It was the most iconic televised poker show, responsible for attracting millions of players to the game, and now that High Stakes Poker is returning to our screens we thought a trip down memory lane to the very first season was in order…
By: Andrew Burnett
It was Tom Dwan who sparked all those amazing memories, a sneak preview of return seeing ‘Durrrrr’ alongside Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, Jason Koon, Brandon Adams and Ben Lamb.
High stakes poker coming back guys. Hope I run as good as last time pic.twitter.com/m8auOjG2ic
— Tom Dwan (@TomDwan) October 27, 2020
Way back in 2005 at the Golden Nugget casino, however, it was a different though equally impressive line-up battling it out at $300/$600 No Limit Hold’em!
Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Jennifer Harman, Ted Forrest, Daniel Alaei and Barry Greenstein were joined by Dr. Amir Nasseri and Jerry Buss.
You’ll almost certainly know the pro line-up, though we’ll add in a few bits and pieces about them later, but Iranian gynecologist Nasseri and basketball Hall of Famer Buss deserve a little recap of their own…
Dr. Amir Nasseri
Born in Iran, Nasseri learned the game from his father-in-law, and in High Stakes Poker he had found the perfect outlet for his highstakes habit.
Rumoured to bet big on blackjack as well as the poker table, Nasseri featured in six episodes of HSP, but was already known for a very deep run in the 2002 WSOP Main Event.
Nasseri took 11th spot and $70,000, falling just short of the final table that saw Robert Varkonyi go on to scoop the gold bracelet and $2million.
Described as having ‘time to fit in three or four game and tourney sessions every month,’ Dr. Nasseri boasts two more five-figure live cashes to his name, either side of his HSP appearances.
Jerry Buss was already famous before hitting the poker screens when HSP aired for the first time in January 2006, the former chemist-turned-real estate mogul the owner of the LA Lakers NBA basketball team.
Buss, who passed away aged 80 in 2013, led a colourful life, fathering six children from two marriages, and involved in some controversy involving numerous alleged affairs with much younger women.
At the poker table he proved to be a tough cookie, though, appearing on Poker After Dark as well, and proudly boasting 40 live cashes totalling more than $170k across two decades of tournament play.
When he died, Erik Seidel was among the poker players to pay tribute to him, saying: “Sad news about Jerry Buss. He was a true friend to many poker players. Big hearted guy.”
Poker can be an expensive business if you find it boring, and Chicago restaurateur Fred Chamanara found that out to his cost when he faced off with WSOP Main Event legend Johnny Chan in episode 7.
The backgammon and gin rummy champ hadn’t noticed Chan’s early raise, so when he re-raised his ace-jack of spades, against Chan’s pocket rockets, a $300,000 pot was the result.
“Action, excitement, winning,” is how Chamanara described his thoughts and feelings as he waited to see if the river would hit his spade flush draw.
“It was the largest pot I’ve ever been in, by far,” he admitted, and every cent of it would go Chan’s way as the king of hearts appeared.
Fred would be back for more though, adding a season 2 appearance to his 4 episodes from season 1, claiming: “I have my confidence. I don’t think they are better than me.”
One of the most interesting characters to ever grace a poker table, Bob Stupak was one of those inbetween players…a casino owner who could also play some pretty good poker.
When his first casino burnt down shortly after opening, he simply built another, then another – Vegas World and the iconic Stratosphere both Stupak ventures.
Stupak could boast $865k in tournament earnings, and even managed to scoop a WSOP bracelet back in 1989, joining his wife Sandy who had bagged the Casino Employees title in 1984!
His highroller gambling side was notorious, winning $1million on a SuperBowl bet the same year as his bracelet, and luck was on his side again following a brutal motorcycle accident.
Bob somehow survived against all odds and went on to live another 14 years, dying from leukemia in 2009 but leaving a lasting Vegas legacy.
