Who Wants to Be a Poker Millionaire?

[Host Don March] “Welcome to the very first episode of Who Wants to Be a Poker Millionaire? We’d all like to build our poker bankrolls up to a million dollars, but our show’s contestants have a chance to do it much more quickly. Correctly answer a mere fifteen questions, multiple choice, no less, and you can walk away with an oversized piece of cardboard that says you’ve won a million dollars! You can’t cash it, actually getting the money will require more of your time in paperwork than the game lasts, and the government will want its share, but it’s all worth it in the end.”

[DM] “Millionaire has always been a natural fit with poker, especially as we’ve returned to the original primetime Millionaire rules. The payout ladder looks like a blind schedule, with the stakes increasing as the event goes on. The game is like a freezeout at first, since busting out leaves you with nothing. But later on it’s also like a ring game where you can cash out whenever you want.”

[DM] “I’m sorry if you were hoping we’d bring back the Fastest Fingers contest. Some of these poker players can do chip tricks like you would not believe, so I’m not trusting them not to game a Fastest Fingers round. Nope, the contestants you’ll see here have earned their way onto our show by winning incredibly complicated preliminary rounds using just their brains, their cell phones, and their right pinky toes. And maybe we really liked their backstories. Hey, we’ve got ratings to worry about; you worry about your own problems.”

[DM] “So, without further further ado, from India via Parsippany, New Jersey, please give a warm welcome to Jagadeesh Visthunaisamy, who totally made my day when he told me I could simply call him JV!”

{Applause dies out as Jagadeesh settles into the hot seat.}

[DM] “JV, how does it feel to be the first contestant on a brand new game show that may not make it past the end of sweeps week?”

[JV] “It’s totally cool. I’ve always wanted to be a Bollywood star, but Hollywood will have to do.”

[DM] “Uh, you do know we’re in New York City, right? Actually, to save production costs, the studio was moved a few blocks into Harlem. We’ve already lost a few people on the streets, but hey, we need to do what we can to thin the contestant herd.”

[JV] “The Big Apple is great! Reminds me of my little hometown of Mumbai, the City of Dreams.”

[DM] “I’m glad you’re already used to the overcrowding, noise, and pollution… I hope you’ve been dreaming about correctly answering fifteen increasingly difficult questions. You have three lifelines to help you out: Fifty-Fifty, Ask the Audience, and Phone-a-Friend. Are you ready to play Who Wants to Be a Poker Millionaire?”1

{Jagadeesh gives two thumbs up.}

[DM] “For $100:”

What Texas Hold ‘Em starting hand is nicknamed “Snowmen”?
A: Pair of Threes B: Pair of Eights
C: Pair of Jacks D: Pair of Kings

[JV] “That question makes me feel like set-mining… with my Pair of Eights.”

[DM] “And you hit your set for $100! Nice start. For $200:”

What casino hosted the entire World Series of Poker from 1970 to 2004 and the end of the Main Event in 2005?
A: Binion’s Horseshoe B: Dunes
C: Sands D: Stardust

[JV] “They had that million-dollar horseshoe, which might be an auspicious omen for me. Binion’s. Final answer.”

[DM] “That’s a ringer for $200! On to your $300 question:”

What poker player is nicknamed “Clever Piggy”?
A: Allen Cunningham B: Daniel Negreanu
C: Jason Mercier D: Jonathan Little

[JV] “I love wordplay. For example, my last name anagrams to ‘Humanity Visas’.”

[DM] “Don’t you think you might have made a bad career choice becoming a programmer then?”

[JV] “I try to use my visa as much as I can. And my Visa card, too.”

[DM] “And I take it, you’ve already discovered the answer to the $300 question?”

[JV] “Allen the Cunning Ham. Final answer.”

[DM] “Shrewd answer. You’ve got yourself three Franklins. Next up, for $500:”

Whose Fundamental Theorem of Poker first appeared in print in 1983?
A: Amarillo Slim Preston B: Dan Harrington
C: David Sklansky D: Mike Caro

[JV] “Well, I’ve read books by all of them except Preston, and Sklansky’s definitely one of my favorite poker authors. He’s the guy. C. Final answer.”

[DM] “Fundamentally correct. You’ve won $500. Remember, if you miss this next question, you go home with squadoosh.”

[JV] “Can I have the hot seat as a consolation prize if I get it wrong? As much as I like my Herman Miller Aeron, this chair totally rocks.”

[DM] “Actually, it’s not a rocking chair, but I get what you mean. We still need it, but when this show crashes and burns, look for it during our going-out-of-business sale. Now, for $1,000:”

How many times does a player need to bust his or her opponent to capture the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship?
A: 5 B: 6
C: 7 D: 8

[JV] “It’s set up like the NCAA Final Four tournament before they added those silly play-in games, so that’s six rounds… But wait, the Heads-Up finals are best of three, so that’s seven games instead of six. C. Final answer.”

