FIVE THINGS: The Return of High Stakes Poker

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Poker fans have a lot to look forward to with the return of High Stakes Poker.

FIVE THINGS is a column, written by PocketFives President and Editor in Chief, Lance Bradley that covers pressing topics and current events in the poker world today. It appears periodically at PocketFives.com.

When Poker Central announced two weeks ago that they had acquired the rights to the High Stakes Poker brand and archive from GSN, the poker world reacted with one unanimous emotion.

Pure joy.

High Stakes Poker, which ran for seven seasons from 2006 until it was cancelled in the wake of Black Friday in 2011, is probably the most beloved TV poker show in history, rivalled only by Late Night Poker. HSP, was different than anything that had come before because it was focused on cash game action, rather than tournaments and as the name suggests, the stakes got big. Real big.

Adding HSP to the growing collection of poker content on PokerGO seems like a slam dunk and Sam Simmons, President of PokerGO/PokerCentral, is already teasing poker fans about what’s to come.


Knowing that the brain trust that now holds the keys to HSP is already thinking of what to do with the HSP brand, this edition of FIVE THINGS is dedicated to some ideas to help make the second coming of High Stakes Poker live up to the lofty expectations.

Don’t Livestream It

It might seem counterintuitive in 2020 to not livestream an hours-long cash game session. Most poker content, whether it’s the Super High Roller Bowl, the World Series of Poker Main Event, or LIVE At The Bike is streamed live. High Stakes Poker holds a special place in the hearts of poker fans and the attachment that many have for HSP meant that it became appointment viewing. There’s no reason that can’t be repeated.

The original HSP filmed 24 hours of action to get 13-17 40-minute episodes for GSN. Have players sign the appropriate non-disclosure agreements, film an entire session, and put together hour-long episodes. Release one or two episodes each week and build up the FOMO via social media. The poker world will be waiting with bated breath.

Make New School Players a Priority

It’s been just over eight years since the last new episode High Stakes Poker aired featuring the likes of Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, and Daniel Negreanu. Bringing some of those players back will give viewers the nostalgic tie-in to the original run but an impressive number of talented players have emerged as stars since then and getting them involved will be an important part of the evolution of the show.

Producers will have a bevy of players to choose from. Nick Schulman, Dan Cates, and Prahlad Friedman somehow never appeared on the original run and would make great additions. There are also stars from the high roller tournament scene such as Kahle Burns, Jason Koon, Sam Soverel, Kristen Bicknell, and Danny Tang that viewers at home will recognize. Others who should be in the discussion include 2017 GPI Breakout Player of the Year winner Art Papazyan, Nick Petrangelo, Kym Lim, Chance Kornuth, Garrett Adelstein, Danielle Andersen, and Christian Soto.

The magic, of course, comes from producers finding the right mix of the original cast and some of the newer stars who will help carry poker into the next decade or so. Allow yourself to dream of an eight-handed lineup that consists of Schulman, Koon, Cates, Brunson, Papazyan, Jason Mercier, Bill Perkins, and Haralabos Voulgaris.

They’ve Got a Story to Tell

Getting the new players into the game is only half of the battle. Giving viewers at home a reason to love – or hate – them is the other half. Mori Eskandani is a Poker Hall of Famer because he’s been able to take the magic of the game and the players playing it and make it feel accessible to those watching.

The table talk in the original HSP was an important part of getting to know the players, but dedicating a few minutes of each episode to telling the backstory of the players in the game will also be an important piece of the broadcast. Every player has a story to tell and as more and more of them are told, viewers can become fans who become invested in the success and failure of players. They’re more likely to tune in if they feel like they are emotionally invested in one or two of the players.

PokerGO’s other outlet, Poker Central, can also play a central role in giving all of the players – new and old – significant build-up in the lead up to each episode.

Give the Great Game Some Run

Every episode of High Stakes Poker has been No Limit Hold’em. It made sense. Most people who were watching poker at the time knew the game and it was easy to follow. Viewers who found it while channel surfing could quickly pick-up the basics and enjoy what they were watching.

The PokerGO viewer is a much more advanced viewer than that. Sure, they still watch a lot of No Limit Hold’em, but they’ve also seen the growth in other games over the years and may have even dabbled in playing some of them. Changing things up a bit will be well received and PokerGO has done something like this before with PLOMG week on Poker After Dark in 2017.

Having 3-4 episodes of Pot Limit Omaha with a lineup of PLO killers and you’re going to get a different group of players to build buzz around. Phil Galfond, Jens Kyllönen, Ben Tollerene, Tom Dwan, and Ben Lamb would be an incredible lineup

Who knows, maybe ‘VeniVidi1993‘ comes out of anonymity to play?

Maybe more importantly, as anybody who remembers the Rail Heaven days on Full Tilt Poker will tell you, PLO is a game that naturally leads to some big pots that will generate buzz on their own.

New Blood in the Booth

Over the seven seasons of the original run, the show had the likes of AJ Benza, Gabe Kaplan, and Norm MacDonald in the commentary booth. MacDonald’s hiring wasn’t exactly met with cheers from the loyal fan base but both Benza and Kaplan connected with the audience and did their best work by letting the table talk carry the show.

There would certainly be some nostalgic reasons to get Kaplan or Benza – or both – back in the fold and have them steering the ship, but there’s a better approach here.

Give Jeff Platt the keys.

Platt is a broadcast professional with a passion for poker and his work with some of PokerGO’s live-streamed events has shown he’s ready for and deserving of a bigger stage. HSP is that stage and poker fans would be richer for having him in the booth on this.