The HSP season 1 pros
Well, as we saw in the Chamanara-Chan hand there were plenty of big-name pros at the tables in that first season, and here’s a quick rundown of them all…
The most recognisable name of all, Daniel appeared in all 7 seasons, only Doyle Brunson, Antonio Esfandiari and Barry Greenstein matching that feat.
DNegs bought in for $1million on the very first episode and his plan was to “show everyone who’s boss by being very aggressive!” That plan didn’t take long to materialise, throwing in two bricks of $50k cash bundles on a $34k pot flop…
♦ ♥ ♠ ♣
Negreanu: K♦ K♥
Buss: 10♠ 10♥
Nasseri: A♦ 7♦
Flop: 7♠ 6♥ 4♣
…and despite his chat, Nasseri folded to the massive overbet, followed by Lakers owner Buss!
Like Negreanu, it seems as though Texas Dolly won’t be back in the remake series due to Covid fears for live play, but he certainly made his mark back in season 1.
Just like Negreanu, the grandpappy of poker Doyle decided to see how the amateurs would react to a $500,000 all-in!
Harman was DNegs’ mentor when the young Canadian first arrived in Vegas poker scene, and she was already a star in her own right, one of the best players – let alone female players – playing the highest stakes.
Incredibly, her first appearance on HSP came just a year after she underwent her second kidney transplant, which had followed her participation in The Corporation match vs Andy Beal.
The first woman to gain two WSOP bracelets, Harman was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2015.
Greenstein was one of the most confident pros playing the nosebleed live games in Vegas, and he explained much later that “even losing $500,000 wouldn’t have been that big a deal.”
That would change in later seasons, however, Greenstein confessing “… when I lost that $600k pot to Antonio, and then the $900k pot to Tom [Dwan] it was a big hit financially.”
One of his first and most famous huge hands saw this happen vs Sammy Farha…
♦ ♥ ♠ ♣
Greenstein: A♥ A♣
Farha: K♣ K♦
Flop: 6♣ K♥ 8♥
As we just saw, the legendary Sammy Farha wasn’t scared to get his money in the middle and throughout his six seasons on High Stakes Poker he was one of the most popular pros.
He was already famous, of course, as the man who Chris Moneymaker defeated at the 2003 WSOP Main Event – a tournament victory that is credited with sparking the first online poker boom.
Farha himself became a celebrity, as well as adding to more WSOP titles of his own to hold three bracelets, but the past few years or so have seen him spend much more time away from the tables.
Season 1 Names:
Though the name may not be as familiar to everyone as his HSP colleagues, Iran-born Alaei is a noted live MTT crusher – boasting five WSOP bracelets and almost $7million in tournament winnings.
Although his HSP appearances spanned 3 seasons, Alaei was never as happy playing No Limit Hold’em as he was other variants and he lost just over $220k in the televised game.
Ted would become one of the most famous pros in poker, mixing WSOP bracelets and playing the highest stakes cash games in Vegas with prop bet lawsuits, and felony court cases.
His HSP outings included one memorable hand in season 1 that saw him lose a $100k stack and promptly reach into his pocket for another $100k!
♦ ♥ ♠ ♣
Nasseri: 5♣ 5♥
Forrest: 2s 2♦
Negreanu: J♣ 10♣
Flop: 5♦ 4♥ 2♣
Negreanu was pushed out on the flop when Nasseri re-raised after Forrest had just flatted DNegs’ steal attempt, and then Ted sprang his ‘trap’ only to find himself staring at a 2-outer…
…and the $206,600 pot was pushed Nasseri’s way!
Sheikan played three series of High Stakes Poker, but the Iranian-born pro is better known perhaps for the many fallouts and arguments he had with other pros. The well-documented argument he had with Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow regularly pops up in ‘poker pro blowout’ compilations…
Sheikan was jailed for 9 months’ in 1995 with 5-years’ probation for misdemeanour child sexual battery, a conviction that reared its head more than a decade later in an immigration case.
