Poker’s Newest Queen Of Hearts: WPT’s Courtney Friel Wins Us Over

You’ve made the WPT final table and you’re chasing a life-changing million-dollar prize, when some schmuck sucks out on you on a 20:1 shot and shatters your dreams. But guess what? It doesn’t matter, because you get to meet the beautiful and charming Courtney Friel, and Courtney’s soothing interview technique soon calms your desire to pull out all your teeth. Today, Bluff pulls the old switcheroo and interviews her, instead.

Thanks for talking to us, Courtney. We understand you’re a very busy lady…

I have about four jobs. I report for the local CBS Palm Springs on the weekends and other times when they need me to fill in. News is my background. I moved to the middle of Tennessee for my first job; I literally shot, edited, rolled the teleprompter with my foot while anchoring the news – I was a one-woman band.

Did you ever get in any dangerous situations as a news anchor?

Not really dangerous. Police are always around to protect you. I was at a stand off once for about ten hours and that was quite scary.

Were you a big poker player before the WPT found you?

I always played video poker in Vegas, that’s about as far as it goes. But for the WPT job, I went to Boot Camp to learn how to play. I also host a video game show, so I have the WPT game. I’m learning, but I always blush when I get good cards, which is a pretty obvious tell – I’m trying to work on that.

How’d you get the job if you didn’t play poker?

It seems like every girl in Los Angeles auditioned for this role. It started out as an audition through my agent. They knew that I didn’t have any poker experience. I remember auditioning and I was like, ”…er…someone’s going all in,” and I didn’t even know what that meant. So I think they hired me for my personality and my ability to interview people. As a news reporter you have to go out and find out about something new every day. You have to get the facts and relay them to an audience, so I guess they were confident that I could cope. But I love poker now.

Did you feel a lot of pressure filling Shana Hiatt’s shoes?

I think it’s always difficult to replace someone. But look at Kelly Ripa, she took over from Kathy Lee, but she’s doing a great job. I know that Shana was very charming – I actually haven’t met her – but I’m glad I’m stepping into the shoes of someone who was so well-liked, as opposed to someone who was…annoying (laughs).

Who’s your favorite player?

Well… I’ve spent a lot of time with Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak – they’re great guys – but I don’t want to pick favorites.

Is it hard to interview the players as they bust out? Do you have a good bedside manner?

I always feel so bad. I mean, technically they’ve still won a lot of money, but it is kind of awkward. Normally I can cheer them up by smiling and just being… happy. At least they pretend to cheer up. But some people are great. Like if they’re internet qualifiers, they’re usually just excited to be there.

Is Vince Van Patten the most handsome man in the world?

(Laughs) He’s definitely up there, but his personality is awesome too. He’s such a nice guy. There’s not one bad thing you could say about him.

When all that money’s on the table, do you ever get the urge to grab it and go on the run?

It’s Monopoly money. Most of the time it’s fake.

No! Not another illusion shattered. That’s a bombshell…

When we were in Paris they had all the pretty Euros. They were real. America needs more beautiful money. Our money’s old. We need to revamp it. Euros are pretty.

Doesn’t the WPT have half the money in America anyway? We could just ask them to dye it pink? What’s the funniest thing that’s happened while shooting the show?

Touch wood, it’s all gone pretty smoothly. The one time they let the money fly down from the ceiling, the director’s like, “You can’t mess up, you can’t mess up…” because we had to do it in one take. Of course, someone messed up…

What has been your favorite stop in the tour so far?

I loved Paris, it’s such a beautiful city. But I love traveling and that’s the best part of the job. It’s awesome. I always said I wanted a job with the Travel Channel, and here I am, 25- years-old, and I have that job.

Which is your favorite hotel to travel to?

I actually like the Borgata. Everyone loves the Bellagio, but the Borgata’s like a mini-Bellagio.

Do they set you up with a bling-bling suite?

Normally I get the junior suite. Vince and Mike get the big suites (laughs).

If you could choose any person living or dead to invite to your home game, who would you choose?

I’ve always wanted to interview President Bush. I’d interview him and then beat him at poker.

What would you ask him?

Just what it’s like to be under all that pressure all the time. He’s got a billion different issues on hand. How does he deal with it?

It’s that time of year. What do you want for Christmas?

An iPod Nano.

What’s your new year’s resolution?

To be a better poker player. And to be neater.

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December 2005