On September 16, 2006, CBS began a revolution in televised card games with the debut of the Ultimate Blackjack Tour, a series of elimination blackjack tournaments. As the television series progresses, winners of each event return to take part in weekly competitions, which culminate into the final Tournament of Champions.
What caused such an uproarious response in the ratings was the format of the show. Elimination style blackjack has taken a once boring spectator sport and turned it into a non-stop thrill ride. Players can no longer sit back and wait for the right moment to strike, whether it be 5 minutes or 5 hours into a match. The idea behind Elimination Blackjack is to force players to make a move, as the lowest chip-holder by the end of the 8th, 16th and 25th hand are automatically eliminated from the Ultimate Blackjack Tournament.
To add to the escalation of excitement is each player's ability to make a 'secret bet'. At any time during the match, a player can initiate the secret bet for strategic maneuvers, such as bluffing their opponents.
Yet another element of intrigue comes in the way of each UBT viewers' privilege to the dealer's hole cards. The viewer will potentially know the outcome of a hand before the players. This element adds an emotional aspect to the viewers experience, as they find themselves leaned forward on their couches at home, chanting at their favorite player, "Don't do it! Don't do it!", or "You've got him beat - go for it!" History has shown ratings are most often defined by a viewers emotional stimulation, and the Ultimate Blackjack Tour seems to have hit that nail on the head.
Much like the World Series of Poker, absolutely anyone (of legal age, that is) can take part in the UBT by simply paying the required buy-in fee. In addition, satellite tournaments are held at locations around the country, or by playing elimination blackjack online, awarding players a seat at the UBT and UBT main events.
Hosted by Max Rubin and Mati Moralejo, with sideline reporters Shandi Finnessey and Nikki Ziering, the Ultimate Blackjack Tour makes its way around the world as the tour stops in major cities and resort destinations. From Atlantic City and Las Vegas to Paris, France and Aruba.
In its inaugural season, the Ultimate Blackjack tour consisted of 10 episodes. The first eight were weekly events leading up to the Tournament of Champions in episode 9, where David Matthews claimed victory over Adriana Jade after a grueling battle. The final, 10th episode saw the UBT Legends Tournament, where top players, including the UBT Champion, gather to battle it out for number one. James Grosjean, "MIT" Mike Aponte, David Matthews, Stanford Wong, Ken Einiger, Anthony Curtis, and Ken Smith made up the field, but Ken Einiger took the prize.
More recently in the 2007 season of the Ultimate Blackjack Tour, Phil Hellmuth, record holding 11-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, took the Championship by defeating newcomer René Angélil in the final moments. The field consisted of Phil Hellmuth, René Angélil, Freddy Deeb, Robert Williamson, "Hollywood" Dave Stann, Ken Einiger, and Annie Duke.