It took only about ten minutes of airtime to reveal that the PokerStars Big Game hit a home run with its format. Unlike last year’s Face the Ace, which paired amateur qualifiers with pros in heads-up matches, the Big Game gives one “loose cannon” a $100,000 stake to play in a $200/$400 no-limit hold’em cash game alongside five pros. The result? Some spicy trash talk, a classic Phil Hellmuth eruption, and a whole lot of laughter courtesy of this week’s (very likable) loose cannon, Ernest Wiggins, who brought an upbeat, relaxed attitude to the table, despite the high stakes.
Here’s how it works. Each game lasts 150 hands. The betting is pot-limit before the flop and no-limit post-flop. Blinds are $200/$400 with a $100 ante, and all the antes are paid by the player on the button ($600 total). The loose cannons get to keep anything they earn above their starting stack; the most profitable one of the series will earn a North American Poker Tour passport worth $50,000.
Each player (Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Phil Laak and Tony G) bought in for $100,000 with the exception of Daniel Negreanu, who put $200,000 on the table. Wiggins was staked his $100,000 buy-in by PokerStars.
A man of many nicknames: Loose cannon Wiggins is also known as “D.C.,” “E-Dub,” “Tennessee,” “Bly,” “Quaye,” “Boo,” and “June Bug.”
How can you walk in those?: Barely five feet tall, Big Game and NAPT hostess Amanda Leatherman typically gets a little boost by standing on an apple box to conduct her player interviews. However to gain a few inches in this setup, she opted instead for the highest heels we’ve ever seen on a human being outside a Lady Gaga show.
What’s he got?: Negreanu opened for $1,200 with and Tony G (who already had $600 committed with the button ante) called with . Wiggins looked down at in the big blind and raised to $3,700. Negreanu repotted to $13,100 and got a fold from Tony G and a call from Wiggins, who checked dark. Negreanu bet $18,000 on the flop and Wiggins folded. After Negreanu showed Wiggins the , Brunson, Hellmuth and the G started side betting on what Negreanu had. Brunson and Hellmuth thought he had kings, while the G and Amanda Leatherman bet $500 that Negreanu had ace-king.
Negreanu confessed he had kings, and Leatherman buried her face in her hands.
Nice fold, Mr. Hellmuth: Laak opened for $1,200 with . Hellmuth looked down at and made the call, Wiggins called with and Negreanu called with . The flop was and the action checked around to Laak who bet $3,000. Hellmuth called while Wiggins and Negreanu folded. The Phils went heads-up to the turn, which fell the . Laak checked and Hellmuth checked behind. Laak led out for $14,200 with his top two pair when the hit the river. Hellmuth didn’t like it, but made a disciplined lay-down.
That’s called winning the minimum: In a 5-way limped pot, Laak called with , Hellmuth with , Wiggins with , Negreanu with and Brunson checked his option in the big blind with . The flop was , Wiggins hitting top pair and the nut flush draw while Hellmuth flopped middle pair. Everyone checked to Hellmuth who bet $1,800. Wiggins called and the rest of the limpers folded. Hellmuth checked the on the turn and surprisingly, Wiggins checked behind. The river was the and Hellmuth bet $400. Wiggins called and won the pot but played it quite safe along the way.
Doyle drops a buy-in: Hellmuth limped in with and Brunson made it $1,900 to go with two black tens. Tony G defended his big blind with and Hellmuth, after some verbal hemming and hawing, decided on a squeeze raise to $10,000. Brunson called and the G called, as well. The flop was boffo for the G—. giving him trips. The action checked around to Brunson who bet $18,000 with his two pair. Tony G called and Hellmuth folded. Before the turn card could be dealt, The G moved all-in dark. It was the and $67,600 to Brunson to call.
“I just don’t believe you’ve got it buddy,” Brunson said as he made the call. Texas Dolly saw he was drawing dead as the cards were turned over and reached for a $100,000 rebuy.
“I can’t believe you stuck in $8,400 with jack-ten offsuit!” said Hellmuth, launching into one of his signature rants. “You’re so bad you don’t even understand!”
A little Hellmuthian self-awareness: “Everybody has a little Phil inside. A lot of them get rid of it by the time they’re 7 or 8 years old.”
“I love this game!” Tony G opened for $1,000 holding , and Wiggins called with . The G bet $2,000 in the dark before the flop arrived. Wiggins, having flopped top two pair, wasted no time and shoved for $86,500!
“I love this game!” laughed Negreanu.
The G asked to see one of Wiggins’ hole cards but was flatly denied.
“I reckon you had an ace-high flush draw,” said the G-man.
“I reckon you be wrong!” Wiggins replied as he showed a king and raked in the pot.
The Joe Stapleton quote of the night: “Phil Hellmuth is more famous for his folds than the overnight shift at the Gap.”
Winners through 32 hands: Tony G (+$95,700), Negreanu +$17,000, Hellmuth +$13,500
Stuck through 32 hands: Laak-$3,200, Wiggins -$13,100, Doyle -$109,900
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