychological disease, only now being researched, called Past Romantic Recall Syndrome. This disease prompts him to cry out the name of past girl fiends whenever he makes love to his wife.
There is only one noted expert who can cure Houston’s problem, but the treatment will run hundreds of thousands of dollars. Houston cannot afford this, because he is now impoverished. His wife tearfully relates, “I will stand by him as long as I can, but if Past Romantic Recall Syndrome cannot be cured, I’m planning to divorce Hal. And that will break my heart, because I love him so much.”
Now a commercial. Ideally, this show should have sponsors like Forest Lawn mortuary or State Farm life insurance — both folks who really care about people — but casinos could substitute as sponsors in a pinch.
Deal the cards
Anyway, after the commercial, the poker action begins. The sponsors are going to make the winner’s dreams come true, but the loser not only wins nothing, not even a consolation prize, but must exit the poker table while the studio audience chants, “You lost, so get lost!” over and over.
We see each hand as it unfolds. In fact, using a split screen, we see both hands side by side, even though each opponent cannot see the other’s cards. So, we, the audience, know what they don’t know.
When Dayton bluffs with all his money, we see the worried look on his wife’s face — a closeup. And when Houston calls the bluff and wins, we see his wife chanting, “Yes, yes, thank you Lordie. Oh, thank God! They’re gonna cure Hal’s PRRS. I know they are!”
Meanwhile, the entire Dayton family slinks off stage with his wife hysterically sobbing, “Why did you try to bluff? Don’t you care about me? All I wanted was to keep our house… Why did you have to bluff, Dennis?” The last of these words are thundered over with the traditional Extreme Poker audience chant, again and again, “You lost, so get lost. You lost, so get lost, You lost, so…”
What do you think?
So, I ask you, my friends, do you like my game show? Do you think Extreme Poker is on the horizon? Is it coming to your television soon? Will you sit and stare attentively at your screen while players battle for their futures and for their families?
Not me. I won’t watch, because I think poker should be a sensible challenge for sensible stakes. Play big if you can afford to play big. Play for pennies if pennies please you. I’ve seen too much poker played beyond the arena of casual entertainment. I’ve often watched big-limit poker played more as a contest to see who can survive the agony than a challenge to bring rewards to the winner.
So, today, I propose Extreme Poker as a way to popularize the game and win the hearts of the public. I guarantee a rating success.
But, personally, I won’t be tuning in to Extreme Poker. I’ve already seen it. — MC
4 thoughts on “Extreme poker — a vision I should keep to myself”
Hi Mike. Thank you for your words!
Hey mike, good article. I think you are correct in your assumption that a good human interest story is what is required. Poker here in Argentina has been struggling to go mainstream. Though, throughout its 3 year history it has grown exponentially, the majority of players are afficionados and a mix of hard luck fortune seekers. Several magazines have been created by former players and acquaitants of mine, but the general press has yet to pick up on the sport. My assumption has always been that a good human interest story is required. I have been seeking a cab driver to coach for some time…yet to find one…search goes on for my hero of the people. In all, its quite fascinating to be part of this, particularly as an outsider. If you're interested, can keep you posted on progress of the game here. Also, stars runs some great events here in country, def worth a visit.
Hi, Joe —
Yes, keep us all posted. The forum might be an even better place for future updates, although we're still not officially open, so the traffic may be sparse right now.
Mike, you have been a successful visionary and theorist in poker for decades. You have been proven right many more times than you have been proven wrong. Those, in poker terms, would be considered excellent odds. Ergo, I’ll bet on you, your vision(s) and Extreme Poker…to be seen on American T.V. sooner than later. ‘Please’ continue to have poker visions of the future, dream and share with us.
Best Personal Regards,