Faculty deals winning hand to students

By CiaraShook

Columbia’s television instructor Kirk Fallah is giving current and former students broadcast experience in Chicago’s first charity poker room.

The idea for a charity poker room came to Fallah almost a decade ago when he was a student majoring in film and video at Columbia. After learning to play poker and watching many televised tournaments, Fallah began planning a casino-style poker room in Chicago.

“I thought that if Vegas can broadcast poker tournaments, why can’t Chicago?” Fallah said.

After Fallah began working at Columbia, he noticed charity poker tournaments happening in Chicago. He had always wanted to work in charity and saw this as an opportunity to blend together three things he enjoys. He found that with approval from a charity,  Main Event Charity Games, and a channel from which to broadcast, he could make his

dream a reality.

After Fallah and co-creator, Dave McDermott, created the Windy City Poker Championship, they took their show to Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

“We negotiated a 13-show contract which would air in prime time with rebroadcasts starting March 25,” Fallah said.

Fallah’s next step was to round up a crew to help make the show run smoothly. He enlisted the help of current students, alumni and several faculty members for the first two productions.

“I cut paychecks—I wasn’t asking anybody to work for free,” Fallah said. “I gave them opportunities to operate the cameras for the show, to help produce and to help write.”

As the only casino-style poker room in Chicago, Windy City Poker Championship televises every aspect of the game.

“If [viewers were to] watch a poker tournament live, they [would be] seeing every hand,” Fallah said. “By showing all the hands played [on the show], it shows the way the people are playing and it’s just like standing there watching it. It’s your average poker player watching poker in the city of Chicago.”

Fallah said working on the show is great exposure for students because the program is a prime-time  show broadcasting to more than 7.3 million households.

“People look at the show and they see the graphics that were designed by a Columbia College Chicago graduate that looks phenomenal,” Fallah said. “The production value is there, the young camera talent is good and everything comes together for a really good, well-done show.”

Fallah said it’s an excellent opportunity for a lot of students and graduates because they may not have gained much experience at their internships as they have working with Windy City Poker Championship.

“Theoretically, it’s an internship without official credit, but it’s a paid opportunity for them to do legitimate work,” Fallah said. “They’re shooting a prime-time, high-definition poker television show that’s going to be seen in five states, to 7.3 million households, which equates to about 17 million potential viewers.”

Dan Svoboda, a sophomore television major, has worked on every show since February.

“I started out as a production assistant,” Svoboda said. “I moved boxes and helped set up lights.”

Columbia alumnus Brent White, who played on the most recent show, said Fallah is doing a wonderful job in having Columbia students work on the show to gain real television experience.

“That, to me, embodies the whole spirit of what Columbia is in terms of the instructors and the adjunct professors,” White said. “They’re trying to push their students to do well in whatever field they’re doing and giving them the opportunity to do so.”

Fallah said that as a television director and host, he sees the program as an opportunity to bring on more students and give more opportunities to do not just work, but to also get paid for it.

“There’s no limit to what partnerships might be had,” Fallah said. “Columbia College is technically the only school that can offer their students something like this because I only want to hire Columbia students.”