Todd Brunson carved himself a career in highstakes poker that could have rivalled his famous father Doyle’s if he had chosen to commit everything to the game. Todd, however, had other interests outside of cards.
That didn’t prevent him becoming one of the best players in Vegas, and part of the infamous ‘Corporation’ that first lost to, then defeated Texas banking mogul Andy Beal.
Chan is a legend in poker, not least because of his WSOP Main Event double in 1987 and 1988, the latter of which was immortalised in the iconic poker movie ‘Rounders’.
His nickname ‘The Orient Express’ came about thanks to a man we’ve already met in this article, Bob Stupak – Chan scooping Stupak’s 1981 American Cup poker tournament by steamrollering the final table in less than an hour!
A Hall of Famer boasting 10 WSOP gold bracelets, China-born Chan can still be found at the poker and blackjack tables, with Punta Cana one of his favourite spots.
Beirut-born Deeb only played the one season of High Stakes Poker, but was already a legend, having turned to poker to fund himself in the 1970s and gone on to bag a WSOP bracelet, later adding a second.
He will be remembered for his HSP ‘Going South’ confrontation with the rest of the table, a joke by Johnny Chan that Deeb was taking his money off the table resulting in Freddie exploding at his fellow players and calling the floor.
Israel-born Elezra was an HSP regular, taking part in all but the final season, with a life story that made for interesting – and highly controversial reading when he released the English language version in 2019.
Apparently owing $millions to fellow pros, Elezra’s façade as a successful pro was called into question after an AMA on the 2plus2 forum backfired spectacularly.
The Magician as Antonio is known for his pre-poker days as a stage magician appeared in all 7 seasons of HSP and his chip tricks as well as his play kept fans entertained throughout the years.
Winning the 2012 WSOP Big One for One Drop for a monster $18,346,673 payday set him up for life, but Antonio can still be found battling it out on the felt.
A recent highstakes loss to Phil Hellmuth hasn’t affected his bottom line too much, Esfandiari following it up by buying a $5.3million home!
There is very little that hasn’t been said or written about the all-time number one gold bracelet winner, the ‘Poker Brat’ always making for an interesting story, such as being the youngest-ever WSOP Main Event winner back in 1989.
Phil dipped in and out of HSP history, and was largely unsuccessful, something he recently spoke about, telling PokerGO: “When I would play in the past they would tease me and it would bother me because I felt like I was the all-time great poker player and deserved more respect.”
The new series will be very different, Phil promising: “I’m ready for all situations and I have a strategy that I think will be successful.”
The Vietnamese-born highstakes specialist turned to full-time poker after an accident, her then-boyfriend Barry Greenstein teaching her how to play.
In her HSP season 1 appearance she managed to bag several huge pots, including a $292,000 corker against Daniel Negreanu, turning a bigger straight to outgun DNeg’s flopped straight!
Tran would be up more than $¼million on HSP, whereas poor old Negreanu lost almost $2.2million across his umpteen appearances.
So, that was the lowdown on all the season 1 players from back in the day.
The re-make won’t feature too many of them, and as producer Mori Eskandani explains of the reboot: “I was very skeptical because a lot of our old school players either were not available, or no longer play, or in some really sad situations are not even with us. Losing people like Sammy Farha, not having Doyle [Brunson] be here because he’s not feeling so well right now, obviously takes away from the old look of the show. With COVID going round, many of the people are not willing to leave their homes until they are vaccinated like Eli Elezra.”
However, Eskandani thinks it will be a success, revealing: “I’m pleasantly surprised with what is happening. I think it’s the game, just the name of the game, ‘High Stakes Poker’ that brings the best of people out here. The game that we had last night was probably in the top five of any High Stakes Poker that we’ve done. Absolutely never a dull moment, and the conversation was exactly what you wanted.”
HSP season 8 started on Wednesday, December 16th and we’ll be bringing you the best of the action as the heroes of poker battle it out for highstakes cash game supremacy.