The first season of High Stakes Poker, taped at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, was first broadcast in January 2006 and consisted of 13 episodes, hosted by A. J. Benza and comedian/actor-turned-poker pro Gabriel Kaplan. The second season, taped at The Palms and consisting of 16 episodes, premiered on June 5, 2006. The third season, consisting of 13 episodes, was taped at the South Point Casino and premiered on January 15, 2007. New players for the third season included Jamie Gold, Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson, Patrik Antonius, Paul Wasicka, David Benyamine, Brian Townsend and others. Returning players from previous seasons included Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Sammy Farha, Phil Laak, Jennifer Harman, Barry Greenstein, Erick Lindgren, Mike Matusow, Brad Booth and others.
On April 2, 2007 GSN announced that High Stakes Poker would return for a fourth season, again taped at South Point. Taping was completed in May 2007, and the season premiered on August 27, 2007. Returning players included Patrik Antonius, David Benyamine, Doyle Brunson, Eli Elezra, Sam Farha, Jamie Gold, Barry Greenstein, Phil Hellmuth Jr., Jennifer Harman and Daniel Negreanu. Newcomers for the fourth season include Brandon Adams, Mike Baxter, Brian Brandon, Phil Galfond, Guy Laliberté, Bob Safai, Antonio Salorio and Haralabos Voulgaris. The later episodes of this season featured a $500,000 minimum buy-in (compared to the regular $100,000 minimum) and these games saw more than $5 million in play on the table at one time. Season four finished airing on December 17, 2007 and featured 17 episodes. The network cited the show’s strong ratings performance in younger demographics. Season 5, which ran from March 1, 2009 through May 24, 2009, was taped at the Golden Nugget and featured a minimum cash buy-in of $200,000 – the largest buy-in for an entire run of a television series. The format for season 5 differed slightly from its predecessors by having Kaplan and Benza not appear on camera until after the first commercial break in the show, rather than at the outset. Season 6 has been confirmed, and filming is scheduled to take place in October/November 2009 to air February 2010.
When it first aired, High Stakes Poker was unique among televised poker series because it did not take place in a tournament setting. Instead, the program showed a high stakes ring game. The minimum buy-in to the game is US$100,000, but players have bought in for as much as $1,000,000, such as Daniel Negreanu in Season 1 and Brad Booth in Season 3. For part of the fourth season, the minimum buy-in was $500,000. The first episode with the minimum $500,000 buy-in was broadcast on November 5, 2007. The minimum cash buy-in for the fifth season increased to $200,000 – the largest buy-in for an entire run of a television series. Unlike tournament poker, the chips involved represent real money. If a player loses his initial buy-in, that player may rebuy a minimum of $50,000. In addition, players may use cash instead of casino chips. Cash plays and stays as cash in the pot; it does not have to be converted into casino chips. Unlike tournament poker, blinds and antes are constant, instead of increasing as time goes on. High Stakes Poker has $300/$600 blinds with a $100 ante. The fourth season features three forced blinds of $300, $600 and $1,200, with a “straddle” or optional fourth blind of $2,400.
The players include poker professionals along with amateurs such as Jerry Buss and Fred Chamanara. The show was created by executive producer Henry Orenstein. In season one, Daniel Negreanu confirmed in a post on his website’s forums that all players were paid $1,250 per hour for taking part and that 13 episodes were edited down from 24 hours of actual play. 2006 WSOP Main Event Champion Jamie Gold commented that players were paid for participating, though they had to put much more money at risk to get to play the game. Gold also spoke about his interactions with other players, particularly Mike Matusow. The theme song for the show is titled “I’m All In”, written and performed by John Pratt, Los Angeles.
In Season 2, Gus Hansen won $575,700 with four fives, beating Daniel Negreanu’s full house. Hansen raised to $2,100 with 5♦ 5♣, and Negreanu re-raised to $5,000 with 6♠ 6♥, which Hansen called. The pot was $11,700, and the flop came 9♣ 6♦ 5♥. Hansen checked his set of fives with a 4% chance of winning the hand and Negreanu bet $8,000 with his set of sixes and a 94% chance of winning the hand. Hansen raised over the top to $26,000 and Negreanu called, bringing the pot to $63,700. The turn came 5♠, making Hansen quad fives, leaving Negreanu a 2% underdog with his full house. Hansen bet $24,000, and Negreanu called, slow playing his full house. The pot was now $111,700. The river came 8♠. Hansen checked, and Negreanu bet $65,000. Hansen then went all in over the top for his remaining $232,000, bringing the pot to $408,700. Negreanu called, and Hansen took down a pot worth $575,700. This was the largest pot before the 500K minimum buy-in game during the fourth season and remains the largest as a multiple of the big blind ($600).
A $743,800 pot developed between Patrik Antonius and Jamie Gold in the November 12, 2007 episode of the fourth season. Antonius held A♠ J♦ and Gold had pocket kings. After the 3♠ Q♦ 10♥ flop and K♥ turn, Antonius was a 3-to-1 favorite with his straight vs. Gold’s three kings. Gold moved all-in and Antonius called to create the 743.8K pot. With such a large amount at stake the players agreed to run the river three times. The first two river cards, Q♥ 3♦, both paired the board and gave the win to Gold with a full house. The third river card 8♠ kept Antonius’ straight in front. As a result, Gold took two-thirds of the pot and Antonius one-third. Antonius’ calm demeanor after the hand prompted host A.J. Benza to comment: “I’ll tell you one thing: Patrik can take a punch. Imagine if that was Phil Hellmuth”.
