WPTIt seems like the World Poker Tour has been around for a long time, but it has just ended its first year on the air. And what an impact it has had on the poker world, as the public has certainly embraced the WPT. It has also become the highest-rated show in the history of the Travel Channel. Hats off to Steve Lipscomb (WPT founder) for taking a dream and making it happen.


Wednesday night has become “poker night” across the nation, and season two on the WPT is now under way. (You can watch it every Wednesday night on the Travel Channel.) The WPT shows in season two are a cut above last year’s, with better production, better graphics and better commentary (hopefully), and, most importantly, better poker.


Players are talking about the “wow” impact the World Poker Tour has had on bringing exposure and new players to poker. One of them said, “Poker is hotter today than disco was in the 1970s.” I love that line. Poker has become “cool”, and millions are watching every week. It seems like every event on the WPT in season two is setting a record for number of entrants and prize money.


The shows appeal to anyone who has ever played poker, as well as fans of “last man standing” reality TV. It allows viewers to live vicariously through the players because of the WPT lipstick cameras, which show the players’ cards. Not only are the shows exciting and entertaining, but people recognize that they can become better poker players by watching the WPT.


The first show of the new season was the Legends of Poker at The Bicycle Casino. In that event, longtime pro Mel Judah came from being the short stack to capture the title. (In addition to Judah, that final table consisted of an amazing lineup of professional Unique Casino players, including T.J. Cloutier, Chip Jett, Phil Laak, Fred Bonyadi, and Paul Phillips.) Judah played heads up against Phillips, a retired “dot-com” millionaire (appropriately nicknamed “Dot-com”) in an exciting match.


Several incidents came up at that final table involving Phillips and Judah that created a lot of discussion in the tournament world. Basically, on two occasions, Mel moved all in and Paul was faced with a decision. While thinking about what to do, Paul verbally called out his hand, which could be a way to induce a “tell” regarding the strength or weakness of an opponent’s hand. Many, including me, believed it was a violation of the rules, as he was talking about his hand prior to action being completed.


The first time it occurred, Mel was bluffing and Paul had top pair (two jacks). He said, “Can you beat top pair?” He then folded and Mel stayed alive. The second time it occurred (which happened to be the last hand of the tournament), the board was A-4-3-5-6, and Mel had a 7-high straight and moved all in. Paul, with a deuce in his hand, had the lower straight and fewer chips than Mel. While contemplating what to do, he said, “Can you beat a straight?” He eventually made the wrong decision by calling, and Mel was crowned the champion.


On the air, on both occasions, I said that I thought Paul was violating the rules and was “unethical” in calling out his hand before action was completed. I do believe it was a violation, but I wish I hadn’t said he was unethical. I wish I’d said, “I believe that is an infraction of the rules and I’m surprised the tournament director hasn’t warned him about it or penalized him for it.”


I believe Paul’s actions could have affected the outcome of those hands, but saying he was unethical was probably too strong and unfair. I apologized privately to Paul for saying that (and to you if you saw the show).


Inducing a reaction from your opponent, such as telling him what you have, is not allowed in the Tournament Directors Association (TDA) rules. In my next column, I’ll delve further into this controversial issue of “calling out your hand” before action is completed.