[DM] “The check you take home today will now have at least four digits to the left of the decimal! To double your money to $2,000:”

What female was the last woman standing at the 2011 World Series of Poker Main Event, busting out just one place after her boyfriend?
A: Amanda Musumeci B: Breeze Zueckerman
C: Erika Moutinho D: Leo Margets

[JV] “I remember watching that on ESPN. They were at the same table for a while, which caused a bit of a stir. The answer is C, Erika Sands nee Moutinho.”

[DM] “Mazel Tov! Erika and Doc Sands pocketed nearly a quarter million dollars each for finishing 29th and 30th. You can beat that all by yourself if you can answer eight more questions correctly here. For 4,000 smackeroos:”

What poker pro played two years in the Canadian Football League?
A: Doyle Brunson B: Jack Straus
C: Russ Hamilton D: T.J. Cloutier

[JV] “That’s a tough one.”

[DM] “Did you play sports growing up in India?”

[JV] “Yes, I played cricket. When I came to America, that helped me quickly pick up baseball.”

[DM] “Were you a hitter, like Jason Varitek or Joey Votto, or a pitcher, like Jose Valverde or Justin Verlander?”

[JV] “A pitcher. I wanted to be Johnny Vander Meer, who threw back-to-back no hitters, but ended up like John Van Benschoten, who had a career ERA over 9. Apparently, you’re not allowed to bounce the ball over the plate in baseball.”

[DM] “Fortunately, your hardball skills won’t be needed today. Which poker player do you think played football?”

[JV] “Brunson played basketball and ran track. Straus was a tall guy, so if he did any sports, it would have been basketball. Hamilton’s pretty big, so I suppose he could have played linebacker. But I’m pretty sure the answer is Thomas James Cloutier.”

[DM] “Is that your final answer?”

[JV] “I’ll go with Cloutier. Final answer.”

[DM] “Congratulations, JV! You’ve earned a promotion to the varsity! Cloutier played tight end for the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts, scored a touchdown, and even returned a kickoff. Onward to $8,000:”

Who was the first amateur to win the World Series of Poker Main Event?
A: Chris Moneymaker B: Hal Fowler
C: Mansour Matloubi D: Sailor Roberts

[JV] “Well, Moneymaker’s the obvious answer. He was the first online satellite winner to win the Main Event. I think Roberts was a pro. I don’t know anything about Matloubi, but if he was the first amateur winner, I’d expect him to be more famous. Fowler’s the one I’m wondering about. I recognize the name…”

[DM] “Did you have the chicken parm for lunch?”

[JV] “I’d like to use my Fifty-Fifty lifeline.”

[DM] “Computer, please remove two of the incorrect choices.”

Who was the first amateur to win the World Series of Poker Main Event?
A: Chris Moneymaker B: Hal Fowler

[JV] “Okay, that didn’t help at all. But I’ve read the Moneymaker book, and I can’t believe I wouldn’t know if he were the answer. By process of elimination, the answer must be Fowler. B. Final answer.”

[DM] “Elementary, my dear JV. You’ve got a thousand snowmen. For $16,000, risking seven thousand to win eight:”

What World Series of Poker Main Event champion turned to poker when he lost his job in the stock market crash of 1987?
A: Chris Ferguson B: Erik Seidel
C: Jim Bechtel D: Robert Varkonyi

[JV] “Jesus is a computer guy like me. Seidel might be right. Bechtel I barely remember. Varkonyi did something with money after going to MIT.”

[DM] “Probably made lots of it. I would have gone to MIT, but they wouldn’t even let me apply when I couldn’t spell it.”

[JV] “Seidel or Varkonyi. Let’s ask this incredibly smart audience here.”

[DM] “Okay, audience, please enter A, B, C, or D on your keypads, preferably not with your toes.”

{Audience voting sound effects play as the camera pans the crowd.}

8% 50% 12% 30%
A B C D

[DM] “Well, half the audience thinks it’s Seidel. Almost a third like Varkonyi. And the rest probably just hit the wrong button by mistake.”

[JV] “That’s good enough for me. Seidel. Final answer.”

[DM] “And the audience is right!”

{Jagadeesh waves to the audience in appreciation.}

[DM] “You have one lifeline left as you go for the guaranteed $32,000:”

What World Series of Poker Main Event winner’s eleven appearances on The Tonight Show during the following year greatly helped popularize poker?
A: Amarillo Slim Preston B: Doyle Brunson
C: Johnny Moss D: Puggy Pearson

[JV] “Well, that was before I started following the World Series of Poker.”

[DM] “That was before you were born.”

[JV] “Brunson’s been great for the game more recently, but I believe the first ambassador of poker was Thomas Preston. A. Final answer.”

[DM] “Pay the man, Shirley! You can’t walk out of here with less than $32,000 now. Here’s your $64,000 question:”

Who won the only World Series of Poker Main Event final table that was played outdoors?
A: Brad Daugherty B: Jack Straus
C: Jim Bechtel D: Stu Ungar

[JV] “A hundred degrees in the sun in Vegas. Who’s brilliant idea was that?”

