Late Night Poker, despite its relatively short initial run, is one of the best known shows on poker, largely because the show introduced an innovation that would revolutionize, and then define, Poker TV. This British juggernaut would go on to inspire not only several spinoffs, but even some of the spinoffs that it inspired had spinoffs, making Late Night Poker the driving force behind televised poker.
Long before he began producing High Stakes Poker, Henry Orenstein, toymaker and World Series of Poker bracelet winner, changed the world of poker forever with his pocket cam (also known as a hole cam), a special camera which allows viewers at home to see the hole/pocket cards held by players at a table. This invention, first used in Late Night Poker in 1999, changed the way people watched poker. With Late Night Poker, suddenly the audience was engaged and involved in a way that they never had been before. At-home viewers could now analyze strategy as the game played out, giving Poker TV a whole new appeal and drastically increasing its popularity.
Commentators Jesse May, Lucy Rokach (series four), and Barny Boatman (the final two series), despite seeing all the card s in play, maintained an often one-sided commentary which would become very typical of Late Night Poker and yet another way that it deviated from other shows on Poker TV. In high-tension moments, the show will often only show one player’s hole cards, such that the commentary can examine common poker playing themes such as probabilities, reading the opponent, and intense strategy. The other cards will be revealed when a decisive move (such as an all-in and a call) is made, allowing at-home viewers to see the game unfold at a pace that presents just the right amount of information without overwhelming the spectator with data or robbing the game of its suspense.
The original Late Night Poker had six series televised over the course of four years– from 1999 to 2002. The first series consisted of five heats, with the first and second place winners moving on to the finals, while the other five series each had nine heats, a semi-final, and a final table. In the first series, second place winners were given a shot at the final table simply for coming in second, although they started the final with half as many chips as the first place winners. In later series, it was far more difficult for a second place winner to progress; while all first place winners made the final table, the semi-final was made up of the previous second place winners, and only the winner of that table would progress to the final. Late Night Poker Ace and Late Night Poker Masters, the two primary Late Night Poker variations, both have different formats than the original, with different numbers of heats and means for making the final tables.
Late Night Poker returned to Channel 4 in Britain in 2008 and now consists of one amateur competition followed by ten heats with more players and a much larger prize. LNP has been sponsored by both Party Poker and Full Tilt Poker, which has contributed to many format changes. The one thing that both of these major poker sites seem to agree on, however, is that Late Night Poker is too good a show to stay off the air for long.
Late Night Poker Ace
After Late Night Poker ended, PartyPoker.com saw the opportunity to take advantage of the growing interest in televised tournament poker and created Late Night Poker Ace, a show which followed the tournament of the same name. Late Night Poker Ace followed a new format, introducing eight “heats” and a final table, the winner of which would win 50,000 pounds (during the first series) or $50,000 (the second series– currency types for the Late Night Poker franchise changed between the two series of Late Night Poker Ace and would remain in dollars from that point on).
The tournament and show, which began in 2005, were produced for two series and catered solely to amateur players, giving this particular spinoff a new kind of allure to at-home viewers. Poker was now, it seemed, something accessible to everyone. Raul Mestre, who won the second series, went on to become a professional poker player, while John Shaw, the winner from the first series, has remained an amateur player, with only a couple of money finishes to his name since his LNPA win.
Late Night Poker Masters
In 2006, Late Night Poker returned to British television under a new name: Late Night Poker Masters. While the original LNP catered specifically to professional players, and LNP Ace dealt with amateur players, LNP Masters attempted to blend the two, taking the top eight players from the previous season’s LNP Ace tournament and giving them another shot at big money– this time against 24 seasoned poker professionals.
While one might assume that the professional players would have a clear advantage, the show reinforced the idea that poker is anyone’s game as three of the eight winners at the final table in Late Night Poker Masters were amateur players who had performed well in LNP Ace: David Tighe, who finished first, had come in fourth place the year before; Simon Ehne, who came in second for the second year running; and Johnathan Romero, who finished in seventh place, took a small step up from his eight place finish the year prior.
Celebrity Poker Club
Late Night Poker was the inspiration for Celebrity Poker Club, a UK television series that followed a similar format to LNP and was intended as a spinoff, and therefore Celebrity Poker Showdown, the American take on Celebrity Poker Club. CPC featured what Season 2 winner Victoria Coren described as a rather loose interpretation of the word “celebrity”, offering at-home viewers the chance to watch poker matches that threw together famous people from all walks of life, from actors to heirs, ventriloquists to world snooker champions. The show had three seasons– Late Night Poker commentator and poker personality Jesse May offered commentary for all three, while the premier season also featured Barny Boatman throwing his two cents in.