High Stakes Poker Season 8 to debut December 16

Fan Favorite ‘High Stakes Poker’ Returns for New Season on PokerGO

Nearly a decade later after its last episode, a brand-new eighth season of “High Stakes Poker” is scheduled to begin airing over Poker Central‘s subscription-based streaming service, PokerGO.

The popular show featuring cards-up coverage of high-buy-in cash games originally appeared on the Game Show Network from 2006 to 2011. In late October, Poker Central announced that Season 8 would begin streaming Dec. 16.

New players to join original participants

The show’s original producer Mori Eskandani will be back at the helm. Players from the show’s original run will appear as well, including:

  • Brandon Adams
  • Tom Dwan
  • Phil Hellmuth
  • Phil Ivey

Tweets from players and other sources have revealed other players who have participated in show recordings. These include:

  • John Andress
  • Jean-Robert Bellande
  • Bryn Kenney
  • Jason Koon
  • Ben Lamb
  • Rick Solomon

Episodes have already been created at the PokerGO Studio at the ARIA Resort & Casino. That’s the same location where other poker programming has been created for PokerGO. Such shows include a similar revival of “Poker After Dark” and heads-up contests such as the ongoing “High Stakes Feud” involving Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk.

The stakes for the no-limit hold’em games will be $200/$400 and $400/$800.

Precautions related to COVID-19 include players taking a rapid test each day before participating. From tweeted videos such as one shared by Dwan, it appears players will not be wearing masks or have physical dividers between them.

As Eskandani explained to Poker Central, some players from the old “HSP” chose not to participate in part because of the threat posed by the virus. In any case, enough have taken part to create a season’s worth of new shows.

‘HSP’ reboot hopefully to satisfy nostalgia for old show, desire for something new

Fans of televised poker fondly recall the original “High Stakes Poker.” Many rank it as one of the best examples of poker programming ever made.

The show was certainly the most successful featuring a cash game format, producing many memorable moments while highlighting dozens of poker personalities.

More than 70 different players appeared on the shows, including Poker Hall of Famers Doyle and Todd Brunson, Johnny Chan, Jennifer Harman, and Barry Greenstein. Some favorite hands over the years include:

  • Brad Booth holding four-deuce suited and flopping an insight straight draw, then successfully bluffing Phil Ivey off of pocket kings
  • Sammy Farha with A-A and Jamie Gold with K-K taking 15 minutes to complete negotiations surrounding their preflop all-in
  • David Benyamine and Guy Laliberté creating the largest pot in the show’s history of $1.23 million before agreeing to reduce it (to just under $240K) and end the hand on the flop
  • Tom Dwan winning the biggest pot ever on the show of almost $920K versus Barry Greenstein
  • On a 2-10-2 flop, Dwan holding the third-best hand (Q-10), yet managing to get both Greenstein (A-A) and Peter Eastgate (4-2) to fold

Gabe Kaplan and A.J. Benza co-hosted the shows’ first five seasons, with the pair ably mixing analysis and entertainment to supplement the often engaging table talk. Kara Scott replaced Benza for Season 6, with Norm MacDonald then replacing Kaplan and joining Scott for the final Season 7.

There has been chatter online about who will provide commentary on the new HSP, with some hopeful speculation that Kaplan could even return. The hosts for the new show have yet to be announced.

Poker Central’s strategy of acquiring older content

Fan-posted episodes of the show intermittently appeared on YouTube over the years. Then, in late 2018, an official “High Stakes Poker” channel posted high-quality versions of all 98 episodes, prompting renewed interest in the series.

Earlier this year, Poker Central acquired the rights to all seven seasons of the show. Indeed, it was shortly after news of that acquisition that stories began circulating regarding the possibility of a Season 8 of “HSP.”

Much as Poker Central had done when earlier acquiring rights to ESPN’s World Series of Poker broadcasts, episodes of “HSP” were taken down from YouTube and made exclusively available to PokerGO subscribers.

