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Filming of Fourth Season of High Stakes Poker Ends

On Last Day, All Players Bought in for $500,000


The hallway that leads to the equestrian stadium at South Point Casino on Monday was filled with huge security guards who eyeballed everyone who rode up the escalators. Every so often, another guard would appear with a clear plastic box filled with more money than many of us will see in our lifetimes.

The guards then walked the boxes through the doors of Exhibition Hall D to a table in the middle of the latest High Stakes Poker set where a producer with a sheet of paper told them where to set the cash and chips. Before game began, the guards would up making eight trips and carried $4 million to the set, the most money that's been in play for a High Stakes Poker session.

"God, I love America," said Antonio Esfandiari soon after filming began.

The filming of the fourth season of High Stakes Poker concluded Monday with a game that started with these players buying in for $500,000 each: Doyle Brunson, Patrik Antonius, Jamie Gold, Sammy Farha, Barry Greenstein, Cirque du Soleil founder and recent fourth-place finisher of the World Poker Tour Championship Guy Laliberte, David Benyamine, and Esfandiari, who also noted that in his native country of Iran, a deck of cards is illegal.

GSN filmed its fourth season over the weekend. The blinds for Monday's event were $300, $600 and $1,200 (yes, three blinds) but most of the time a $2,400 straddle was placed in front of the player who was under the gun. Daniel Negreanu would be around later in the day and the game would go on for as long as the players would like, although at least one player tried to make plans for the evening.

"We could meet at the Bellagio after this, gentlemen," Brunson said.

The footage that was filmed this weekend won't see airtime until sometime in September.Henry Orenstein, producer of High Stakes Poker

There was some concern as to whether having so much money on the line would make the players ultra-tight - both with how they would play and how they would interact with each other. A game with so much at stake has never been filmed before, so this was new waters for both the production crew and the players, but the pre-game concerns were for nothing.

Within the first half hour, a hand developed worth more than $450,000. Reraising of $80,000 and more (much, much more at times), seemed like a rule. And if the players were in any way affected by the amounts of their bankrolls exposed, they hid it well. The poker, viewed off the stage on a monitor with a set of head phones that picked up everyone's conversation, was immensely entertaining and fans of the show won't be disappointed.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Jamie Gold claiming he knows he can't be the best poker player in the world, so he strives on being the best bluffer ever. He also said that his goal is to successfully perform one big bluff against Brunson this session, who sat to Gold's immediate left.
  • Esfandiari waxing poetic about how great America is. He also thanked his father for bringing his family here when he was a boy.
  • Seeing all that money on the table before the player's arrived was jarring. Money is perhaps the biggest star of High Stakes Poker, and more still photographs were taken of the cash and chips than of the players.
  • Farha talking about his recent swings at the blackjack table. In one session, he said he wound up $100,000 or so ahead after being stuck for more than $500,000.
  • Benyamine counter-bluffing Gold with a six-figure bet, and then showing. Gold laughed and genuinely seemed impressed at the play.
  • Laliberte said he was donating half of his winnings to his charity, the One Drop Foundation, which works to provide drinking water to underdeveloped parts of the world. Although he only started playing poker less than two years ago, he started the day off by running over the players and quickly became the table's big stack.

High Stakes Poker is now the most-watched poker show on television. It's produced by Henry Orenstein's production company, which also produces Poker Superstars Invitational and the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship.

Orenstein thinks he knows why the show has attained a cult-like following. One big reason is the money and the fact that all that money in play doesn't belong to a sponsor or represent tournament entries. And the amount that these players put in play - with Monday being the high watermark for the show - is simply astounding for people to comprehend.

"It makes a huge difference when the players play with their own money," Orenstein said while lounging on a couch near all that money. "But we also select the players very carefully. They're very friendly; they know each other so there's a lot of very good conversation."

The players invited to exhibit on High Stakes Poker are carefully screened. It's almost as if the producers are casting for a movie. The money made Monday's game compelling, but how entertaining would it have been if all the players weren't who they are? As people do with athletes and actors, they associate themselves with poker players as characters. And that's what takes High Stakes Poker from just being good, to great TV.



15 years ago

stakes are 300-600 like every other season.


15 years ago

Did Phil Ivey play on HSP at all???


15 years ago

Seems Ivey didn't play this season.


15 years ago

nice another season best poker show out there


15 years ago

They need to invite more female pro's to the table.


15 years ago

Are any of the previous seasons out on DVD?


15 years ago

Phil Ivey played in the new season's other episodes. The author writes mostly about the half-million dollar game. There were four days of tapings. A DVD has been produced but it not available in stores yet. This season also has Annie Duke, Kristy Gazes, Jennifer Harman, and Vanessa Rousso. The difference in blinds, between the regular High Stakes episodes and the half-million dollar show, were the added straddle and optional double straddles.