If you’re a poker fan who also happens to love pop culture, you know that there are very few new ideas under the sun. Every other film seems to be some sort of sequel. And every other new television series seems to be a remake, reboot, or reimagining of something that came before.
You know the drill. These newer versions of classics are often just pale imitations of what came before them. They try with all their might to capture that original magic.
But at best, they just leave fans hungry for what made the first iteration so special in the first place. At worst, they’re so inept that they actually tarnish the original.
The Return of High Stakes Poker
The good news for real money poker fans is that High Stakes Poker, a beloved television show that ran intermittently from 2006 to 2011 and has now been all dolled up for the internet age, came back as strong as ever this past year.
PokerGo salvaged the brand, brought the old band back together (including the television talent and many familiar players from the first go-round), and streamed away. And the action, laughs, chemistry and—let’s face it—shameful joy watching a top pro get dunked on every now and again, all returned pretty much intact.
We mention all this because this past week concluded the scheduled episodes for the season on PokerGo for this season.
There has been no news yet about what’s in the works in the future. And PokerGo has kept it close to the vest in terms of whether the show tipped the needle in any way in terms of viewership or new subscriptions.
But what High Stakes Poker did have was buzz. Each week’s episode had poker enthusiasts buzzing, whether it was because of a memorable hand or some lively interplay between the contestants. Even a quip here and there from Gabe Kaplan was enough to get everybody talking.
The Pros Battle It Out
There is no doubt that the timing of the show’s return couldn’t have been better. After all, for most of the past year, we’ve been relegated, as fans, to watching pros battle each other online. The head-to-head matchup between Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk come to mind.
Even when Polk refused to play a session in protest, watching all of that go down in the online sphere didn’t carry the same jolt as it might have if he had stormed out of the room they both inhabited while Negreanu catcalled at him.
With High Stakes Poker, they took all the necessary precautions and did the testing and managed to get these guys in a room, sitting at the same table together, interacting, harassing, and commiserating in equal measure.
And the cast of characters was particularly engaging, including Polk, Rick Salomon, Phil Ivey, and everybody’s favorite lightning rod for controversy, Phil Hellmuth.
After all, Hellmuth might have indirectly given himself away with his patter which, in turn, fueled Polk’s doubts. That kind of tension just wouldn’t have come through had they been playing online through a computer screen.
The last go-round of the season was a spirited affair, even if Hellmuth was mostly sidelined with lousy cards. (He ended last in the chips count).
Instead, Salomon, Kenney, and Tom Dwan came out on top, with Dwan seemingly finishing the season as the most consistent big winner.
Granted, there are some things about which it’s fair to quibble. To watch the show (including episodes from old seasons), you need to subscribe to PokerGo.
That’s not that big a deal for the hard-core poker enthusiast, but for a casual fan, it would be nice to have some sort of television show going forward.
Whether PokerGo would be good with giving up its exclusivity in that way remains to be seen.
They’d have to convince a network to give them the airtime of course. And ideally, it would be something as substantial as the Game Show Network, which is where the show originally ran, and not some minor-league regional sports network that not everyone can access.
The Future of Live Poker
The other way to look at this is that maybe the demand for a show like High Stakes Poker will diminish once times change.
Ideally, we’re not all that far from poker players being able to congregate again without any obstacles. If that happens, we’ll be back to regularly-scheduled poker programming, which could glut the airwaves like the old days.
But there is something about the format for High Stakes Poker that makes it especially appealing.
The idea that there aren’t strict rules to which tournament players have to appeal is part of it. With this show, you do really feel like you’re eavesdropping on an anything-goes cash game that just happens to have commentary as part of it.
Consider that hand we mentioned with Polk and Hellmuth.
As Polk decided and Hellmuth’s poker face went through a series of mutations, other players at the table started betting on what cards the two had. While Kaplan frowned on the side action like a disapproving chaperone, the mischievousness of it all was fun to watch.
On this last episode, there was a similar moment of off-the-cuff action. Dwan battled Salomon in a hand before Salomon forced him out with a substantial wager. To see if he made the right decision by folding (he did), Dwan flipped Salomon a $500 chip in order to see his hole cards.
The guess here is that we haven’t seen the last of High Stakes Poker and its Texas Hold’em chaos. When we’ll see it again is hard to say.
Wrangling these guys together can’t be the easiest task, especially considering that all their schedules will likely intensify in the coming months if the restrictions ease up a bit.
But back-room brawling at the poker table never will go out of style. When High Stakes Poker does return again, in whatever format that may be, it will be greatly welcomed. This is one reboot that we can honestly say managed to buck the trend and match the original.