Poker Meets Korean-Style Reality TV in “Poker After Dark’s” New GGPoker-Produced “Game of Gold”

  • “Game of Gold” has done a good job of mixing team poker with a lone wolf competition
  • Editing could be better at times, as a compelling narrative is occasionally lost
  • The green room in which players comment on the proceedings is a fantastic feature
  • The tension and pressure should get very interesting as the show moves forward
Gold playing cards
“Game of Gold” is one of the best poker television shows to come around in years. [Image:]

Huge Upset as Koon, Negreanu, Martin and Soyza crash out

As the best players from each team squared off in the final four-handed single table tournament, it was backs to the wall stuff for the best player in the competition Jason Koon, whose teammates Kevin Martin, Daniel Negreanu and Michael Soyza had all failed to get heads-up in their matches. Even though the points allocated for the final match were unknown, it seemed obvious that he needed at least a top two finish.

A King and Queen on the flop sent Koon and Team Clubs crashing out of the competition.

After some early skirmishes, Koon woke up with pocket Kings and was re-jammed on by Fedor Holz who had Ace-Queen and the shortest stack. A hold would have put him three-handed with an above average stack but instead, there was Ace on the flop and Koon was the new short stack. A few hands later, Koon was again up against Holz, this time in a virtual flip with A-5 offsuit versus K-Q suited. A King and Queen on the flop sent Koon and Team Clubs crashing out of the competition.

When the teams were randomly drawn, it seemed a little lopsided. Team Clubs and Team Spades (Fedor Holz, Charlie Carrel, Johan “YoH Viral” Guilbert, and Nikita Luther) both had three of the best seven players, but in a turbo short-handed format, anything can happen. Over the four matches, when it mattered most, Team Clubs lost all six of their all-ins, resulting in an unenviable record of fourth, fourth, third, and fourth to crash out in Round One of “Game of Gold.”

Put the players under pressure

Hosted by Ali Nejad, “Game of Gold” is a 16-player poker gameshow filmed in the style of Korean reality television with a gazillion cameras, fancy sets, high concept, and players mic’d up at all times. Elements of “Game of Gold” have been tried before in a poker context. The PartyPoker Premier League got funky with single-table formats over a decade ago. Talking heads are a part of lots of poker broadcasts. Brazilian stables have been treating poker like a team sport for years.

The question is can poker fuse in a broader way with the aesthetic and intricacies of reality television shows like “Big Brother,” “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race,” and “Masterchef.” The term reality television can be a misnomer as the drama onscreen is not always authentic and is actually scripted or at least pre-meditated. Of course, every show has a premise and the contestants have objectives, so it is naturally always going to be an artificial environment.

setting up a team component at the outset of what is ultimately a lone wolf competition

At its base, “reality TV,” like all TV, creates a world which has rules. The hope is that those rules are internally coherent and consistent and that the players are free to be themselves or compete in a manner of their own choosing. So far, “Game of Gold” does a great job, setting up a team component at the outset of what is ultimately a lone wolf competition. This is sure to create complexity and competing motivations in later rounds.

Execution lacking in spots

While “Game of Gold” is easily the most interesting and innovative show we have seen in poker for a long time, it has not absolutely nailed the execution just yet. It is not the producer’s fault that the tension went out of the fourth episode early on in terms of who would be the eliminated team. However, what was their fault was how the lead up to that moment was confusing.

occasionally the way it is cut is a little disjointed

Jungleman was left with just 200K after a hand versus Holz and we never got to see how he got back to over 500K, presumably an all-in that would have given Team Clubs some real hope. Several commentators have raved about how slick the editing is, but I actually think it could be a lot better and occasionally the way it is cut is a little disjointed. The Episode Two cliffhanger failed to leave us on anything particularly gripping.

The music is excellent, adding to the tension at key moments, but the highlight for me is the use of the green room where the other three players on each team rail and critique the lines taken by all the players. It means that there is no need for a commentator, which is great, and those parts have a Gogglebox vibe which is very revealing of character and creates a pleasing watch-party vibe.

Bottle magic

My prediction is “Game of Gold” is going to put the remaining twelve players through the wringer. With $456,000 up for grabs, there is plenty of motivation and contestants are going to be strategizing and plotting the best ways for them to win. It was interesting that when there were significant coin disparities between the matches in Round One, everyone pretty much fell into a pecking order based on presumed skill level. I suspect that things will not be so friendly going forward.

 this is ultimately going to be a game of poker survivor and allegiances will inevitably fray

After what has been a pleasant and relatively uncomplicated opening round, it is likely that the gloves will come off as more diabolical game formats put our players to more difficult tests. The team aspect was introduced from the get-go, but this is ultimately going to be a game of poker survivor and allegiances will inevitably fray.

If this show is ultimately about revealing character (for our entertainment), then the best thing the producers can do is put the players under pressure – pressure to perform on the felt, peer pressure from your teammates, and reputational pressure as the game tests out your morals and you know the cameras are watching. If they can do that, they may well bottle some poker TV magic that we will be talking about for years to come.

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