Televised poker revolutionised the game with the debut of the World Poker Tour in 2003. Viewers could see players’ hole cards and how they played their hands. But showing poker on television involved much more than setting up cameras and hitting “record.”
Commentators allow viewers to learn the background of players and provide insight. They add colour to the action on the felt.
In recent years, demand for poker commentators has grown as more poker is streamed live online.
In no particular order, here’s a look at some of the best voices calling the action.
- Lon McEachern
- Mike Sexton
- Vince Van Patten
- Ali Nejad
- James Hartigan
- Nick Schulman
- Norman Chad
- Maria Ho
- David Tuchman
- Jeff Platt
- Gabe Kaplan
- AJ Benza
- Jamie Kerstetter
- Antonio Esfandiari
- Brent Hanks
- Joe Stapleton
- Phil Hellmuth
1 – Lon McEachern
With a sports broadcaster delivery on the air, McEachern brought plenty of professionalism to the World Series of Poker. During the poker boom, that meant some added credibility for the game’s new fans.
McEachern made for a great match with Chad - the Budd Abbott, to his partner’s Lou Costello. Along with Sexton and Van Patten, when people think of poker on television, McEachern and Chad are on the radar.
They worked to keep the game fun without offering overly hardcore analysis.
?️ Delivery: Matter of fact mixed with occasional humour.
? Tours or outlets: ESPN, WSOP
?️ Signatures: The voice behind Chris Moneymaker’s historic 2003 WSOP Main Event championship
2 – Mike Sexton
This poker legend passed away in 2020 at age 73, after spending 15 years behind the microphone for the World Poker Tour (WPT). Sexton became synonymous with poker for many poker fans – calling the action from glamorous casinos all around the world.
The WPT was one of the first shows televising poker with visible hole cards. As such, Sexton introduced a generation of Americans to No-Limit Texas Hold’em.
The Poker Hall of Famer parlayed life as a professional poker player and gambler into a popular online poker site co-founder.
He remains one of the best-known voices in poker.
?️ Delivery: A poker everyman
? Tours or outlets: WPT
?️ Signatures: “May all your cards be live, and all your pots be monsters!”
3 – Vince Van Patten
An actor and former professional tennis player before offering insight for the WPT, Van Patten brings a bit of Hollywood to poker. The hair, the tan, the smooth voice – it all screams Hollywood. In 2019, Van Patten even wrote and starred in the poker film 7 Days to Vegas.
Van Patten comes to his role after his father, actor, and poker player Dick Van Patten. Dick was one of the game’s first broadcasters. And one of the original commentators for the World Series of Poker in the 1990s.
That’s fitting as Van Patten has hosted private games in Los Angeles for years. Van Patten occupies the role of poker fan but also offers plenty of insight.
He and Sexton made for one of the best broadcasting teams in the game.
?️ Delivery: Excited and anticipatory
? Tours or outlets: Every season of WPT
?️ Signatures: “Bingo, bango, bongo!”
4 – Ali Nejad
A frequent commentator on several poker shows through the years, Nejad got his start in television. He had been playing poker full-time for some time after dropping out of college. He later appeared on ESPU and HLN.
His break in poker commentary came after meeting legendary poker producer Mori Eskandani on a poker cruise in 2003. His deep knowledge of the game and on-air talent have led to many opportunities like PokerGO’s, Poker After Dark.
?️ Delivery: Smooth and relaxed – a natural on TV
? Tours or outlets: PokerGO, Poker After Dark, National Heads-Up Poker Championship, and many others
?️ Signatures: Deep knowledge of the poker world, an easy-going interviewer
5 – James Hartigan
That smooth English accent has become one of the best poker voices around. He’s called live and online action from locations around the world.
Before covering major events and tours, Hartigan worked as a radio broadcaster earlier in his career. He has been a recreational poker player since the ‘90s. Later, he transitioned to poker commentating during the poker boom.
?️ Delivery: Smooth pipes; excellent play by play
? Tours or outlets: EPT, 2010 WSOP, others
?️ Signatures: Has broadcast some of the biggest moments on the European poker scene.
6 – Nick Schulman
Schulman delivers plenty of next-level thinking to his role in televised poker and live streams. He also brings plenty of poker chops to the table with three WSOP bracelets and one WPT title.
In recent years, he’s added his poker knowledge to the WSOP Main Event, and fans have been receptive to his unique style.
?️ Delivery: Relaxed with dry wit
? Tours or outlets: ESPN, WSOP, PokerGO
?️ Signatures: Unique analysis but relatable to average poker fans
7 – Norman Chad
This long-time sports columnist and humourist brought a unique background to the WSOP. It was around this time that ESPN began filming players’ hole cards in 2003.
Chad played the funny man to Lon McEachern’s straight man.
The pair helped educate regular Joes about the WSOP and the game of Texas Hold’em. Both were nominated for the Poker Hall of Fame in 2020.
?️ Delivery: Dry and comedic
? Tours or outlets: ESPN, WSOP
?️ Signatures: “He just got wham-boozled!”. Chad also speaks often of his ex-wives. He called Chris Moneymaker’s historic 2003 WSOP Main Event championship.
8 – Maria Ho
This poker shark has already found plenty of success on the poker felt. Maria then decided to make use of her college degree to add commentating duties to her resumé.
