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Game Show Network’s “High Stakes Poker” telecasts have managed over the course of 6+ seasons to build a large and loyal following based on a surprisingly simple concept:  you can televise poker even when it’s not tournament play!  For many recreational players who participate mainly in cash games (including this author), HSP has been a welcomed addition to the line-up of poker shows currently available. Over the years the show has changed venues, and changed players, but the core idea remains intact.  Post your cash, and the game keeps running until the cameras stop filming.  No one gets “eliminated”, the blinds never increase, and as such it remains primarily a skill-based, people-reading game — poker in its purest form.

While HSP has seen a wide variety of players, settings, and styles, a few things have remained the same.  Daniel Negreanu will always run horri-bad in this format, and it’s no knock on him. He has just been surprisingly unlucky in expensive spots over the years.  Sam Farha will apparently no longer play on television, believing that it’s bad for his game (and he might be right, we’ll just have to take his word for it).  Amateur players will, for the most part, provide some comic relief or interesting plays, but generally lose (except for Guy Laliberte).  But this seventh season of HSP will not necessarily hold to form in all ways – although Farha remains absent, as do all of the Full Tilt Poker red pros who had played previously, because Pokerstars.net now sponsors the game.  What we have in this installment is a pretty entertaining game, a mix of pros, amateurs, and tournament players who are newer to the cash games, all clashing at the Bellagio with Norm MacDonald calling the action.

Thus far in Season 7, well-known pro and HSP regular Anotonio Esfandiari has been a solid winner at the table, as has new amateur player Phil Ruffin.  Four episodes into this season, in fact, Ruffin has already left the table over $300K ahead, thanks in large part to a flopped nut flush that bested Barry Greenstein’s made wheel on the turn.  I doubt if Barry signed a book for him.  But speaking of Barry, who is also a regular on this show, he has been uncharacteristically weak-tight in a few spots thus far, and is down to the tune of $180K.  Peat and Robl have been moderate winners in the game (Robl only sat down after amateur Robert Croak tapped out), and Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson is running close to even in this game, but probably down slightly, albeit by a minimal amount.

The straws that have been stirring the drink are definitely doing so in different ways. Vanessa Selbst, a well-known and highly accomplished tournament player, was stacked almost immediately on Episode 1 when her QQ ran into an amateur’s flopped set of 3’s. Since then she has not only stabilized the ship, but found a few solid spots to get her money in and win back cash and respect at the same time.  To her credit, she has not only gone after the amateurs, but mixed it up quite well with Brunson and the other pros as well.  Bill Klein, on the other hand, has lost in the neighborhood of $400K. It’s bad on the one hand, but since he’s matching his wins or losses in charitable donations, I’m hoping that he either loses more or goes on the heater of his life. He more or less wished for the same thing in an early season interview, hoping that they’d either beat him badly or let him win a lot.  Regardless of his wealth, it takes a stand-up guy to make that kind of commitment to charity, so at this point I’m rooting against his cards so that his charities win.  But in all fairness to Klein, he’s been a bit unlucky in tough spots, and managed to flop a set of 8’s only to see his opponent fold on the turn (although he took a nice pot).  He’s not as polished of a player, but has been fun to watch.

If you enjoy cash games and the drama and thought processes that go into them, you will really enjoy this season of HSP.  The amateurs seemed to be beating up the pros early, but the pros are certainly making a comeback. With new players coming into the mix in the weeks ahead, it will be fun to watch the entire table adjust.  Have fun watching Season 7 of High Stakes Poker, and Good Luck at the Tables!