Landsberg puts on a poker face

DAVE CAMERON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:23 PM ET

Maybe they should start every program with one of those caveats, voiced over in that rapid-fire low-talking fashion:

Side-effects of gambling include loss of memory, loss of property, reversed metabolism, disorientation and bankruptcy. Please consult your financial adviser.

"I could answer that flippantly, which is my usual instinct, but on the serious side, that's a huge issue," said Michael Landsberg, best known as the host of TSN's Off the Record, and lately moonlighting as host of the Degree Poker Championship, the final of which airs tonight at 6 p.m. on TSN. "There is a destructive side to it. You have to introduce it with a warning. And that's a reason why this industry is so heavily legislated.

"Obviously there's mixed signals, just like there's mixed signals when you go and buy a pack of cigarettes."

Like smoking, poker - when pursued in the wrong environment - can get you killed. But, hey, betting that you have a better hand has been around as long as man has had hands. And it's become the latest hot property on a television landscape in need of properties.

Fad or here to stay? Another question waiting for assessment. But it's here.

And it may be tailor-made for the tube.

"You tune it in the first time, you look at it and go, 'What the hell is this doing on TV? People playing cards?' '' Landsberg said. "TV is at its best when it gets the viewer to a place that it normally can't go. And poker, moreso than anything else, gives you the ability to be there.

"It's the equivalent, really, of being in the huddle of both the offence and defence and hearing what plays they are going to call, knowing what's going to go on, and then seeing it unfold. You know that the offence has called a run and the defence is going to play it a certain way, and you have an idea how it might unfold.

"It just all relates to the fact that you can see the whole hand, all the cards, and you can play along. If you can't do that, there's no interest in it at all.

"As soon as you see who's got what, you have this real fascination, you have this ability to play along, you know what players are making mistakes, you're one step ahead of the game.

"TV really justifies itself when it goes beyond showing you the obvious.''

Landsberg also thinks that the current popularity is because people can relate.

"What guy hasn't played poker?''

And lost. "Then lied about it! There's appeal in other games where if you can play and do it, you like to watch it. I think golf is one of those. Even though we can never emulate the game of a great player, we can play the game. We all have three foot putts, we all stand on the tee and line up our shots the way the professionals do.

"I think that's the interesting thing about poker. And what makes it better is that the cards even it out. You can be watching and say, literally, 'I could be playing that hand. That's totally within my reach.' ''

Landsberg is also finding the challenge of the job within his reach.

"I've always been intrigued by the role of the commentator, because you really are the eyes and the ears of the viewer. The role of the play-by-play man is to draw information out of the colour guy. I really enjoyed going into something knowing that, out of the two of us, I'm the least knowledgeable."

And, what if, or when, the Playboy Channel holds a strip poker tournament?

Sign me up, says Mike.

"Well, hopefully I can throw my hat into the ring when they do!''


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