Poker After Dark began January 2, 2007, and quickly vaulted to a steady position as one of the biggest names in Poker TV. The show, which presents a series of mini-tournaments where poker pros are pitted against one another for a $120,000 pot, has had remarkable success during its seven seasons, due in part to its excellent production and deep-pocketed sponsors and in part due to the incredibly large amount of talent that regularly appears on the show. Some of the most frequently seen talent includes Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, and Jennifer Harman. All of these players have won first place at least once, and several have had multiple first place aired finishes. Poker After Dark regularly airs in the US (NBC), Canada (Rogers Sportsnet and V), France (RTL9), Germany (SPORT1), Ireland (Setanta Ireland and Setanta Sports 1), the Netherlands (Veronica), Sweden (TV4 Sport), Denmark (TV3+), Italy (POKERItalia24), and Russia (7TV and REN-tv).
Poker After Dark aims to show at-home viewers how a single table plays out over the course of a week, although the series is often filmed all at once and then edited to make it appear as though it lasts for a full week. Each season of Poker After Dark is comprised of between seven and 16 “weeks”, which offer variance in the kind of game played or offers particular themes. While the show began with No Limit Texas Hold’em, it evolved to include no-limit cash games and other formats, but it has remained constant in its weekly award of $120,000 (six players with a buy-in of $20,000), with only one alternate amount ever won by a player: Jam Up Week of Season 3, where a player bought back in and raised the total to $140,000.
Poker After Dark has features many different themed weeks during its run, including: “Dream Team,” where the winner of a contest sponsored by Full Tilt Poker was allowed to choose the opponents against which they wished to play; “Love at First Raise,” which took place during Season 3 and featured three pairs of poker professionals who were in a relationship at the time of filming; “Close but No Cigar,” which featured players who had made a final table at the WSOP Main Event but did not win the bracelet; and the previously mentioned “Jam Up,” where any players who were eliminated in the first lap of the button had to buy back in to the game (Eli Elezra, was eliminated early on and bought back in, went on to come in third place that week).
Because Poker After Dark was a new idea in PokerTV, a lot of the show’s evolutions came as a result of trial and error. During Season 1, a rule was created stating that players could ask for silence at the table while they tried to make a decision (but until the player requests it, table talk may continue unabated); this came about when Phil Hellmuth was trying to decide whether to go all-in and the other players continued to talk. Season 6 brought new graphics and an indication of who has the button, along with more in-depth player statistics, likely due to the desire to maintain popularity with serious poker players watching at home. Season 3 introduced the “Dream Team” games, a result of Full Tilt Poker’s sponsorship and desire to generate profit off of the show.
In Season 1 of Poker After Dark, the winners were Gus Hansen, Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan, Phil Ivey, Phil Laak, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Jennifer Harman, John Juanda, and Clonie Gowen (in order by week in the series). Season 2 saw wins from many of the same players (Clonie Gowen in week 7, Phil Ivey in week 10, and Howard Lederer in week 5) as well as some new ones (Joe Hachem, week 1; Patrik Antonius, week 2; Gabe Kaplan, week 3; the Godfather of Poker, Doyle Brunson, in week 4; Shawn Sheikhan, week 6; Allen Cunningham, week 8; and Mike Sexton in week 9. Season 3 saw Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan both win twice (weeks 1 and 3 for Hellmuth and weeks 4 and 6 for Chan), along with new blood: Gavin Smith beat out Phil Ivey head-on in week 2, while Gabe Kaplan displaced both Doyle Brunson and Chris Ferguson in week 5. David Williams, Vanessa Rousso, David Benyamine, and Mark Gregorich took weeks seven through ten, respectively. Starting with the fourth season of Poker After Dark, many of the games were not aired on television, as they were cash games that strayed from the traditional PAD format. Since that time, Poker After Dark has had almost twice as many games as weeks that were aired, but the results remain available on the show’s website.
Unfortunately, due to United States gambling regulations, Poker After Dark is another part of the poker world subject to change or elimination. In April of 2011, the United States Judicial System, unhappy with the ways around the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 that many online poker sites and players had found, decided to go directly after some of the biggest names in online poker, including PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, causing them to pull out of the US market. The UIGEA put severe restrictions on US banks, making it unlawful for them to fund accounts on online poker sites. Ways around this abounded, including prepaid credit cards and money transfer sites, so the US took its legislation a step farther. With Full Tilt Poker forced out of the US market, the future of Poker After Dark is uncertain. While NBC has not indicated that they plan to drop Poker After Dark, the show still faces challenges because the US Justice Department has charges of bank fraud, money laundering, and unlawful gambling pending against Full Tilt Poker, the show’s chief sponsor. Perhaps the show will find a center of operations that isn’t the United States, or perhaps the show will find other funding, since Full Tilt may have to pull out, given that the North American Poker Tour, previously sponsored by PokerStars.com, was eliminated from broadcasting in the US due to this new, oppressive legislation.