‘The Chip Race’ turned 100
The Unibet sponsored poker podcast “The Chip Race” turned 100 this past weekend, a landmark achievement when you consider that the average podcast lasts just seven episodes.
What has made the show so popular and critically acclaimed? Is it the endless supply of thought-provoking takes delivered via the dulcet tones of poker renaissance man Dara O’Kearney, or simply the raw sex appeal of professional eye-candy David Lappin? I suppose it can be both of these things.
To mark the occasion, the lovely people at VegasSlotsOnline News have asked me to take a break from my usual hard-hitting investigative journalism and instead compile a Top 5 list of my favorite episodes.
uncomfortable levels of self-promotion
Does that mean this article will be pure fluff? Probably. Will I be referring to myself in the third person? David Lappin will almost certainly be doing that. Is there a danger that the piece could spill over into uncomfortable levels of self-promotion? Let’s just say that I needed to smoke a cigarette after writing this.
To borrow a line from Gore Vidal: “Heroes must see to their own fame. No one else will.”
SEASON 11 – EPISODE 2: Jason Koon, Phil Huxley, Steven Van Zadelhoff & Wil Shillibier
High roller Jason Koon has never given a bad interview, but he really went deep into his personal life and upbringing in this moving conversation about philosophy, self-belief, flow states, and achieving life balance. Popular UK grinder Phil Huxley discussed his heater and hilariously confessed about some of the worst places that he has stayed in on poker trips.
The strategy segment is always illuminating but, in this episode, poker viking Steven Van Zadelhoff was especially dazzling as he broke down a huge hand in which he fast-played a monster at the Battle of Malta final table. For the topical segment, PokerNews Editor-in-Chief Wil Shillibier reviewed the news stories from the year that was 2019.
I think “The Chip Race” is at its eclectic best when an episode hits a variety of demographics yet simultaneously feels universal, and the same can be said about my next choice.
SEASON 9 – EPISODE 7: Garry Gates, Luke Vrabel, Jennifer Tilly & Mike Sexton
This episode opened with the combined telling of the same Stu Ungar story by WSOP bracelet winner and Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Tilly and the late great Mike Sexton. It also featured a fantastic pair of interviews.
Poker player, chess player, and “The Grid” host Jen Shahade summed this episode up nicely saying that the interviews really “captured the essence of the two headline guests”: the affable positivity of WSOP fourth-place finisher Garry Gates and the tortured brilliance of Sunday Million winner Luke Vrabel.
made it easier to attract big name guests going forward
Star power is an effective marketing tool when trying to grow an audience. When Tilly first appeared on the show in Season 3, she not only attracted new listeners, but also made it easier to attract big-name guests going forward.
A-List poker luminaries who have appeared over the years include Antonio Esfandiari, Ike Haxton, Jason Mercier, Fedor Holz, Kristen Bicknell, Phil Laak, Matt Berkey, Nick Schulman, Chris Moneymaker, Joey Ingram, Patrick Antonius, Dan “Jungleman” Cates, Dan Smith, Kara Scott, Bryn Kenney, and Phil Galfond.
But of course, there have been none bigger than “The Poker Brat” Phil Hellmuth.
SEASON 4 – EPISODE 5: Phil Hellmuth, Tommy Angelo, Charlie Carrel & Barry Carter
Hellmuth has been featured on the show on four occasions, including a memorable strategy segment about that inexplicable spot where he got Jungleman to fold trips for not very many chips on “King of The Hill.” This was his first appearance, a really deep and meaningful conversation, and he even belted out a rendition of “Once In a Lifetime” by Talking Heads.
FUN FACT: The only other guest who sang on “The Chip Race” was Jennifer Tilly, who delivered a verse and chorus of “Candyman”.
This Hellmuth episode was the show’s biggest for a long time. It also featured a chat with acclaimed author and mindset coach Tommy Angelo, a strategy segment with high roller Charlie Carrel that went viral when it was turned into an animated YouTube video, and the first of many chinwags with O’Kearney’s Poker Satellite Strategy and PKO Poker Strategy co-author Barry Carter.
SEASON 14 – EPISODE 5: Vanessa Kade, Landon Tice & Sam Bevington
This was a recent episode that took on a controversial subject, namely the problem of “misoGGyny” (credit: Dara O’Kearney) in poker. The strategy is top drawer, and breakout American poker star Landon Tice gives a charming interview.
But the powerhouse segments in this one were delivered by poker data journalist Sam Bevington and poker pro Vanessa Kade. Both spoke frankly about the ugly comments by Dan Bilzerian and the decision by GGPoker to hire him as a brand ambassador.
deliver and provoke frank discussion on some of the more controversial stories
One aspiration of “The Chip Race” is to deliver and provoke frank discussion on some of the more controversial stories in the poker world. Another is to hold people’s feet to the fire when there is more than a whiff of scandal or the appearance of impropriety.
Episodes with Eli Elezra, William Kassouf, and Molly Bloom stand out in this regard, but so too did my final choice.
SEASON 10 – EPISODE 7: Vicky Coren Mitchell, David Tuchman, Jamie Nixon, Clodagh Hansen & ‘Dealer X’
David Tuchman would have been the lead guest on almost any other episode. The hilarious poker commentator is a master of self-deprecation. The Season 10 finale broke the mold, however, with a segment on the treatment of dealers featuring an anonymous poker dealer and Microgaming Poker Network’s Senior Manager Clodagh Hansen, who confronted head-on The Battle of Malta topless dealer fiasco.
If that wasn’t enough, Poker Twitcher Jamie Nixon was put through his paces by O’Kearney in Strategy Corner, and there was a visit by poker royalty in the form of two-time European Poker Tour champion Victoria Coren Mitchell. She delivered a tour-de-force interview about her poker career, her principled departure from PokerStars, her television work, and the state of the modern game.
Polk, ‘Apestyles,’ and Irish veteran O’Carroll appear on the 100th episode
Speaking about the state of the modern game, the 100th episode is a worthy piece de resistance for a show that always tries to capture what it means to be a member of the eponymous “chip race”.
Doug Polk, having quite possibly just performed his swan song in his heads-up match against Daniel Negreanu, was in reflective mood, prompted at one point by O’Kearney to consider the possibility that his life has peaked. Jonathan “Apestyles” Van Fleet gave away more pearls than any previous strategy guest. 15 fellow podcasters in the poker space turned the tables, posing questions which were answered honestly (and in O’Kearney’s case, hilariously).
The jewel in the crown, however, as it has so often been down the years, was the second interview. This time it was with Irish veteran Annette O’Carroll, a retired school teacher who has been playing poker since 1979. Her breadth of knowledge, her understanding of the game’s evolution, and her humility made for a sublime interview. Her canny, down-to-earth, and sometimes poignant answers to a wide range of questions linger long in the mind.
Over six years and a hundred episodes, Dara and David (see, I told you that I would) have welcomed 238 guests to their podcast. That’s “a lot of talking”, as Kara Scott put it, and, as this article (which I actually got paid to write) proves, a lot of shameless self-promotion along the way.
At the end of the day, we are all clapping monkeys. The only difference is that some of us smile and some of us look around to see if anyone has noticed.