In Season 5, Tom Dwan won a $919,600 pot against Barry GreensteinAn even bigger $998,800 pot developed in the November 26, 2007 episode between Antonius and Sammy Farha. Antonius went all-in after the flop with a pair of nines; Farha called with a king-high flush draw. The odds were roughly even, and the players agreed to run the turn and river four times. Antonius won three of the runs to take three-fourths of the pot. A previous hand in the episode saw Doyle Brunson win a $818,100 pot against Guy Laliberté. Brunson held A♦ 10♦ and Laliberté had A♥ 5♥. The flop came A♣ J♠ 4♦ and the turn fell 2♦. Brunson bet the turn, and Laliberte raised and Brunson moved all-in and was called to make the 818.1K pot. The players agreed to run the river twice. Brunson was a 75% favorite with his better kicker and flush draw, and he won both river cards to take the entire pot. After the hand Brunson said, “When you don’t make a pair for eight hours, you go crazy.”
A pot between Laliberté and David Benyamine in the 4th season could have developed into the biggest pot in High stakes poker history when David had A♣ 8♣ and Laliberté had K♦ 5♦ and the flop came K♣ 3♦ 5♣ giving Laliberté top two pair and David the nut flush draw. Acting after Farha, David raised to $43,000 and Laliberté raised to $168,000. Farha folded with A♥ 3♠ and David went all in which Laliberté called, bringing the pot to $1,227,900. After turning the respective cards over, Laliberté, knowing he was the favorite, offered to run it twice. After further negotiation Laliberté offered to take the pot previous to the raises of $238,900. David agreed, thus crushing chances of the biggest pot in high stakes history. Antonio and a couple of other players wanted to see the turn and river which Laliberté and David refused to do.
The biggest successful bluff was in Season 3, when Brad Booth (with 4♠ 2♠) bluffed Phil Ivey (with K♥ K♦). The flop came 3♦ 7♠ 6♦; Ivey’s overpair was a 79% favorite to Booth’s inside straight draw and backdoor flush draw. After Ivey bet $23,000 on the flop to make the pot $54,100, Booth raised to $300,000. Ivey folded. At the beginning of the fourth season, the players agreed that anyone who won a pot while holding the weakest possible hold ’em hand (2-7) would be paid $500 by every other player at the table. This led to several five-figure bluff bets that were calculated to pick up the $3,500 bonus (and the respect of the table) and Phil Hellmuth won the 7-2 bonus in the second televised hand of the season, making a $40,000 bet on the river that caused Mike Matusow to lay down pocket kings.
The biggest unsuccessful bluff occurred as a result of this rule. Amateurs Antonio Salorio and Brian Brandon went to a raised flop with 7-2o and K-K respectively. When Brandon flopped the best possible hand with K-4-K, Salorio continued to bet, eventually losing more than $100,000 before giving up when Brandon raised on the turn.
The biggest pot to be played straight up (with no deals or multiple runs) occurred in Season 5 between Tom Dwan and Barry Greenstein. Peter Eastgate was the original raiser with A♠ K♥, with Barry re-raising to 15K with A♦ A♣ and Dwan calling with K♠ Q♠, and Eastgate calling behind him. The flop came 4♠ 2♠ Q♥, causing Dwan to bet, Barry to raise, Dwan to reraise, and finally Barry to push all-in, which Dwan quickly called. Barry had denied Dwan the oppurtunity to run it twice on an earlier hand (which Tom had the best of when they went all-in and Barry ultimately won), and this time he also wanted to run it only once, but offered to take some of their money back, which Tom rejected. At this point it was almost an exact 50/50 race. The turn was Q♣, and the river was the 7♦, so Tom took down the pot of $919,600.
In Season 5, Tom ‘Durrr’ Dwan semi-bluffed and won $237,700 with Q♣ 10♣ outplaying Barry Greenstein’s overpair (aces) and Peter Eastgate’s trip deuces. Barry Greenstein opened the play under the gun to $2,500 and was quickly called by all players. Before the flop came out there was $21,400 in the pot and at this point Dwan (rather sarcastically) offered to chop the pot. The flop read 2♣ 10♦ 2♠. Eastgate (2♦ 4♥) and Doyle Brunson (A♠ 9♣) checked and Greenstein (A♥ A♣) lead out $10,000 after some thought, and with seven people behind him Dwan raises the pot to $37,300. David Benyamine (3♦ 3♣), Eli Elezra (J♦ 9♠), Ilari Sahamies (7♥ 6♠) and Daniel Negreanu (K♦ 4♦) all quickly folded. The action came back to Peter Eastgate and he called the raise as did Barry Greenstein. With the pot already at $133,500 the turn comes out a 7♦, Eastgate and Greenstein quickly check. After some thought Dwan (95% underdog at this point) fires $104,300, and Eastgate and Greenstein reluctantly folded. Following the hand in a rare move Tom Dwan was quick to verbally announce he was bluffing by stating “Peter had the best hand, I’ll make a sidebet that Peter had the best hand” (Tom was taken on this sidebet and eventually won $6,000 when Peter announced his hand later in the show.)