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Poker: No need to resort to circus antics.

Byline: By Peter Sharkey

Let's face it: for all of its thrills, tension and technical prowess, there's little doubt that occasionally, televised poker can be a tad dull.

Of course, it's completely different if you're playing, trying to ascertain whether an opponent is bluffing as he meticulously ponders over his next move when all the while he's sat there with pocket aces, but watching such developments unfold on the box can be less than dramatic.

In truth, the simple invention which resulted in viewers being able to see each player's hole cards the moment they're dealt has revolutionised poker broadcasts, but everyone knows there are moments when play can stagnate. This almost certainly explains why I've yet to come across anyone who is not keen to catch a former gymnast known as Catgirl on TV.

It transpires that Catgirl, aka Alina Salnikova, an attractive 23-year-old who hails from Latvia, is a budding poker player who had intended to participate in the televised Poker World Open wearing only her birthday suit.

Apparently, she wanted to celebrate her actual birthday in this manner which says a lot for what passes as entertainment in Latvia, but the broadcaster with the rights to screen the tournament, Channel 5, invoked its "no nudity" clause and Catgirl's plans were shelved.

Instead, the kittenish Catgirl wore just body paint and her whiskers when facing established poker professionals including the sharp-suited Liam 'Gentleman' Flood, Surinder Sunar and the ubiquitous Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott in her tournament heat.

A publicity stunt? Perhaps not: cue a bloke who calls himself Catman and sounds remarkably like poker's Don King. "This heat," he says, "is going to bring a new dimension of glamour to televised poker, which can often be dominated by not quite so attractive male poker faces. Who wouldn't want to watch the flushing face of the Devilfish as he tries to get a read on Catgirl's body language, then tries to bluff this lady in the buff."

While beautifully delivered, that's a standard showman's argument - one which will inevitably result in an even more obscure broadcaster than Channel 5 being prepared to screen Catgirl in the raw, but what about the feline one herself? A fully-clothed Catgirl purred as she revealed, "I've played poker for two years now and have had a lot of success. I want to go forward as a professional player . . .

There is a lot at stake, but I want to have some fun and if it's my lucky day, then the sky's the limit."

It certainly sounds a decent alternative to Channel 5, but even satellite television has its standards.

In the meantime, what next for poker broadcasts? A fully exposed pair of kings?

Queens uncovered? No doubt someone is working on a poker show called the German Virgin, codenamed 99 - as in nein, nein.

Frankly, while the game may occasionally serve up less than appetising fare, it does not have to descend to circus tricks to attract players.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 5, 2008
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