This Is (The) Nuts
©2021, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

In the game of poker, the term "The Nuts" refers to the best possible hand in any given situation. It doesn't matter what specific variation of poker is being played, but the first thing I think of when poker comes up is the Texas Hold 'Em version. In short, each player has two standard cards in their hand which are supplemented by five community cards. Each player tries to make the best hand possible using five of those seven cards, which must include the player's two "pocket" cards. A player holding "the nuts" can't lose, unless that player is tricked into folding by a well-played bluff.

I had not heard that term for years. One night recently, however, I did hear that term, and in its proper poker context. It was on a rerun of a series called World Poker Tour, which began in 2003 and was on the air in some form through 2020 at least. The premise of the show was watching top poker players competing around a "final table" after having eliminated everyone else who entered whatever tournament it was. This can seem about as interesting as watching paint dry, and it was, until the "pocket cam" was introduced. This device let the viewer see what each player's pocket cards were. So the watcher could effectively "play along" and understand whether a given player had "the nuts" or was "drawing dead"—which, as you've probably guessed, is the opposite situation: no matter what cards are in the community five, combined with yours, you simply can't win.

That was certainly enough excitement for me, and so while it aired on The Travel Channel on cable, I watched it. Kieran was old enough to watch it too and so we had a little bit of father-son time. That led to a little bit of online poker playing, all for free if I recall correctly, which demonstrated quite clearly that I was not very good at the game. By the way, it is officially called a game of skill in the State of California, not a game of chance, because how you play the cards you are dealt is at least as important as the cards you have. Put another way, you're not playing the cards, you're playing the other players. So, yes, there is some drama in watching a final table in a poker tournament. Stop laughing. We pulled the plug on cable in 2005, noting, with apologies to a certain Mr. Springsteen, that there were at least 57 Channels and Nothing On, and at a cost that was going up faster than a five-way pot at the Final Table. Before yanking the coaxial out, I filled some videotapes with recordings of World Poker Tour. I don't recall how many because we never watched them.

During the next sixteen years, I occasionally checked websites for information on who won the World Series of Poker, and casually followed a few other events. I bought Kieran a poker video simulator for his game system, which we played for a while. (It couldn't hold his attention versus faster paced games, which was all of them.) I also played Texas Hold 'Em live and in person, but we'll save that story for another time.

Fast forward another 16 years, and two of the televisions in the house have a device that connects to our Wi-Fi

and is the channel (pun intended) to multiple streaming services. The better known ones are subscription services, once again putting us in the position of Paying To Watch Television. However, there are a growing number of other streaming services which are advertiser supported, and at least one of these is owned by the same company that would rather have you Pay To Watch, which makes no sense to this Ruthless MBA.

And one evening when I was out of brain cells, I happened to select this particular service... and discovered that it had a multitude of selections.

Including: "The WPT Channel."

That's right, all reruns of World Poker Tour shows, all the time.

Well, isn't that the nuts.

So there I am, watching Mike Sexton—as I found out later, the late Mike Sexton, who had unfortunately passed away the year before-- and Vince Van Patten, son of actor Dick Van Patten, calling a WPT Final Table. I had missed numerous seasons and a lot of shows. I could have stayed up all night... but I didn't, which was probably wise since I did have to work the next day.

So you're probably thinking, an entire channel devoted to reruns of heavily edited televised poker tournaments? Who would possibly want to sit through a bunch of big blinds, antes, pocket aces and bad beats? Insomniacs?

OK, then, don't like poker? How about the all Family Ties Channel? Perhaps the all Beverly Hillbillies Channel? The all Dark Shadows Channel? If none of those strike your fancy, there is the 90210 Channel, the CSI Channel, the Star Trek Channel, the Cops Channel, the Baywatch Channel, the Love Boat Channel, the This Old House Channel, the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Channel, the Antiques Roadshow Channel (UK Version)... and an all Bob Ross Channel. In that last case, that's a lot of happy little trees. (Look it up, kids.) How about Cats or Dogs? Yes! Both are available 24/7 on their own channels. So is The Price Is Right. And Deal or No Deal. There are also a number of news, entertainment, craft and shopping channels, of varying quality, I hasten to add; plus a bunch of movie channels showing a spectrum of films from the well-known to the forgotten to the "I can't believe I spent money to see this when it came out." Stars of these shows might have appeared on Johnny Carson or Carol Burnett—you might find out because those are also channels.

Talk about narrowcasting. Yes, I'm old enough to remember when all the channels were over the air and fit in a single dial, including, of course, the infamous Channel U. Now I'm dating myself! Our first television, besides being black and white—our family was very late adopters to color—did not have a separate dial for UHF channels. Now, online, it looks like there's a channel for every single syndicated show that got relegated to the UHF stations back then. OK, maybe not. Yet.

But wait, there's more. The WPT Channel, and a couple of others I've sampled, are not only sponsored by national advertisers—although at this point most of the programming pauses are to plug other channels on this service. They also have what are known as "local inserts" in the industry. These are commercials for businesses in the immediate area (and yes, unfortunately, our geographic location is known, a disadvantage of streaming). One night while watching the last few hands of another big-money contest, I wondered just how many people besides me could possibly be watching this channel in my area. Or if anyone else was watching? What was the "rate card" for buying time on a single channel that could possibly have absolutely zero viewers here in Market #80?

With further apologies to Mr. Springsteen, this is way more than 57 Channels and Nothing On. This is hundreds of channels and pick your own old show to watch all night! It's nuts.

Not "the nuts." Just... Nuts.