Shuffle up and deal with ‘Showdown’

Every once in awhile, at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, Bravo Television films something magical. It films big-name celebrities losing large sums of money doing something many ordinary people do once a week and enjoying it all the while. No, it’s not an odd version of “The Rich and the Famous” or even a rip-off of VH1’s “The Surreal Life.

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By Erin Tobin

By Erin Tobin

Every once in awhile, at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, Bravo Television films something magical.

It films big-name celebrities losing large sums of money doing something many ordinary people do once a week and enjoying it all the while.

No, it’s not an odd version of “The Rich and the Famous” or even a rip-off of VH1’s “The Surreal Life.”

The show in question is “Celebrity Poker Showdown” and on Oct. 10 at 9 p.m. it is returning for its fourth season of no-limits Texas Hold’em, the card game that has become as popular as the show.

It is a show that has no limits as well. Even after their original sponsor, Cingular Wireless, dropped out, apparently worried that the drinking on the show would paint the company in a bad light. Instead the Internet provider Netzero took a chance and agreed to sponsor the $250,000 awarded in various increments.

The celebrities vying for that large stack of cash for their charity are very varied. One up coming round will feature, among other, Ricki Lake and Macaulay Culkin while another panel of five has Dennis Rodman on it. The panel that will provide the most laughs seems to be round four. This is the game where Chevy Chase (“National Lampoon’s Family Vacation”), Shannon Elizabeth (“American Pie”), Kathy Griffin (“Suddenly Susan”), Neil Patrick Harris (“Doogie Howser M.D.”) along with Host of “The Big Idea” Donny Duetsch. There are quiet a few returning celebrity, such as Dave Navarro, who made it to last season’s final round.

For those out there who have never heard one of Phil Gordon’s chip counts, which is an event everyone must experience, “Celebrity Poker Showdown” is a simple show. All sorts of celebrities come together and try to oust each other in games of poker than are not always all the friendly. Those that win get a silver chip and the opportunity to compete in “championship round” where they win, for their charity, the largest part of the $250,000 up for grabs. Those that don’t make the cut spend the rest of the game in the very luxurious “Loser’s Lounge” where they can comfortably watch the rest of the game while discussing things with the show’s commentators.

The games are fun though, which is a good reason more than a million people tune in every episode. Commentary on each play is provide by poker champion Phil Gordon, a very funny guy, and Dave Foley, a man who probably knows nothing about poker but who’s work on “The Kids in the Hall” proves he’s even funnier.

It is OK that Foley doesn’t know poker, most of the viewers and even the players don’t know anything game as well. So “Celebrity Poker Showdown” is there to hold the audience’s hand and walk them through the hands.

In each episode the rules of Texas Hold’em are explained and a handy and highly entertaining guide to what beats what is provided.

Gordon also provides constant commentary about what the celebrities should do and every tournament he seems to get more and more impressed.

That’s right, as much of a shock as it might be; the celebrities in the game actually take the time to play the game well.

While poker professionals may be shaking their heads in shame while watching “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” the average, poker-illiterate viewer gets treated to a fairly decent game.

Each celebrity is treated to a personal workshop with Gordon before the show, as well as being handed a booklet of basic poker dos and don’ts.

That, coupled with the fear all the celebrities seem to have at being berated by Gordon on national television, keeps the celebrities serious about the game and each hand of “Celebrity Poker Showdown” fairly action-packed. There is plenty of bluffing, egging and general trash-talk that keeps things rolling a decent pace.

It is quite clear Bravo Television flopped a royal flush with “Celebrity Poker Showdown.”

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