After two highly successful seasons on GSN (formerly the Game Show Network), people may have been wondering what could make the highly popular poker program 'High Stakes Poker' better than its first two years. Through the first three episodes of the new season (airing at 9PM ET, with repeats through the week), "High Stakes Poker" has taken their winning formula and definitely improved on it.
The basics of the show are simple: take the greatest players in the game, have them bring in their own cash (ranging from $100,000 to $1 million) and play a No Limit Texas Hold 'Em cash game over a three day span. Part of what has made "HSP3" is the cast of characters that have come to the felt to battle it out. Players such as Doyle Brunson, Barry Greenstein and Jennifer Harman have been involved with all three seasons of the show, but the "new" players that they have brought in each year has added some spice to the program. In the first year, it was "amateurs" (if you can call someone who can walk to the table with a minimum of $100K an amateur) Dr. Jerry Buss, Dr. Amir Nasseri and businessman Fred Chamanara who gave viewers a chance to live vicariously through them. This year, however, the newcomers are more dangerous.
The newcomers are led by the defending WSOP World Champion Jamie Gold, who brings part of the riches he took in 2006 to the tables to take on the greats of the game. Getting some long overdue respect, 2006 WSOP double bracelet winner William Chen is a welcome addition to the field. European poker gets its kudos with one of the best young players in the game, Patrik Antonius, and one of its veterans, David Benyamine, demonstrating their skills at the tables. Noted online player Brad "Yukon" Booth also steps into battle in the live arena to demonstrate the abilities that the online players have. All of these additions have helped to make "HSP3" perhaps THE poker program for most to watch.
One of the most entertaining aspects of the program has been its hosts. A. J. Benza has grown each year with the program, but the true star of the announcing team has been longtime poker aficionado Gabe Kaplan. Using his wit and personal knowledge of the players at the table, Kaplan has quietly become one of the premier analysts of poker on the air. In the third season of "HSP", though, Kaplan does something we rarely see the analysts do during a broadcast…he actually puts his money where his mouth is and steps into the fray!
During the second episode this season, Kaplan and Benza step from the booth and Gabe playfully challenges the table that if someone gives up their seat, he would get in the game. Daniel Negreanu takes up Gabe on his boast and, after borrowing $100K from Brunson (demonstrating the respect that the players have for him), Kaplan (who is a longtime competitor in the poker world) proves to be a very challenging player in his own right. He demonstrated the "heart" that the game of No Limit takes when, with pocket Kings, he actually was able to bluff Mike Matusow off of his winning hand (Mike had turned a pair of Aces, but the board held four to a straight). Negreanu ably handled the transfer to the booth as well, adding in very astute knowledge of the game and of the players sitting there. If the poker thing doesn't work out for Daniel, he would have a very good career as a poker analyst!
Two of the best battles during the first three episodes of the show have been Doyle Brunson knocking heads with Jamie Gold (over the first few episodes, Gold has repeatedly charged at the legend, only to have Brunson display the skills that make him, at the age of 73, still one of the preeminent players in the game) and Shawn Sheikhan and Mike Matusow verbally jousting with each other. There will definitely be more great face-offs over the remainder of the season, as Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Sam Farha and Phil Ivey have yet to enter into the fray.
If there is a bad point to the third season of "HSP", it would be that the players aren't rotating through as quickly as in the past couple of seasons. To the third episode, only one player has changed out (Sheikhan left and 2006 WSOP runner-up Paul Wasicka replaced him), not counting Kaplan's replacement of Negreanu. With the vast array of talent waiting in the wings, some viewers may be disappointed to only have one episode with some of their favorite players. But this is a rather nitpicky point. Overall, "High Stakes Poker" has proven why it is "schedule television" as poker fans watch the millions on the tables float between the fingers of the best players in the game. To take part in the action, be sure to tune into GSN on Mondays at 9PM ET over the next few months and learn why "High Stakes Poker" has become what it is today, one of the best poker shows on television.