The long awaited return of High Stakes Poker to the Game Show Network is finally here! Hosted by Gabe Kaplan and AJ Benza, the show begins its fifth season on the air back at the Golden Nugget, where it first began. This season’s show requires a buy-in of at least $200,000, and the blinds and antes have been raised from the old format of 300-600-100 to 400-800-200.
Many of the players will be familiar to those who have followed the show in previous seasons. The first night’s action featured Barry Greenstein, Doyle Brunson, Eli Elezra, Daniel Negreanu, and David Benyamine, all of whom have appeared frequently during the show’s run. Added to the mix to start the new season are two Internet legends, Tom “durrr” Dwan and Illari “Zigmund” Sahamies, both of whom play at Full Tilt Poker, plus the reigning World Series of Poker Main Event champion, Peter Eastgate, the youngest winner in the event’s history.
The action started fast and furious right off the bat, and the young guns showed they were not there to be intimidated. After two early callers, Eastgate raised to $5,000 with , only to be RERAISED to $16,600 by Dwan with !! The early limpers folded, and Eastgate called. The flop brought a rainbow suited K-5-4, and Dwan checked. Eastgate tried to take the pot with a bet of $20,000, but Dwan called. The turn and the river saw the and the , and Eastgate gave up on the hand.
After the hand, Doyle Brunson mentioned that, in the “old days”, they wouldn’t even think about playing K-9, and now players re-raise with it. This was the first of many attempts by various players to get inside Dwan’s head during the game, none of which were very successful. Brunson later told Dwan that he was the slowest player he had ever played against, to which Dwan replied that he gets to take a bit more time since he plays so many more hands than anyone else. Dwan consistently showed that he was not about to let the older players throw him off his game, and that his mental approach was every bit as strong as his card playing skills.
This first hand set the tone for the entire hour of the show, which featured Dwan in most of the hands that were shown, against a variety of players. Despite losing a big pot of over $170,000 to Eastgate when both of them turned three sixes, with Eastgate winning with an ace kicker, Dwan managed to stay close to break even with very aggressive play that had some of the more adventurous players from previous seasons, such as Elezra and Negreanu, playing many fewer hands than they had in the past.
It wasn’t all about the new players, however. In a classic duel of two masters, Brunson and Negreanu went up against each other in an early matchup. It began with Negreanu raising to $2,500 with , Doyle just CALLING with two black kings, and Zigmund putting in a loose call with Q-9 offsuit.
The flop contained , giving Negreanu an inside straight-flush draw. He led out with $5,500, Brunson raised to $15,500 with his over pair, and Zigmund folded. Daniel then just called the raise, keeping the pot somewhat small. The turn was the , Daniel checked, and Doyle checked behind, knowing that Daniel was capable of betting a hand with a seven pre-flop. The came on the river, Negreanu checked, and Brunson bet $30,000. Despite having made top pair on the river, Negreanu didn’t pause at all before mucking his hand, knowing just what Brunson had. It was a classic encounter between two of poker’s all-time great cash game players, two men who know each other’s tendencies backwards and forwards from countless clashes at the table over the years.
A new feature to the show this year is a look at the “high pressure moment” of the night. It came on the following hand: In early position, Greenstein raised to $2,600 with A-J offsuit, only to have Dwan (with ), Elezra (), Eastgate () and Brunson () all call. It was not unusual to see four or more players see the flop on this night.
The flop was 8-3-3 rainbow, with one club. Greenstein fired out $7,000 and Elezra called. Note that Greenstein’s bet was a standard continuation bet, having missed the flop, and Elezra’s two pair, eights and threes, were the best hand at this point.
The turn card was the , adding a flush draw to Elezra’s possibilities. Both players checked. The river was the , and Greenstein, knowing he was beaten, but sensing weakness in Elezra’s refusal to raise or take the lead in betting the turn, put in a bet of $25,000, getting Elezra to release his hand.
A couple of hands featured battles between Dwan and Benyamine. The more interesting of the two had Dwan calling an unopened pot on the button with , and Benyamine raising in the small blind with Q-9 offsuit (kids, don’t try this at home!). Dwan called, and the flop was K-J-10 with two hearts, giving Benyamine a flopped straight and Dwan a flush draw. Benyamine bet $8,400 into a pot of $13,200, and Dwan just called.
The turn was the , Benyamine bet $17,500 into the $30,000 pot and Dwan called again. The river revealed the , and Benyamine made a crafty bet of $12,000, hoping to appear weak, so that Dwan would come over the top with a raise. Dwan folded, however, and Benyamine took down the $65,000 pot.
The final hand of the night was an object lesson in what Dan Harrington cautions against in his cash game book, which is getting in too deep with top pair-top kicker. Negreanu called an unopened pot on the button with . Eastgate in the small blind raised to $4,000 with A-K offsuit, and Brunson in the big blind (J-10 offsuit) and Negreanu both called.
The flop came 2-2-K, with two hearts. Eastgate bet $6,000 into a pot of $13,600, Brunson folded and Negreanu smooth-called with his three deuces. The turn was the , giving Negreanu a full house. Eastage, still not realizing the trouble he was in, bet $14,000 into the $25,600 already in the middle, and Negreanu continued to call, trying to represent that he was on a drawing hand.
A black eight came on the river, and Eastgate put out what he thought was a value bet of $19,000 into the $53,600 pot, only to have Negreanu raise to $59,000. Eastgate mulled it over for a bit, then realized he was beaten and folded the hand. Although he saved the river bet, he was unable to avoid losing over $40,000 on the hand.
If the first episode is any indication, this season promises to be equal to the ones that have come before it. With a combination of ultra-aggressive players and ones who pick their spots a bit more cautiously, the fireworks are sure to continue. High Stakes Poker remains, for my money, the best poker show on television.
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