By:Patrick Sauriol
Review Date: Friday, May 06, 2005

If you've been hiding under a rock for the past two years, here's an update: poker has become the next big pop culture thing. Whether it's the explosive growth of televised tournament play or the proliferation of online gaming websites, what was once relegated to buddies playing cards every other Saturday night in a backroom has turned into a mainstream billion dollar industry. One of the primary instigators of bringing poker to millions of new players has been the World Poker Tour (WPT) and its slate of TV programming showing the top poker players in the world facing off for pots that reach into the millions.

Striking a deal with the WPT, Shout Factory has assembled an impressive 8-disc DVD set of the second season of the tour. Being a poker enthusiast myself, I was already familiar with the WPT and a good chunk of its star players so I knew a bit of what to expect. For those not that familiar with the game and looking for a starting point, the WPT shows try to appeal to experienced and new players both so don't worry too much about getting lost with the action  happening on the felt.

The first seven discs each contain two WPT events. For those unfamiliar with the program, each show is broadcast from a certain location on the tour, be it from a Las Vegas casino, cruise liner or sandy, sunny Caribbean locale. Six players compete in the game, No Limit Texas Hold'em, with commentary provided by Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten. The trick that the WPT came up with was to show what every player at the table has as their "hole" cards those being the two cards dealt face down to each person. Since the audience (plus commentators Sexton and Van Patten) now know exactly what each player has, and who's bluffing or got the nuts, we get to see how each pro calls his way through the hand and on to eventual elimination or triumph. This one gimmick has turned watching poker from a game into a high stakes form of entertainment, and it's a fun ride to watch as tens of thousands of dollars get lost and won all from sometimes just being able to read what your opponent is thinking from watching their movements. Add to that the slick WPT treatment of including tips, tricks of the game and a glossy polished look to the proceedings and the show becomes, at least for me, an irresistible draw to watch from start to end.

If you're already into poker the set will already have some interest from you to watch the games from their start to conclusion, hoping that maybe you can pick up some of your own tricks just from watching these guys play high stakes Hold'em. What raises the set to another level is the addition of commentary tracks from a quartet of the world's best poker players (Phil Laak, Antonio Esfandiari, Daniel Negreanu, and Erick Lindgren) for four of the games. Now when you watch the game, you're able to find out what each of these guys are thinking about the way their opponents played their cards, which really opens up the many ways that the game can be played. The only downside to having these commentaries is that you get greedy and want to have them on all of the games.

Disc 8 features bonus material including the profiles of six WPT players; the first Poker Corner Special which analyses the final game in the WPT's second season; a look at the way poker has captured the interest of many Hollywood actors; and by far the best gift, over a dozen short segments offering tips on how to play better poker. If you're trying to figure out how to be a better poker player, this is a great resource for the beginning to average player.

The bottom line is if you're not interested in poker, ignore the letter grade and recommendation I give this set. If you are a player, or you know someone that is, this set is worth it. For an 8-disc set the price is certainly reasonable, there's added value included to improving your game and there's three hours of poker to watch per disc. Get it, watch it, then go all when your next poker night rolls around.

Mania Grade: A-
Disc Grade: A-
Reviewed Format: DVD
Rated: N/A
Stars: N/A
Writers: N/A
Director: N/A
Distributor: Sony Music
Original Year of Release: 2005
Suggested Retail Price: $59.98
Extras: 8-disc set; commentary for four games; player profiles; expanded Poker Corner special; "Poker Takes Over Hollywood" feature; Poker Corner tips and tricks.