I am excited to remind everyone that, tonight, the second season of High Stakes Poker begins. I've talked about the show in my journal before, and I firmly believe it is the best poker on television. (I've also heard good things about Live at the Bike, but there is no question that High Stakes Poker is the best show on regular old basic cable.)
I looked around and saw that the second season has been well reviewed, at least in one spot. After spending a few months watching people deciding when it's the right moment to flip a coin for a couple hundred thousand dollars (aka the World Poker Tour), I will be glad to see some world class players play a game that is actually recognizable as the game that I play myself each week.
The other great thing about High Stakes Poker is that I can tell people who don't know much my hobby to watch it. I simply have to tell them, “Ok, knock two zeros off the end of the dollar amounts in question, and that's the basically the game that I reguarly play, albiet my games have a few notches down in skill level all around”. It's nice to have a maintstream place to point people from outside the poker world to show them what a “regular ring game” is really like.
Finally, I should note to Tivo users: I discovered that tonight's episode is not coded properly with the correct original air date. Therefore, your Season Pass for the show won't find it as a new episode. It seems all the new episodes are coded with a general description and a first air date from the preimere of the Season 1 preimere in January.
I watched Episode 3 of High Stakes Poker on GSN last night (I note that I am behind on these, so perhaps you all saw it already; it repeats enough that I can pick my night for viewing). As I wrote about before, this show continues to live up to its promise: "real poker", in a cash game format, on television. It's funny, actually, how the announcers have to explain how cash games work (e.g., players being able to leave any time they like). They must assume an audience familiar only with tournament poker!
On the topic of announcers, I want to take a moment to note about Gabe Kaplan. I firmly believe that he is the best poker announcer that I've ever seen on television. It's clear that before (or after?) he played Mr. Kotter, he gained some broadcasting experience. I've seen him do some older WSoP broadcasts (late 1990s), and the National Heads-Up Championship on NBC, and his skill as an announcer is far above the rest. The main reason is that he doesn't usually over-dramatize the situations (ala Mike Sexton), and he explains in reasonable details why players might make decisions that they do. It's actually considered and well-thought-out commentary on what is happening, rather than empty verbiage designed primarily to induce a false sense of excitement.
I should note, however, that even he was unable to explain on of the strangest hands I've seen yet on the show. Perhaps one of you can help me understand the thinking behind it. ( Since it is, without a doubt, a full spoiler for one of the hands aired in the third episode, you'll have to click through if you want to see the discussion about it. )
I've never mentioned in this blog too directly the excessive influx of televised poker, other than to say it is a major contributing factor to the "boom". I of course watch most televised poker shows (save Celebrity Poker, which is basically unwatchable), and find myself looking to playing online while watching to avoid the boredom. Televised 55/45 "crooked coin flips" for rungs in a tournament prize pool ladder isn't exciting after the first few times.
Indeed, late tournament play (should you have nothing on the line yourself) is exciting only if randomness excites you. Sweating draw and redraw with all the chips in middle and cards face-up doesn't entertain anymore once one gets serious about poker. And, frankly, the playing part -- wondering how John Juanda can read people so well preflop and put them on AK so he can call with 77 -- doesn't stay interesting after the twentieth time.
Poker has a lot more to it than figuring out whether the opponent on the first betting round has "the pair" or "the overcards". World Poker Tour forgot that as its seasons progressed. ESPN does better with its WSoP airings, but even they seem to focus more and more on final tables and high-blind play.
This is why I was elated when Card Player ran a piece about High Stakes Poker on GSN. This was touted to be real cash game poker for television. This would show, (albeit at the highest of stakes) the games that run every day in every casino and online card room. It would be NL HE, where the blinds don't go up and people play for as long as they'd like, buy-in when and for how much they like, and battle all night long.
I was so excited, in fact, that I was worried I'd over-hyped in my own mind, and had set myself up for disappointment. I am elated, having just tonight watched the second episode, to see that this show is all I hoped it would be.
As I watched my recorded copy, my wife looked up at the screen briefly to see the left-hand side of the screen full of information, showing many players hands. "Wow,", she said, "so many hands?!" She's used to seeing the (usually) heads-up-to-the-flop tournament poker I usually watch. I excitedly replied, "yes, these are the games I play in all the time. Seven people to the flop with that variety of hands. This is 'real poker'".
Now, that's not to say tournament poker isn't "real poker". But, around the world each day, there is much more cash game action than there is tournament action. Plus, the true "interesting play" comes up in the cash games. This is when there is no "pressure to play", unless the psychological situation dictates it. You don't have to play to stay alive; you don't fear being "blinded out". You can sit, play and think through the situation and decide when your time is right. Tournament poker, please recall, is an artificial imposition invented specifically to make a poker game where a single winner could be declared. Generally, poker, like life, is more complex and colorful than that. Many people win, and many people lose, and some "lose" and still "win".
I really think all this comes through in High Stakes Poker. ( I go on to say why, but minor spoilers are included for the first two episodes, so you have to click through to see the full details. ) These priceless moments of cash game NL poker are what is interesting to watch; it's what entertains me in my daily games when I'm not in a hand, and it's even better to watch the pros do it. We can see a wealth of plays and complex situations that come up when there are deep stacks behind the players and lots of time to play. This is the real experience of poker. I am so glad that there is now a poker TV show where I can see situations that I've truly been in (well, that is, if I move the decimal point two places to the left :).
I wonder if the subtle points of this will be lost on the "average TV poker fan", who probably doesn't know all that much about the game. I'd love to hear comments from both serious players and the casually interested to see how this show is hitting people. I absolutely love it and will likely truly enjoy seeing each episodes multiple times. I would love to see this thing last at least a few seasons; I'd hand in four tourney shows to keep this one cash game show on the air, that's for sure!