High Stakes Poker is still an all-time favorite in the realm of televised poker shows, and fans of the iconic program rejoiced last summer when the entire series was re-released on YouTube.
Originally aired on the Game Show Network, High Stakes Poker ran for seven seasons from 2006-2011 and remains one of the most popular poker series ever produced. The show was the first of its kind, giving viewers an inside look at the world of high-stakes cash games, at a time when televised poker was dominated by tournament coverage.
Featuring a cast of high-stakes regulars from the original poker boom, along with the occasional recreational player, High Stakes Poker was must-see television during its original run. With every episode now available on the High Stakes Poker YouTube channel, it’s time to start binge watching what many fans believe is the greatest poker show of all time.
Let’s go season by season so you know exactly who plays in each episode. But first, a bit of general information about the show.
The Original High Roller Cash Game
The first episode of High Stakes Poker aired on January 16, 2006, and was unlike anything we had seen before. The 2003 World Series of Poker brought televised poker to the mainstream, but High Stakes Poker was the first program to focus solely on high-stakes cash game play, with Gabe Kaplan and A.J. Benza calling the action.
The results of this experiment were epic. Season 1 kicked off with a collection of the game’s most dynamic personalities, playing No Limit Hold’em with a minimum buy-in of $100k and a maximum of $1 million. The Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas was the setting for these legendary games, which saw players sit down with not just poker chips in front of them, but bricks of actual cash that could be used for betting.
Daniel Negreanu was the first player to use these bundles of cash, putting two thick $50k bricks into the pot for a $100k overbet on the first episode of the series. Negreanu opted for the full $1 million buy-in, and his use of the real cash made for an impressive visual (start watching at 4:05):
We had gotten to know many of poker’s high rollers from WSOP coverage on ESPN, but High Stakes Poker opened the curtain on the world of nosebleed-stakes cash games that we knew was truly where poker’s elite made their money. This was the game’s best competing against each other at the highest level, and for the first time we got to see how high the stakes really were.
CAST: Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Sam Farha, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Eli Elezra, Phil Hellmuth, Ted Forrest, Freddy Deeb, Todd Brunson, Daniel Alaei, Jennifer Harman, Amir Nasseri, Bob Stupak, Fred Chamanara, Mimi Tran, Shawn Sheikan, Jerry Buss.
ESPN coverage of the WSOP had made most of the names on this list into poker’s superstars by the beginning of 2006, but the chance to see them compete against each other, in a cash game format, was truly unprecedented.
Episode 1 features a $200k pot between Ted Forrest and Amir Nasseri, the first of many six-figure pots we would eventually see on the series. Things really start to get good when Sam Farha joins the game, and at the end of episode 5 we see one of the most memorable hands of the series.
The game is about to wrap up for the night and in the very last hand of the session Farha picks up KK against Barry Greenstein’s AA. With $361k in the pot, Farha asks to run it twice, and Greenstein declines (start watching at 35:56).
The dynamics among these players, the best of the best from the era, makes for some of the best poker content ever produced. Whether it’s friendly banter, legitimate tension, or some combination of both, the players’ interaction with each other is what makes High Stakes Poker essential viewing for any fan of the game.
Drama surrounding Freddy Deeb takes center stage throughout episode 9, with Johnny Chan accusing Deeb of “going south” and taking his own chips off of the table. This conversation continues throughout the episode, with Farha, Negreanu, Shawn Sheikan and others chiming in, and eventually Deeb decides he’s had enough (starts at 7:19):
The first season of High Stakes Poker on its own is enough to make it one of the best poker shows ever produced, but luckily for us we still have six more seasons to go!
CAST: Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Sam Farha, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Eli Elezra, Phil Laak, Ted Forrest, Todd Brunson, Daniel Alaei, Jennifer Harman, Amnon Filippi, Brad Booth, Fred Chamanara, Minh Ly, Shawn Sheikan, Cory Zeidman, David Grey, Erick Lindgren, Gus Hansen, John Juanda, Michael Mizrachi, Mike Matusow
The show returns in June 2006 for season 2, moving to the Palms and adding players like Gus Hansen, Mike Matusow, Erick Lindgren and Phil Laak to the mix. Laak and Matusow join the table for the first episode of the season, with Jennifer Tilly sweating the session over Laak’s shoulder and Matusow’s mother even making a brief appearance.
