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19/03/2009 No. 74
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Thur 19 Mar 2009
A mixed-up world

At last, the world has truly turned upside down. Just as Annie Duke (professional poker player, one WSoP bracelet) is announced as one of the contestants in America's Celebrity Apprentice, Montel Williams (famous talkshow host, one Emmy) announces his new television series International Team Poker League.


What happened there? Did two phone numbers get mixed up like airport briefcases in a bad thriller? Does Montel have to blunder his way through the unfamiliar territory of gambling, while Annie fools the US into thinking she's a celebrity, and together they foil a terrorist plot?

On reflection, I suppose we could have seen this coming. Williams has been a visible poker enthusiast for a while now; he has made a few creditable, if slightly too solid, guest appearances as a televised player. And perhaps poker really has, at last, reached the point where pros like Duke qualify as full-on crossover celebrities.

But I still think a trick has been missed. Montel's great skill, like Oprah's, lay in persuading members of the public to sob through their personal traumas for an enthralled TV audience. Why not just relaunch the original Montel Williams Show, with poker players in the crowd? There is surely no community more troubled, bitter, miserable, screwed-up, articulate and funny. All Montel would have to do is ask "Are you a lucky person?" and he'd get enough anguish to fill eight series. At the end of each episode, Duke, the "single mom who won $3m", could come on in military gear, yell at them and send them to boot camp. Perfect TV, and nobody is too far out of their comfort zone.

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