High Stakes Poker (2006– )
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Before they had endorsement deals that require them to take care of their media exposure pros were playing big cash games 90% of their time, so at last we got a decent idea of what it is to be a poker pro. $100k minimum buy-in (Daniel Negreanu brought directly $1m to ignite season 1 as he would lose half of it at some point), $50k minimum rebuy, lots of big sharks knowing each other and a couple of lost fishes just trying not to look too bad on camera: this certainly lacks the drama of a tournament with elimination rounds but it is how poker is really played by the best players in the world, i.e. those making a living off their skills, day in day out, month in month out.
It all started at the top with Season 1 but Season 2 was somewhat one cut below: directing and photography lost the focus on the action, too much was made in the editing room about the side talks and the background cameos (really terrible idea to bring out the player's mums). Also the camouflaged cameras where too obvious in the frames so let's say it was a matter of production values loosened by some sitcom production executive. Anyway the commentary by Gabe Kaplan is still the best part of it, even when action slows down: it precisely describes the action thru analyzing what is going on in the players' heads, it's light and funny, daring to make fun of the players and above all it perfectly blends in the action, never overlapping it.
Personally I like the pace it is much more like real live games: quite slow, thoughtful, and you do get a chance to understand plays from out of position, how to trap with small pairs, float betting and other plays that can be tricky.
Of course, it is also entertaining - but HSP fells more serious than a lot of poker shows and it should be praised on that basis alone.
As we approach a new season in 2011 it will interesting to see if Norm MacDonald can do as good a job as Gabe Kaplan - that change as well as the introduction of 3D may be too populist for the core audience but might still leave the casual viewer uninformed.
I hope that this show and Poker After Dark continue - they do provide poker fans with some very solid poker to fill the rest of the year when the WSOP, the National Heads-Up and the PCA aren't underway.
Re-edit: Norm is doing a fine job; still miss Gabe though (is he alright?)