It’s like the poker boom all over again. “High Stakes Poker” has returned. The once immensely popular poker television show has been resurrected by Poker Central and had its first new episode on the PokerGO streaming service Wednesday night. Fans of the show will also be thrilled to know that both Gabe Kaplan and AJ Benza are back as commentators. Same as it ever was.
“High Stakes Poker” debuted in 2006, at the peak of the poker boom. Its appeal was two-fold: a) it was as cash game, which was a fun change of pace from the usual tournaments that we saw on television, and b) the players usually knew each other, so the table talk was very entertaining.
It didn’t hurt that they were playing for ungodly amounts of money, either.
But when Black Friday hit in April 2011 and the online poker sponsorship money dried up in the United States, most poker programming also disappeared. The show’s creator, Mori Eskandani, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he wanted to revive “High Stakes Poker” earlier this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way.
Speaking of which, viewers will notice that players are not wearing masks, as is required in poker rooms around the country. The show’s producers felt that because table talk is so important, masks would get in the way. Players are required to isolate in hotel rooms (we do not know for how long) and be tested for coronavirus before being allowed to play.
Familiar faces like Tom Dwan, Bryn Kenney, and Jean-Robert Bellande appeared on Episode 1 Wednesday night, but there were plenty of new players to “High Stakes Poker,” as well. The one that Poker Central seemed to key on was former Major League Baseball pitcher (and like me, a University of Virginia alum), Michael Schwimer.
Schwimer told Poker Central that he could not have been more excited to be on show, saying, “I grew up watching High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark, all those shows, and this was really cool to be able to sit down and play with some of the greatest players in the world.”
He had an interesting approach to his appearance, as well, saying that even though he was facing great players (who, let’s be honest, likely outclassed him on the felt), he was way less nervous at that poker table than he was on the pitcher’s mound. It is all about one just being fun and the other being his job.
“If I go sit down there and lose everything, it’s no problem at all for me. But the Major Leagues at the time, that’s my livelihood. That’s a lot more pressure.”
He also said that it is not about the money, but rather the game itself. He loves that it is a game of skill and wants to prove that he has what it takes. Schwimer said that in “High Stakes Poker,” he is content if he plays well, but still loses money because of bad luck. In baseball, though, he was plenty happy to have an off day, but get lucky when every hard-hit ball seemingly ended up in his teammates’ gloves.