Ho earned a degree in communications at the University of California-San Diego but jumped into poker after graduating.
A regular player in televised events, she has also served as a commentator, anchor, and interviewer. Her smooth and sophisticated style earned her Broadcaster of the Year at the 2019 Global Poker Awards.
?️ Delivery: Sophisticated and smooth
? Tours or outlets: ESPN WSOP, WPT, PokerGO
?️ Signatures: Subtle and cool
9 – David Tuchman
Tuchman is the long-time voice of WSOP events streamed online. He has also branched out into other events as well including streaming events online. Tuchman brings a background in journalism and sports broadcasting to his commentating role.
That experience adds confidence and a smooth delivery to his commentating duties. Tuchman is also no stranger to the game, offering excellent insight into the poker world.
?️ Delivery: Confident mix of play by play and analysis
? Tours or outlets: WSOP, PokerGO, Live at the Bike
?️ Signatures: Insider poker knowledge
10 – Jeff Platt
This Texan spent years as a sports broadcaster and has become a jack of all trades in the poker world. Hey, he even sang in the choir in high school! He later earned a broadcast degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California.
Platt has worked as a sports anchor and reporter at television stations in Dallas and San Antonio. He brings plenty of knowledge of the game and excels at the play by play role.
He’s worked as a reporter, anchor, podcaster, and even a poker game show host.
?️ Delivery: Smooth and professional
? Tours or outlets: PokerGO, ESPN, PokerNews podcast
?️ Signatures: References to his Tinder dating life
11 – Gabe Kaplan
This actor and comedian paved the way for poker broadcasting. Many Americans knew him for his role in the sitcom Welcome Back Kotter. But his life as a poker player led to roles behind the mic at the WSOP.
Kotter parlayed his poker success and comedic skills into more commentating roles - before and after the poker boom.
?️ Delivery: Comedic yet knowledgeable
? Tours or outlets: WSOP, GSN and PokerGO High Stakes Poker, National Heads-Up Poker Championship
?️ Signatures: Plenty of humour
12 – AJ Benza
This former gossip columnist for the New York Daily News went on to host television shows for the E! Network and VH1. In recent years, he’s also worked as an actor in films like Rocky Balboa in 2006.
Besides writing for Star magazine, Benza has also authored two books and worked as a film producer. For five seasons, he manned the mic for GSN’s High Stakes Poker. In 2019, he returned to that role – commentating on a show that was a fan favourite.
?️ Delivery: Matter of fact and to the point
? Tours or outlets: High Stakes Poker
?️ Signatures: Comes across as old school New York tough guy
13 – Jamie Kerstetter
Jamie has worked on shows like Poker Night in America and the Heartland Poker Tour. Since then, she has become a sought-after analyst. She offers keen insight at the tables, which includes $1.5 million in live and online winnings.
Her television skills have even earned Kerstetter some analyst duties on WSOP Main Event ESPN broadcasts and WPT live streams.
Additionally, she hosts two podcasts, LFG with Chad Holloway and Run It Once with Marle Cordero.
?️ Delivery: Personable
? Tours or outlets: WSOP Main Event, Poker Night in America, Heartland Poker Tour, WSOP Main Event
?️ Signatures: Analysis relatable to an average viewer
14 – Antonio Esfandiari
As one of the biggest names in poker, “The Magician” brings name recognition to poker broadcasts. Esfandiari connects well with regular Joe poker fans. He offers insight, a wide range of players would understand.
With a fun and unique personality, the three-time WSOP bracelet winner has lent his expertise to WSOP Main Event coverage.
?️ Delivery: Friendly and approachable
?Tours or outlets: WSOP Main Event, ESPN
?️ Signatures: Humorous and jabbing at Norman Chad
15 – Brent Hanks
Hanks may not have the traditional, polished broadcaster voice but brings his own brand. A WSOP bracelet winner, Hanks has the skills at the poker table to offer insight.
Mixing in some humour is also a part of his game. He has been there, done that via long online streaming sessions like the matchup between Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk.
?️ Delivery: Blunt and to the point
? Tours or outlets: PokerGO, Poker After Dark, streaming events
?️ Signatures: “You gotta risk it to get the biscuit.”. He also loves to give shoutouts to his hometown NFL team Buffalo Bills
16 – Joe Stapleton
A poker player, comedian, and commentator, “Stapes” brings plenty of humour to his role as well.
He’s offered his unique poker takes on some of the biggest events.
?️ Delivery: Gravel-throated and fun
? Tours or outlets: Poker Night in America, EPT, numerous others
?️ Signatures: Hijinks and schtick
17 – Phil Hellmuth
The 15-time WSOP bracelet winner is no stranger to the broadcast booth. He’s provided analysis during breaks at the WSOP Main Event as well as other shows.
Those expecting the Poker Brat personality might be surprised. Hellmuth comes across as pleasant and fun calling the action.
?️ Delivery: Fun, humorous, self-deprecating
? Tours or outlets: ESPN, WSOP, Celebrity Poker Showdown, WPT
?️ Signatures: Name dropping
Without the analysts, commentators, and interviewers, televised poker would be pretty dull.
These professionals add insight, perspective, expertise, and humour to broadcasts.
In that vein, they continue to boost poker’s popularity for fans around the world.