High Stakes Poker is Returning to the Airwaves

In a world of legendary characters, it was the iconic show. For one hour each week, poker fans around the world would congregate in front of their television sets to watch the biggest stars in poker, along with a few rich businessmen, battle it out in a juicy game of No-Limit Texas Hold’em. The amount of money being tossed around, both casino chips and bricks of cash, was incredible. Staggering sums. And, viewers loved every minute of it. With wild bluffs, amazing gutsy calls, earth-shattering bad beats and enormous pots, many believe it’s the greatest poker show of all-time. Now, after more than nine years away from our screens, the ‘On-Air’ light is being switched back on. High Stakes Poker is coming back.

“The Return of High Stakes Poker with Mori Eskandani,” reads the headline at pokercentral.com, which has announced Season 8 will be played out at ARIA Resort & Casino, and feature eight episodes, with the first set to air Wednesday, December 16th on PokerGO.

Poker Central Headline

The excitement is palpable, too. High Stakes Poker was a huge hit for the Game Show Network (GSN). It ran for seven seasons, and from the very first episode on January 16, 2006, until its last transmission in May 2011, it electrified audiences by offering a glimpse inside the world of big time gambling. It was a world most had never seen before, eye-opening to say the least. And it wasn’t long before the show, and its participants, achieved epic status. Its popularity became a catalyst for the plethora of poker programming on main stream television that would follow, and internet live streams of today.

“It introduced the cash form of poker, so it paved the road for all these other cash games,” said executive producer Mori Eskandani, who is featured in the Poker Central article. “We were lucky enough to have so many characters when we started. It showed the kitchen table poker that people are used to but in a much higher buy-in format. It almost looked fake sometimes. I would always have people asking me if it was real, and I would have to say, ‘yeah they’re playing for real money.’”

Player & Producer

Eskandani is not only the executive producer, as he was back when the show started some 14-years ago, he is also a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. Inducted in 2018 for his contributions to the overall growth and success of the game. He has produced such programs as Poker After Dark, the National Heads-Up Poker ChampionshipPoker SuperstarsFace the Ace, and even the World Series of Poker Europe.

Just like the ratings, the numbers don’t lie. It should be noted, he’s racked up $239,047 in career earnings at the World Series of Poker. No bracelets yet, but Eskandani has reached the money stages an impressive 16 times. He knows a thing or two about cards. Camera angles, too.

Mori Eskandani

“The main reason they like the show is the interaction between the players. It’s the street game,” he said, making sure to differentiate the ‘street game’ and the game theory optimal (GTO) strategies being bandied about by the whiz-kids today. Online instructional aids, like pre-flop charts and solvers, go out the window when powerful businessmen and pro card sharks collide for cold hard cash. It can be a blood bath. Eskandani says that’s appealing because it’s “the street version of somebody reading somebody, or putting a move on someone, faking them out, getting paid, or making a big bluff. All the stuff that makes poker what it is lives on this High Stakes Poker.

Everything Old is New Again

The High Stakes Poker channel has uploaded a one-minute-ten-second promotional video to YouTube that starts with the opening narration, “new decade, new suite, new faces, same game,” before the announcer exclaims, “High Stakes Poker is BACK!”

It didn’t take long for the news to go viral, either, in the poker world anyway. With many big-name pros taking to social media to help spread the word. Nick Schulman, a renowned commentator and three-time WSOP bracelet winner, was all over it when the news broke back in September. On twitter, @NickSchulman, he said, “it is with great pleasure to confirm the return of the esteemed, the legendary, the only, the original, the iconic, really needing no introduction the world over, back for another run. 2020, details soon.” The picture included with the tweet, which had more than 2,200 ‘likes’ and was retweeted 177 times, was the show’s logo.

High Stakes Poker Logo

Late last month, the legendary Tom ‘Durrr’ Dwan, one of the most aggressive players on the planet, and no stranger to playing at nose bleed stakes wherever the action leads him, posted to his timeline some footage of the taping of the new version of the show. It was accompanied by what he hopes to be a message of foreshadowing, “High Stakes Poker coming back guys. Hope I run as good as last time.”

“Alright guys, how long has it been, Seven years?”

As he posed the question, in the 12-second video, Dwan was panning the table, teasing fans with a sneak-peak. Among the players joining him were the two Phil’s, Ivey and Hellmuth, who have a combined 25 WSOP bracelets between them. Phil v Phil in a large pot? A mouthwatering prospect.