PokerGO does allow a few glimpses of the show to everyone else, however, including the first episode from the first season.

While there is no schedule of shows as yet, Poker Central reports new episodes will appear weekly.

5 factors affecting the return of ‘High Stakes Poker’

Coming at the end of a year largely bereft of live poker, many players will be glad to see “High Stakes Poker” return.

The “HSP” brand and familiar format along with a few familiar faces will satisfy nostalgia seekers. The paucity of original live poker content also should help the show attract attention, at least within the poker world.

Of course, over the nearly 10 years since “High Stakes Poker” last ran, the impact and status of televised poker has changed significantly. Here are five factors that will undoubtedly affect how Season 8 of “HSP” is presented and received.

1. ‘High stakes’ isn’t what it used to be

It has been a long time since watching a poker player win six- and seven-figure cash prizes lost its novelty. The preponderance of tournaments, including high rollers and super high rollers, has made witnessing players winning and losing big sums seem much less of a spectacle than it was even a decade ago.

The money, then, can’t necessarily be the big draw this time around.

2. A narrower audience for televised poker

The original “HSP” aired on a network featuring dozens of other game shows, thereby drawing the eyes of non-poker players. So, too, did ESPN’s WSOP shows during the boom years of the mid-2000s and programs like “Celebrity Poker Showdown” on the Bravo Network appeal to a wide audience that extended considerably beyond hardcore enthusiasts.

Unlike in its earlier iteration, the new “HSP” will surely cater directly to those already enamored with poker who have purchased subscriptions to watch a poker-only network.

3. A more knowledgeable audience for televised poker

For many viewers, the original “HSP” provided a kind of poker education. Indeed, the show taught many about live poker etiquette while introducing them to various cash game features such as:

  • Running it twice (or three times or more)
  • Straddling
  • Taking insurance
  • Prop betting
  • The “7-2 game”

The original show appealed to experienced players and novices alike, with the strategy discussion often tailored to suit a wide and varied audience. Today’s “HSP” viewers will undoubtedly be more knowledgeable about the game and strategy (on average) than was earlier the case.

Analysis of players’ strategies will no doubt be part of the new shows. It will be curious to see how much that discussion is foregrounded and whether it makes the show seem more like present-day livestreamed poker than the old “HSP.”

4. A less pronounced online poker connection

During its run, the original “HSP” was conspicuously sponsored by online poker sites Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars. References to the sites were ubiquitous, with most players patched as site ambassadors. (In fact, near the end, FTP players wouldn’t appear on the show, as Stars was the sponsor.)

Then came Black Friday in April 2011, which forced those sites out of the US. That also spelled doom for sponsored shows like “HSP,” which went off the air a month later.

The new “HSP” will have an online poker connection, though perhaps not such a meaningful one. Shortly after sharing the news that it had acquired “High Stakes Poker” in February 2020, Poker Central announced that it had struck a new partnership with the sweepstakes-based online poker site Global Poker.

Back in the day, “HSP” viewers enjoyed a kind of connection with the players they were watching. Many played on the same online poker sites, sometimes even in the same games. That won’t necessarily be as much the case this time.

5. HSP: High Standards for Programming

For many viewers, the old “HSP” will affect how they watch the new version. In his comments, Eskandani specifically cited a desire to match the quality and look of the original program.

“We wanted it to stay close,” said Eskandani. “Fidelity is important to us with what was in the past. … The main idea is the same, but the look is a little different.”

Eskandani is enthusiastic about the new episodes, noting how a recently shot one compared favorably with some of the best from the show’s earlier run. “Absolutely never a dull moment, and the conversation was exactly what you wanted,” he said.

Poker Central no doubt hopes conversation about the new “High Stakes Poker” will go as they want as well.

- Martin Harris is a writer and teacher who has reported on poker, online gambling, and sports betting since the mid-2000s. Once a full-time academic (Ph.D., English), he currently teaches part-time in the American Studies program at UNC Charlotte. His book Poker & Pop Culture was published by D&B Books in 2019.
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