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Star-Studded Lineups Return For Ninth Season Of High Stakes Poker

Watch All The Action Starting February On PokerGO

by Steve Schult |  Published: Feb 09, 2022

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One of the most popular shows in poker history has returned for a ninth season as High Stakes Poker comes back to PokerGO in February.

The latest iteration of the show, and second season on poker’s premier streaming platform, once again features a mix of high-stakes pros and some amateur players that are both skilled and willing to gamble. The upcoming season will have a mix of both the old guard of poker and some of the game’s best new talent.

For the second consecutive season, actor, comedian, and poker enthusiast Gabe Kaplan will be joined by A.J. Benza to do the show’s commentary. The duo were the voices of the show for the first five seasons, which were aired originally on Game Show Network between January 2006 and May 2009. In 2020, PokerGO rebooted the series for an eighth season and brought back the original commentary team.

Poker fans will have the joy of watching poker legends such as Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, and Daniel Negreanu square off against other high-stakes favorites like Patrik Antonius, Tom Dwan, and Jean-Robert Bellande, as well as some of the newer faces to the game like 2021 World Series of Poker main event champion Koray Aldemir. Bryn Kenney, James Bord, and Jennifer Tilly were also among the notables to play.

With blinds ranging from $200-$400 to $500-$1,000 and several players willing to straddle, there will be no shortage of six-figure pots and even the occasional seven-figure chip stack.

Several of the players this season, like Brunson and Negreanu, are no stranger to the unique pressure that comes with playing nosebleed stakes cash games in front of a camera. The pair of Poker Hall of Famers both appeared in the show’s inaugural season in 2006 and are two of just four players to take a seat in each of the show’s first seven seasons.

“It’s just kind of nice to have some old faces in here,” said Negreanu during a taping at the PokerGO Studio on the Las Vegas Strip. “Guys that I used to play with years ago that we don’t see much anymore.”

The Canadian pro was involved in several of the show’s most memorable hands over the years. Unfortunately for Negreanu, he was typically on the losing side of them.

In the second season, Erick Lindgren turned quads against Negreanu’s flopped straight for a nearly $250,000 pot and later that season, Negreanu lost one of the most epic pots in televised poker history. In what ended up as a $575,000 pot, both Negreanu and Gus Hansen flopped a set on a board of 9-6-5, but Hansen hit the case five on the turn to make quads.

During season 5, David Benyamine turned quad fours against Negreanu’s pocket jacks for $400,000 and he lost a pair of pots worth roughly the same amount in the following season to both Dwan and Mike Matusow.

“I’ve had plenty of time to move past all that, but when it was going on, it was just demoralizing,” said Negeranu. “Because people were watching a show that was on once a week and they’re like, ‘Man, every week this keeps happening.’ All that actually happened in like eight hours. I got brutalized that many times in just one session. It was definitely mentally tough then, but the good news is they’re all building blocks towards getting to where you want to go. And I’ve never been a better player than I am now. It’s not close.”

Brunson, on the other hand, didn’t endure the same type of swings that Negreanu went through during that same time span. He was the recipient of one of the largest pots in show history, however, when he clashed with Cirque Du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte in season 4.

But after countless decades playing at the highest stakes possible, and 10 WSOP bracelets to his name, the 88-year-old wasn’t necessarily there for the cash first and foremost. “Texas Dolly” just wanted to prove to himself that he could still compete against the brightest poker minds alive.

“It’s just fun playing with top talent,” he said. “I like to compete against the best, especially all these kids talking about the GTO [game theory optimal] and all that stuff. I couldn’t see how they could put me on a range of hands, and I don’t believe they can. That was my main thought when I came down here. Just to see how I played against these guys.”

One of those “kids” Brunson referred to was fresh off an $8 million score as Aldemir was less than a month removed from his WSOP main event title when his episodes were filmed. The 31-year-old German pro was barely legal to gamble in American casinos the last time Brunson was battling it out on the High Stakes Poker felt.

A decade later, Aldemir was clashing with the same guys he watched on television as a high schooler.

“If I had to tell you like the five or six best guys to play with, they were all here, so yeah, it was super fun,” said Aldemir about his experience. “It was super special. I’ve played with a lot of them in tournaments before, but I’ve never played with Doyle before. That was cool just sitting next to him. It was a little intimidating, but a lot of fun.”

One of the other new pros to make an appearance was high-stakes cash game pro and former Survivor contestant Garrett Adelstein. The Southern California resident said that he grew up watching the show and getting to be a part of it allowed him to put a check mark next to a poker bucket list item.

“I was obsessed with High Stakes Poker from Season 1,” said Adelstein. “It was just appointment viewing for me. It was my favorite show on TV. I looked forward to it every week and so it’s been just incredibly surreal playing it all week long here, with many of the best players in the world. It seems like as my poker career goes on, I just have fantasy moment after fantasy moment that I just don’t really understand, and this is yet another one so I’m very grateful to be playing.”

The 35-year-old is a veteran to live streamed cash games, and has played under the lights of the PokerGO studio several times previously with multiple appearances on Poker After Dark.

