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New TV show 'Face The Ace' makes its debut on NBC

3 August 2009

NBC's "Face the Ace," which debuted Saturday night, has the potential to be a pretty good, and possibly mainstream, poker show. But it needs some tweaking before it gets there.

The show, hosted by Steve Schirripa, has a nice game show feel to it. The show begins with four Full Tilt pros hidden behind four different doors. The contestant chooses his opponent by picking a door. After the contestant picks a door, model Megan Abrigo opens it to reveal which pro will face the contestant in a heads-up match.

If the contestant beats the first pro, or "ace," he wins $40,000. The contestant can then choose if he wants to keep the $40,000 or risk it for a chance to win $200,000 by playing another pro. If he beats the second pro, he can risk his $200,000 to play another pro for $1 million. If the contestant loses any match, he doesn't win any money. The contestants have no idea who is behind each door.

In the first episode, Phil Ivey was behind the door selected by Jonathan Nygaard, and his reaction was priceless. Nygaard practically winced as Ivey walked through the door, before recovering quickly with a smile.

Nygaard tried talking some trash with Ivey, noting that his picture was nowhere to be found on Binion's wall of World Series of Poker Main Event champs. Ivey didn't respond to the trash talking, and took the high road by saying he hoped this was the year he would win the Main Event (Ivey has reached the final table of the Main Event).

The match between Nygaard and Ivey didn't last long, so we really didn't get a good chance to see how comfortable Ivey would be chatting Nygaard up. Nygaard picked up pocket aces in the first hand and ace-five in the second hand to easily pick up smallish pots. Ivey went all in the third hand of the show with ace-four, and Nygaard's pocket queens beat him for the win.

Nygaard elected to keep the $40,000 and go home, bringing on contestant number two, Don Topel. Topel, who lives in a house with his mother and sister (and a couple of nieces, apparently) and Erick Lindgren -- the first pro Topel played -- were the true stars of Saturday's show.

Lindgren looked completely comfortable serving as the focal point of entertainment at the table. He faked going all in on the first hand. And he kept up a steady stream of easy-going chatter at the table. "I'm getting more hands here than I did the entire World Series of Poker," Lindgren joked at one point. Lindgren even showed Topel a card mid-hand, giving the challenger that extra bit of information he needed to make a big call.

Another nice feature of the show is a strip of cards at the top of the screen that shows the cards that a player needs to win a hand.

Topel ended up beating Lindgren, and followed it up by taking down Howard Lederer in the $200,000 match. He's decided to go for the $1 million grand prize and we'll find out next week if he wins.

But we don't have to wait until next week to point out where the show falls flat. The show's biggest flaw is its host, Schirripa. Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccalieri on the Sopranos, doesn't have that polished game-show host veneer like say Howie Mandel or Tom Bergeron. While those two hosts are able to generate excitement and drama for the games they're hosting, Schirripa can be painful to listen to. His standard jokes appear to be the fact that all of the contestants are way out of Abrigo's league from a dating standpoint and fat jokes.

And whenever there's a showdown that could eliminate a player, he turns the microphone over to tournament director Ali Nejad, who explains what's going on. So why exactly is Schirripa there? And while we're wondering about Schirripa, who's the anonymous play-by-play guy calling the action? And if you have one of those, why do you need Nejad? A show with fewer moving parts would be much easier to watch. "Face the Ace" is also dependent on its poker pros to provide an entertaining presence at the table. Ivey and Lederer were OK. Lindgren was outstanding. If the rest of the pros rise up to Lindgren's level, this show can succeed. But if the rest of the Full Tilt gang falls flat, "Face the Ace" will fold in a hurry.

New TV show 'Face The Ace' makes its debut on NBC is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan

Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.

Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.