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October 08, 2007

Run it twice

I've watched a lot of televised poker and most of it is not very good.

Almost every show either contrives or covers a tournament. The tournament format would seem to be a good choice because it has a built-in conclusion; a single winner. And the escalating blinds make for ever-increasing pot sizes.

But those million dollar pots are made up of tournament chips, not real dollars. So even though there's big prize money at stake, a player only loses his original buy-in if he busts out (and sometimes this is as small as a couple hundred bucks thanks to smaller, qualifying tournaments).

The Game Show Network's High Stakes Poker is now in its fourth season and takes a different approach. They televise a cash game; no-limit hold'em with $300/$600 blinds and $100 antes. The minimum buy-in for the game is $100,000 and the money is real.

Seeing players compete over six figure pots is part of the fun. Because it's a cash game, it also means that the producers can invite the best players. In tournaments, especially large ones, you usually end up with half a table of marginally skilled nobodies. GSN pays the best around to show up for their game. (The appearance fee of $1250/hour is a sweetener but not enough to significantly offset the large stakes).

Also, you get to see a lot of things that would never happen in a tournament. All-in bets are far less common in deep stack cash games. And when they happen, the players will often "run it twice" meaning that they'll deal out the remaining cards two times. The effect is to mitigate the variance on these big bet pots and it's interesting to see stuff like this get worked out.

You also get a sense of how addicted to action these pro players are. They will gamble on everything. They bet on what cards will come out on the flop, they bet on how much weight someone will gain in a lifetime. There was nearly a $500,000 bet about whether someone could work 40 hours a week in a furniture store for a year.

High Stakes also does a great job on the commentary. Most poker shows have amazingly bad voice-over filled with faux-folksy poker nonsense. But Gabe Kaplan is savvy enough to work out the players' thought process and is funny enough to beat-up goomba co-host AJ Benza.

There's really only two things bad about the show. The first is that you have to have GSN to watch it (I don't). You can download it off of Veoh (skip season 1, they didn't quite have it together yet) but it's not a great experience. If only they would sell the episodes online.

The other thing is the High Stakes Poker theme song. It may be the worst poker song ever written and this is not a particularly distinguished genre. A sample of the lyrics:

Man I'm gonna kick it / Pocket nines is the ticket
Ladies ain't ladies / unless they your ladies
Get your hand on a monster / if that's what it takes
And if you got what it takes / You can play High Stakes.
Despite that, I recommend it.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

That doesn't seem to be the whole song. I was curious about the rest of the lyrics, but I can't find them anywhere on the internet. Any help you could give would be appreciated.

Jason Goldman said...

Yeah, I couldn't find the lyrics online when I made this post. I was gonna try to transcribe the whole thing, but honestly, it's too horrible to listen to closely.

"Songs about Poker" is not a distinguished genre (Kenny Rogers pretty much opened and closed the book on it). But this is among the worst.