“I’ve really liked everyone, but I guess I’ll give a shoutout specifically to Daniel [Negreanu] and Patrik [Antonius],” said Adelstein. “This was the first time I’d met either of them in person and they both couldn’t have been nicer. Patrik comes up to me and he goes, ‘I’m so excited to finally be playing with you. Can we get a bunch of pictures together?’ I was like ‘What are you talking about, man? You’re Patrik Antonius.’ And I think that just goes to show what kind of guy he is and so it’s just super refreshing to see all these famous people be such classy guys.”

The lineups are a mix of the old guard and new school, but one thing that is staying true to the roots of the show is the set itself. According to Negreanu, this season’s table and setup gives him similar vibes from the original seasons.

“This season feels like a real throwback because they actually went back in time with the set,” said Negreanu. “It reminds me much more of what we used to have.”

Producer of High Stakes Poker and President of PokerGO Mori Eskandani said that last season’s move to the PokerGO studio was the driving force behind the ability to create a comfortable atmosphere for the players, also giving the production staff a bit of flexibility that it didn’t have in previous years.

During the first seven seasons of the show, the set was built onsite at several different Las Vegas casinos, including the Golden Nugget, The Palms, the South Point, and the Bellagio.

“It’s obviously a lot easier to build a stage like you’re seeing and put it in the studio,” said Eskandani. “As opposed to having to negotiate a venue, have the venue be available, and a lot of times it takes three or four days to build a stage and a couple days to take it down. So, if you’re playing five days, you need the area available for you for two weeks sometimes.”

Since the current setup at the Aria doesn’t require the staff to construct and deconstruct the stage on a strict schedule, Eskandani has a bit of flexibility to create high-quality poker programming that wasn’t possible in years past.

“If I hear from the players or somebody like the sponsor of the show comes back and says, ‘Hey, we got three whales coming in and they’re willing to play a $10 million buy-in, can we do it next week?’ Well, guess what? We can make it work somehow,” said Eskandani, who created the idea for the show with the late inventor Henry Orenstein.

But newer didn’t always mean better for Eskandani’s program.

Since Chris Moneymaker sparked the poker boom in 2003, the world has watched strategy evolve over time. As players fine tuned their craft, they also became more aware of game selection. Gone were the days of lively conversation and splashy action and in came the players who were looking to squeak out every edge possible.

“[The game] became mainly players that were coming up on the internet,” said Eskandani. “They weren’t interacting as much. They don’t have the same… people call it character that the old school players had. You were always sitting in the game, in the live games and the interactions and the characters there were pretty unique.”

With fewer high-energy talkative players at the table, making entertaining poker content took a bit more effort.

“Let me put it this way. You can produce poker for poker players, and then you can produce poker for the general masses. It’s two different products, in my opinion,” said Eskandani. “Poker players, they’re going to enjoy chatter, but they’re going to watch this to learn something from the big names of the game. But once you leave the poker arena and you want to bring a game to everyone else, things like the cash on the table and the chatter become so much more important.”

Luckily for Eskandani, even if there isn’t much conversation at the table, High Stakes Poker can always keep the attention of the audience, because, well, the stakes are incredibly high.

It’s the only poker show where the audience can regularly expect six and sometimes even seven-figure pots. When fans chat about the memorable pots from the first 112 episodes, there is no shortage to choose from. Between the endless coolers Negreanu endured, Brad Booth’s $300,000 bluff with 4-high against Ivey’s pocket kings, or Dwan running it once for nearly $920,000 with top pair and a flush draw against Barry Greenstein’s pocket aces, there is no shortage of nostalgia.

“High Stakes Poker has a cool feel,” said Dwan following the final day of shooting. “There’s no other TV poker show that’s ever really felt like that. It’s a cool set up, a cool lineup. It’s just done a little bit better than the other shows.”

Greenstein, Negreanu, Brunson, and Antonio Esfandiari were the only ones in history to play all seven seasons, but perhaps nobody has a more interesting relationship to the show than Dwan.

When he made his first appearance as a 21-year-old internet legend in season 5, he immediately became a fan favorite with his fearless nature and relentless aggression. He won the biggest pot in the history of the series and pulled off one of the most creative bluffs in the same season when he flopped top pair on a 10-2-2 board and got Greenstein to fold pocket aces and Peter Eastgate to fold 4-2.

It was one of the poker world’s first impressions of the man more commonly known by his online screen name ‘Durrrr,’ and it wouldn’t be the last. He returned the following season and pulled off a triple barrel bluff against Ivey, betting $268,200 on the river while holding 8-9 on a K-Q-10-3-6 board.

“When I came in, I knew my no-limit game was sharper than the people I was playing against by quite a bit,” said Dwan. “But, especially the first season, I was a little nervous about the live read kind of stuff. But by the second season, I had played a ton of live at Bellagio, so that wasn’t there as much.”

After being a human highlight reel in seasons 5 and 6, Dwan skipped season 7 in 2011 before playing in last year’s initial reboot. But even with that time off, whenever a fan ran into the internet legend, hands from the show were what they wanted to know about.

“I didn’t realize how much it was going to spread,” said Dwan about the viral hands. “And how many people were going to watch it. I’ve been in countries all over the world and people ask me about certain hands. I’m used to it by now, but it was surprising for a while. I didn’t really expect that.”

Given the show’s history, the current lineup, and the stakes of the game, all signs point to another action-packed season of High Stakes Poker on PokerGO.

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