“It’s been a long time,” Hellmuth replied.

Even though Dwan was off by a couple of years, the show’s been off the air for nine, you can tell he’s raring to go, and ready to pick up from where he left off. In a subsequent video, uploaded the same day, Dwan is rolling midway through a hand, as bets are being made, and he glanced down to show us his hole cards, pocket sevens. We’ll have to wait to see if the hand makes the show’s final edit and, if so, how it all played out.

Incidentally, during a flashback highlight montage during that promo from High Stakes Poker, Dwan is the first player featured. It’s one of the classics, too. And, yes, he did run well. Up against three-time bracelet winner Barry Greenstein, who wrote the book, Ace on the River, and facing a massive bet of $436,100, Dwan called ‘all-in’ holding the king and queen of spades, on a Q, 4, 2 flop with two spades. As fate would have it, he’d spike a queen on the turn, and scoop the $919,600 pot. At the time, it was the largest pot in television history.

Fast & Furious Format

While the exact format of the new show has yet to be unveiled, if it’s keeping in tradition with the old version the blinds will be somewhere around $300/$600, with a $1,200 straddle and the tasty prospects of a fourth blind of $2,400. When the show first aired, the minimum buy-in was $100,000. But that was later upped to $500,000 at the start of Season 4. Some players, like Canadians Daniel Negreanu (Season 1) and Brad Booth (Season 3) have plopped down as much as $1 million, putting a good portion of their bankroll on the line.

Chances are the structure will be somewhat the same, but imagine if the blinds are higher? Wow.

Maple Leaf Mayhem

“I bet a million dollars.”

The words must have sounded strange coming out of his mouth, but that’s what he said as he pushed two big bricks of cash across the table. ‘Kid Poker’ wasn’t messing around. Daniel Negreanu, a Toronto-native who has resided in Las Vegas for years, was confident in his bet. He had flopped a king-high club flush, and was looking to get paid off like a millionaire. The problem? He was up against Barry Greenstein, who was holding the ace of clubs, and called for all his chips. When the jack of clubs came on the river it was a flush over flush scenario, and he was on the losing end of it. Fortunately for the Canadian, Greenstein only had about $100,000 left in his stack, so it was a relatively small pot worth 200k. Even still, the rest of the table gasped.

Daniel Negreanu

Negreanu was very active in Season 1, and it all started with that hand. In a future episode, he tangled with the legendary Sammy Farha, who memorably finished second to Chris Moneymaker in the 2003 main event. On a board of J, 10, Q, with two diamonds, Negreanu had K, 9, and was sitting strong with a flopped straight, the second nuts. Farha, playing with a customary unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, was on a flush draw and spiked a diamond on the turn to scoop a pot worth $206,000.

Farha

That’s the beauty and thrill of high stakes action, anything can happen. When the money went in, Negreanu was a 71% favourite to beat Greenstein and a 63% favourite to beat Farha. Compared to what happened to in Season 2, they were only modest bad beats.

Trouble in River City

“Wow, both players have flopped sets,” screamed commentator Gabe Kaplan, after the 9, 6, 5 flop was spread out. “Daniel’s got three sixes, Gus has got three fives, and Gus is going to lose a lot of money in this hand.”

It was the monster of all monster flops, set-over-set, and ‘Kid Poker’ had the best of it. He was a massive 94% favourite. You guessed it, the only five left in the deck landed on fourth street, and suddenly the odds were reversed. Negreanu was now drawing slim to dead, with just a two per cent chance of hitting the case six.

Thinking he was trapping his opponent, Negreanu just called Hansen’s flop and turn bets. After the river card dropped, and with the poker world glued to their sets, is when the real action picked up. Cue the craziness. Hansen checked, setting his own trap, and when Negreanu bet $65,000, he announced, “all-in.”

“He just raised me $167,000, I better have something if I’m going to call,” Negreanu said, as he counted and recounted his chips, plotting his next move. “Well buddy, if I lose this pot it’s a cooler, I can’t feel too bad.” How could he fold? He didn’t. Ouch, on the wrong end of an extremely lucrative $575,700 pot. A great haul for Hansen, and the usually talkative Canadian was left almost speechless.

“So sick, so sick, you had one out,” he muttered, as he watched incredulously as Hansen collected his new-found chips.