We see one of the first six-figure pots of the season in episode 3, with Farha, Daniel Alaei and Antonio Esfandiari battling in a tense hand. Not surprisingly, Matusow talks at the wrong time, with more than $100k on the line (hand starts at 28:55):
Hansen makes his first appearance on the show in episode 10, much to the delight of everyone else at the table.
The Great Dane sits down with $400k and immediately makes the game juicier, with Kaplan noting that we’re going to see all of the other players play more serious poker with Hansen’s money at the table. Gus gets involved in lots of hands over the next few episodes, including the first $500k pot in the show’s history. That hand comes in at No. 5 on our list of the biggest pots from the series, so check out our list at the end of this article!
CAST: Jamie Gold, John D’Agostino, Patrik Antonius, Paul Wasicka, Phil Ivey, Victor Ramdin, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Sam Farha, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Eli Elezra, Phil Laak, Bill Chen, Todd Brunson, Daniel Alaei, Jennifer Harman, Brian Townsend, Brad Booth, Chris Ferguson, Dan Harmetz, Shawn Sheikan, Dan Shak, David Benyamine, Erick Lindgren, Gabe Kaplan, David Williams, Ilya Trincher
The third season of High Stakes Poker ups the ante even more with the addition of Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, Chris Ferguson, and Jamie Gold. For pure entertainment value, the addition of Gold is genius, and the season kicks off with the 2006 WSOP Main Event champion going head-to-head with Doyle Brunson in the very first hand (starts at 2:31):
That hand summed up the evolution of poker at the time perfectly, with Gold, a WSOP Main Event winner from the peak of the poker boom, getting schooled by Brunson, who had been playing high stakes cash games for decades before poker became a spectator sport.
Season 3 took place at the South Point Casino and began airing in January 2007, with Ivey making his first appearances on the show in the later episodes of the season. Brad Booth bought in for the maximum of $1 million and puts that stack to work in this hand against Ivey from episode 12. Notice the look on Ivey’s face when Booth places $300k worth of cash bricks into the pot (hand starts at 1:39):
CAST: Jamie Gold, Patrik Antonius, Phil Galfond, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Sam Farha, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Eli Elezra, Phil Laak, Todd Brunson, Jennifer Harman, David Benyamine, Antonio Salorio, Bob Safai, Brian Brandon, Guy Laliberte, Haralabos Voulgaris, Mike Baxter, Phil Hellmuth, Brandon Adams
Season 4 featured the return of Phil Hellmuth and Phil Laak, and the first appearance of the seven-deuce game, where anyone winning a hand with 72 won an additional $500 from each player at the table. Midway through the season the minimum buy-in is raised to $500k and the games start playing bigger.
Farha and Gold engage in an all-time classic hand to open up episode 13. This hand goes on for more than 10 minutes and includes a check-raise from Gold and a 3-bet from Farha in the dark, before the flop is dealt. Gold calls the 3-bet, which results in the flop and turn being dealt at the same time (starts at 2:33).
This season also featured three of our top 5 biggest pots from the series, so be sure to check out our top 5 list at the conclusion of this article.
CAST: Alan Meltzer, Patrik Antonius, Dario Minieri, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Sam Simon, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Eli Elezra, Phil Laak, Tom Dwan, Joe Hachem, David Benyamine, Howard Lederer, Ilari Sahamies, Nick Cassavetes, Peter Eastgate, Tom Dwan, Mike Baxter
The first four seasons of High Stakes Poker all aired in 2006-2007, and after year-plus hiatus the show returned for Season 5 in March 2009. The game returned to the Golden Nugget and a minimum $200k buy-in was used throughout the entire season.
The player lineup started to look a bit different as well, with young players like Tom Dwan, Dario Minieri and 2008 WSOP Main Event champion Peter Eastgate in the mix. Howard Lederer also made his first appearance on the show, while series staples like Negreanu, Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein and Doyle Brunson were each back for a fifth straight season.
Dwan takes down the biggest pot in the show’s history against Greenstein in episode 6; this hand is No. 1 on our list of the biggest pots of the series, so be sure to check out the video at the end of this article.
