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Iconic ‘High Stakes Poker’ returns with big pots, banter

Updated December 15, 2020 - 6:34 pm

When “High Stakes Poker” debuted in 2006, it offered a window into a part of the poker world that the public rarely sees: big-money cash games, with pots nearing $1 million.

After nine years, the show has been revived. Fourteen new episodes will be released weekly starting at 5 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday on the subscription streaming service PokerGO. The action was filmed at the PokerGO studio by the Aria.

Mori Eskandani produced the first run of “High Stakes Poker” and is overseeing its new episodes as well. He said viewers have always been awed by the action on the show.

“They say, ‘No, really, is that their money?’” he said. “People didn’t want to believe it.”

Most televised poker shows revolve around tournaments, in which entrants put up the same amount of money and play down to a set series of prizes. In cash games, there’s no cap on the wins and losses, and they can mount quickly on “High Stakes Poker.”

Wednesday’s initial episode features No-limit Hold’em at stakes of $400-$800 with a $200,000 minimum buy-in. Players include “High Stakes Poker” standout Tom Dwan, who won a pot of $919,600 against Barry Greenstein in one of the show’s most memorable hands.

Future episodes will include poker stars Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey and Doug Polk.

“I enjoy playing with these guys — some of them more than others,” Ivey told PokerGO. “… It’s been a long time. And I’m looking forward to the next season.”

The new episodes are also bringing back original “High Stakes Poker” announcers AJ Benza and Gabe Kaplan, the high-stakes poker player and actor known from “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

“High Stakes Poker” went off the air in 2011 when advertising dried up after the federal government’s crackdown on online poker. Eskandani, who was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2018, said he has wanted to revive the show for years but had to wait until the time was right.

PokerGO purchased the rights to the show from the Game Show Network in 2019. Eskandani wanted to air new episodes earlier this year, but he was thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Players will appear on “High Stakes Poker” without masks to facilitate banter at the table and make the action more telegenic. They had to isolate in their hotel rooms, then get tested for the virus before playing, Eskandani said.

The table talk is one of the most important parts of the show, Eskandani said. The players in high-stakes cash games get to know each other well, and that frees them to trade verbal barbs, he said.

“We’ve left hands on the cutting room floor in favor of great conversation hands,” Eskandani said. “… It’s very uncommon to have a final table of an event where people know each other. They’ll be reluctant to tease each other because they don’t have a history together. That lets them get on each other’s nerves at times.”

Eskandani said PokerGO plans to continue the series after this initial return, and he hopes to bring back other familiar faces such as Europeans Patrik Antonius and Gus Hansen once travel restrictions are lifted.

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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