Brad Booth, Like a Boss

Another Canadian, ‘Yukon’ Brad Booth, who is from Mission, B.C., but nicknamed such from his playing days in the Yukon, took the poker world by storm thanks to High Stakes Poker. In 2007, at the height of the poker boom and with the show raging in popularity, Booth pulled the trigger on one of the most talked about bluffs ever, and he did so against 10-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Ivey. It was audacious.

It happened during Season 3 (Episode 13), and it’s been discussed by pundits, in forums, and by players in poker rooms everywhere ever since. Ivey had pocket kings, and on a flop of 3, 6, 7, fired out $23,000. Booth was holding the 4, 2 of spades. With nothing but an inside straight draw, a four-to-one underdog to win the hand, he licked his lips a few times, to give off the illusion he had a premium holding, stacked three $100,000 bricks of cold hard cash on top of one another, and then tossed them in. It was television gold.

Ivey eventually folded, and Booth became one of poker’s new stars.

Billionaire Bettors

Cirque de Soleil founder Guy Laliberte loves to play poker and gamble it up, and has been one of the show’s regular cast members. He’s no slouch, either. The Quebec City billionaire holds his own in the cash games, has had some success in tournaments, and once even reached a final table at the World Series of Poker. What makes him such a threat is that these stakes don’t phase him in the slightest. Laliberte has been involved in number of notable hands-on High Stakes Poker, but two stand out, and they both came in Season 4.

In the first, he lost an $818,100 pot against Doyle Brunson. They both had top pair, but Brunson had the better kicker. “When you don’t make a pair for eight hours, you go crazy,” the two-time world champion said, as he was raking in the loot.

Guy Laliberte

In the second, Laliberte squared off with David Benyamine, a well-respected cash game pro from France, who regularly plays in the so-called ‘Big Game’ at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The pot had exploded to $1.27 million on the flop. Benyamine was all-in and sitting with the worst hand, a flush draw only. Laliberte had two-pair, and was sitting in a dominant position. Then, he did what Canadians do, and played nice by offering Benyamine a deal he couldn’t refuse. Both players would take back their final bets and raises, and play for a reduced pot of $249,700 instead. Benyamine lost, but suffered minimal damage only.

Laliberte essentially let him off the hook for $500,000. Polite poker, eh?

A Who’s Who of Poker

High Stakes Poker has generated some of the most memorable action in the game’s history, and it’s featured a who’s who of poker royalty. Players like Jennifer Harmon, Mike Matusow, Jamie Gold, Jean-Robert Bellande and Patrik Antonius, just to name a few, have graced our screens, and strut their stuff to the masses. They’ve been joined by businessmen like Bill Klein and Bill Perkins, and even medical professionals like card enthusiast Dr. Amit Nasseri.

All the while, fans went along for the ride, and the commentators did too. Gabe Kaplan, of Welcome Back Kotter fame, and A.J. Benza, from the Howard Stern Show, handled most the of the play-by-play duties through the first six seasons. They were eventually relieved by a couple of Canadians. Kara Scott, who was born in Alberta and now lives in Santa Barbara, California, was on the microphone for season’s six and seven. She was accompanied by comedian Norm Macdonald for the shows seventh and final season. Macdonald is perhaps best known for his role on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.

There’s no word on who will be calling the action when the show premiers in a couple of weeks but, one thing is for sure, they better be ready to commentate on some big pots.

On the River…

Antonio ’The Magician’ Esfandiari has been a regular on the show since its inception. Highly regarded, and a guy with three WSOP titles to his name, he’s one of the world’s elite. With an astonishing $28 million playing cards, more than $18 million of which he pocketed for taking down one of the richest tourneys in poker history, the Big One for One Drop in 2012, the big money doesn’t scare him. During a hand, on one of the very first episodes some nine years ago, he said, “the boys are gambling, the chips are flying, net worth’s are changing.”

Antonio Esfandiari

That’s High Stakes Poker in a nutshell. Again, the new show debuts December 16th.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio, and has interviewed a number of the world’s top poker players including Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer and Barbara Enright. A former, long-time radio and television broadcaster, Derrick has always had a passion for all things gambling (and darts too). He has even played at the World Series of Poker and other cash games all around the world.

To see more of Derrick is up to on a day-to-day basis, go follow him on Twitter @HighRollerRadio

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