SEASON 6 CAST: Andreas Hoivold, Patrik Antonius, Dario Minieri, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Andrew Robl, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Eli Elezra, Phil Laak, Jason Mercier, David Benyamine, Bertrand Grospellier, Dennis Phillips, Gus Hansen, Lex Veldhuis, Tom Dwan, Mike Matusow, Phil Galfond, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey
SEASON 7 CAST: Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Andrew Robl, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Phil Laak, Jason Mercier, Phil Galfond, Phil Ruffin, Bill Klein, Bill Perkins, David Peat, Haralabos Voulgaris, Johnny Chan, Jonathan Duhamel, Mike Baxter, Robert Croak, Vanessa Selbst
The show begins to go in a different direction in the final two seasons, with Gabe Kaplan doing solo commentary for Season 6 and Norm Macdonald taking over commentary duties for season 7.
Season 6 gives us a stacked player lineup featuring all of the Phils (Ivey, Hellmuth, Laak and Galfond), plenty of big pots involving Dwan, and perhaps the most epic intro ever for a poker show (starts at 0:40):
The final season takes place from the Bellagio, and PokerStars joins as an official sponsor. This results in a cast that’s devoid of any Full Tilt Poker pros, as they were required to boycott the series.
Season 7 is still great poker television, however, and the show finishes up with a final episode that includes series staples Doyle Brunson, Greenstein and Negreanu mixing up with Johnny Chan, Laak, Galfond, and others.
If you’ve never delved into High Stakes Poker, prepare to be enthralled when you start watching the series, as it really is the pinnacle of poker television. Will the show ever come back? If so, what players would you want to see?
We’ll leave you with this Chan vs. Laak hand from the final episode; let’s see what happens in this full house vs. full house pot (starts at 15:30):
Top 5 Biggest Pots from High Stakes Poker
No. 5: Gus Hansen vs. Daniel Negreanu $575,700
As far as sick coolers, this hand is about as bad as it gets. Negreanu and Hansen find themselves in a set over set situation on the flop, with Negreanu getting the best of it. Things take a turn for the worst for Negreanu on the turn, however, when the quads come in for the Great Dane.
Negreanu agonizes over getting the last of his money in, seemingly knowing that he’s beat in this half-million plus pot (hand starts at 32:11)
No. 4: Jamie Gold vs. Patrik Antonius $743,800
The always aggressive Gold comes up with a legitimate monster hand, with K♠K♦ against Antonius’ A♠J♦. The flop comes 3♣T♦Q♥, Gold bets on the flop and gets the call from Antonius.
The turn is a disaster for Gold, as the K♥ comes in, giving him top set but also completing a broadway straight for Antonius. All of the money goes in on the turn, and Gold and Antonius agree to run the river three times.
Gold manages to win two of three runs in a hand that has to be seen to be believed (starts at 33:55)
No. 3: Patrik Antonius vs. Sam Farha $998,800 (Antonius wins $749,100)
Two of poker’s all-time fan favorites mix it up, with Antonius 3-betting his J♥9♥ and getting a call from Farha, who holds K♦Q♦. Both get a piece of a 6♦3♣9♦ flop and the pot starts escalating.
Within 60 seconds of the flop hitting the board, both players are all in for a nearly $1 million pot. They run this one four times, with Antonius coming away with the win in three of the four runs (starts at 33:26).
No. 2: Doyle Brunson vs Guy Laliberte $818,100
Laliberte’s A♥5♥ goes up against Brunson’s A♦T♦, and the pot is already over $100k when the turn comes out on a board of A♣J♠4♦2♦. Brunson puts in a $110,000 bet with his top pair plus nut flush draw, and to the amazement of the commentary team, Laliberte raises with his dominated top pair with a weak kicker.
Brunson re-raises for his last $35k, and wins both runs after they agree to run it twice. At the time, this was the biggest pot in the history of High Stakes Poker (starts at 22:57)
No. 1: Tom Dwan vs. Barry Greenstein $919,600
The biggest pot in the show’s history starts with Greenstein picking up A♦A♣ against Peter Eastgate’s A♠K♥ and Dwan’s K♠Q♠. It’s a three-way, 3-bet pot going to the flop, which comes out as a very interesting 4♠2♠Q♥ and sets the stage for Greenstein and Dwan almost certainly having to get all the money in.
Dwan bets $28k on the flop, Eastgate gets out of the way and Greenstein raises it up to $100k. Dwan 3-bets to $244k, Barry goes all in and each player has exactly a 50 percent chance to take down this nearly million-dollar pot.
They decide to run this one .only once, and Dwan hits the Q♣ on the turn and holds on for the huge win (hand starts at 15:39)