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The second episode of Full Tilt Poker’s new NBC show Face the Ace had its first airing this past Saturday. The program features an online qualifier going heads up against a well known Full Tilt pro for increasingly large stakes. The show has sparked debate among the poker community, thanks in part to its poor ratings performance.

Poker fans and TV executives held out little hope for this latest offering, after the debut episode finished last in the ratings just over a week ago. Recently released figures show that less than 1,500,000 people watched Face the Ace last Saturday, leaving NBC lagging way behind the other major networks.

The idea behind the show could should lead to compelling poker television. An amateur qualifier picks one of four doors, behind which an ‘Ace’ is lurking. Big name pros called out from behind the frosted glass so far have included Phil Ivey, Erick Lindgren, and Howard Lederer. A heads up match is then played for $40,000, with an underused Ali Nejad acting as tournament director. If the qualifier wins the match they have a chance to gamble for $200,000 against another pro. If they win their second bout, then they can once again risk everything in a final $1 million contest against a third professional.

Episode 2 began with Don Topel, who had previously defeated Erick Lindgren and Howard Lederer, facing off against Gavin Smith for $1 million. Although the ratings failed to rise, this second episode showed a marked improvement over the first. Smith is a well known personality on the poker circuit and brought a light hearted energy that balanced well against the tension of the $200,000 gamble. Much maligned host Steve Schirripa was also noticeably more at ease. At one stage he even delivered an impromptu takeaway pizza to Don Topel, making good on a promise from an earlier round.

The second contestant was high octane nurse and keen poker player Marcia Owens. All Face the Ace contestants have qualified via Full Tilt Poker, and satellites are still being held for episodes later in the series. She faced off against Gus Hansen in her $40,000 match up and was audibly star-struck at being pitted against the Great Dane.

Almost every member of the poker community will be hoping for bigger and better things from Face The Ace in the weeks to come. It’s success will only mean more mainstream exposure for poker at a time when the industry can use all the goodwill it can get. The show will now air monthly on a Saturday afternoon, a move planned even before the poor ratings performance.