[DM] “I voted against it, but do they ever listen to me? Actually, I heard it was only 98 degrees. I might even prefer to listen to that boy band in the air conditioning than play Hold ‘Em in the scorching heat.”

[JV] “I’m going to have to use my last lifeline.”

[DM] “Who would you like to call?”

[JV] “Vijay, my brother.”

[DM] “You’re JV and he’s Vijay? Is he your evil twin?”

[JV] “He’s my older brother, but he can be evil some of the time. After he taught me how to play Hold ‘Em, he won my allowance from me for four straight months.”

[DM] “Great to know there’s no sibling rivalry in your family. Please get me Vijay on Skype.”

[DM] “Vijay, Don March here on Poker Millionaire. Your little brother could use a little help from you. A little payback for all the money you took from him. You should see the question and four answers on your screen.”

[VV] “Yes, I see it. And I know the answer. But it’s gonna cost you, JV… Just kidding. It was Stu Ungar. The last hurrah of his life.”

[JV] “Thanks. I owe you.”

[VV] “You sure do.”

{Skype call ends.}

[DM] “Vijay sounded pretty confident that the answer was Stu Ungar.”

[JV] “I trust him. Stu Ungar. Final answer.”

[DM] “And you’re four away from the million, minus whatever Vijay collects for his services. For $125,000:”

What network was the first to broadcast the World Series of Poker Main Event on television?
A: ABC B: CBS
C: ESPN D: NBC

[JV] “ESPN didn’t even exist until the late 1970s. NBC has the Heads-Up championship now, but I don’t think they did any poker before that. ABC had the Wide World of Sports. And CBS had their Sports Spectacular. As much as poker would have fit in with ‘the agony of defeat’, I think I remember some old clips on YouTube from CBS, so I have to go with them. Final answer.”

[DM] “You’ve got your eye on the prize! You’ve won eight bits, eight really big bits. Now, for a cool quarter of a million dollars:”

What poker pro’s given first name is actually Thuan?
A: David Pham B: John Phan
C: Kenny Tran D: Scotty Nguyen

[JV] “Before the choices appeared, I was thinking of Tuan Le, but that wouldn’t be a $250,000 question, would it?”

[DM] “It will during celebrity week.”

[JV] “Thuan Pham. Doesn’t sound right. Thuan Phan. Almost exactly the same. Thuan Tran. That’s a tongue twister. Thuan Nguyen. Sounds like Gone With the Wind. And it sounds vaguely familiar. Scotty Nguyen. Final answer.”

[DM] “For the win! Well, for a quarter million bucks at least. Two more questions for the win… For half a million macaroons:”

Who was the first player to lose a million-chip pot at the World Series of Poker?
A: Bob Ciaffone B: Erik Seidel
C: Frank Henderson D: Humberto Brenes

[JV] “I know this one! Ciaffone is the guy who gave us Robert’s Rules of Poker. And while Erik Seidel was losing his job in 1987, Ciaffone was losing the chips that helped Johnny Chan win his first Main Event belt. Frank Henderson is the guy who eventually finished second, but it was Ciaffone who gave him the commanding heads-up lead. Bob Ciaffone. Final answer.”

[DM] “Bob, Bobby, Rob, Robby, Robert, Roberto, Right-o! You just won a half million dollars!”

{Don tantalizingly shows oversized cardboard check to Jagadeesh. Jagadeesh reaches up and pretends to grab for it but sits back down.}

[DM] “You probably haven’t even seen a million rupees before, but since this is the poker version of Millionaire, here’s what a million dollars looks like…”

{An assistant ostentatiously dumps a million dollars in stacks of bills onto a table on the set.}

[DM] “No lifelines left, but you can still walk away for half a million, which isn’t half bad. My ex-wife would know all about that. JV, are you ready for jubilant victory or will you be joylessly vanquished?”

[JV] “I’m ready to go for the jugular vein!”

[DM] “Then, for one million only slightly inflated U.S. dollars:”

Which California technology company was Barry Greenstein a key early employee of?
A: Adobe B: Autodesk
C: Sun Microsystems D: Symantec

[JV] “Sweet! I’ve got an Ace up my sleeve, since I’ve read Greenstein’s Ace on the River, so I know he worked for a California technology startup. The company was founded a couple years before he joined, but in 1984, the Robin Hood of Poker was writing word processing software for Symantec. Final answer!”

[DM] “Jagadeesh Visthunaisamy, you can buy all the antivirus software you want now, because you’ve just won a million dollars!!!”

[TV Announcer] “Who Wants to Be a Poker Millionaire? is brought to you by THETA Poker Pro, the strongest, fastest, and most configurable Texas Hold ‘Em game in the App Store.”

Footnotes:

  1. If you want to play along, scroll down slowly to avoid prematurely revealing the answers. You can also try the interactive Who Wants to Be a Poker Millionaire? implementation at BYOJeopardy but please come back!
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