If you want to watch something as brutal as MMA, as calculated as golf, and as emotionally exhilarating as a game seven, you may want to check out this season’s High Stakes Poker. The men slugging it out range in age from 22 to 75, and most look like they couldn’t bench-press a deck of cards. But the carnage that they have inflicted on one another has been intense. It is psychological warfare at its finest.
Which means that, if you are like me, this is must-see TV.
HSP is the largest televised cash game with a buy-in of a minimum $200,000. With eight of the best poker players around playing No-Limit Hold’em, there’s a minimum of $1.6 million on the table and pots in the six-figure range. With this much money at stake, and with players whose ego may be a big as their bankroll, things were bound to get brutal.
So let’s recap the pain so far, six weeks into Season 5.
In a hand that has reverberations throughout the game, 22-year-old Internet phenom Tom “durrrr” Dwan took the worst hand and bullied the table into folding to him, netting him over $200,000 in just one hand.
The hand started as a family pot after well-respected poker pro Barry Greenstein min-raised from under-the-gun with pocket aces, only to have seven callers. The flop came 2-10-2 and Greenstein’s aces were now behind reigning-WSOP Main Event champion Peter Eastgate, who was holding 4-2.
After Eastgate checked the flop, Greenstein bet $10,000. Dwan, in third place with Q-10, re-raised to $37,300. Both Eastgate and Greenstein called and the rest of the table folded.
The turn was a seven and it was checked to Dwan, who bet a whopping $104,200. As poker announcer Gabe Kaplan said, Dwan had the weakest hand and the biggest heart. The gutsy bet got Eastgate to muck his trips and Greenstein to lay down his aces.
The table immediately started trying to figure out who had what, and it was Dwan who correctly predicted that it was Eastgate who had the best hand. Greenstein’s face registered what that meant: Dwan had gotten him to fold the winner, too.
On the next episode, four-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu fell victim to French pro David Benyamine. Negreanu raised before the flop to $2,800 with pocket jacks, Eastgate called with pocket threes, Benyamine called with pocket fours and WSOP bracelet winner Eli Elezra came along with an ugly 3-2. The flop hit Benyamine squarely: 2-4-7.
Seeing all undercards, Negreanu had to think his jacks were good. He led out for $8,000. Eastgate called and Benyamine raised to $41,000. Negreanu called and Eastgate got out of the way.
The turn was another four and Benyamine had hit quads. He bet $35,000, a relatively small bet considering the size of the pot. He was begging for a call, but got a lot more. Negreanu, thinking there was no way Benyamine could have fours, raised all in for $156,200. He was stunned when Benyamine snap-called and raked in the $416,200 pot. Negreanu had lost his entire $200,000 buy-in.
In the next episode, Barry Greenstein got his revenge on Dwan. Eastgate had raised pre-flop with Q-8 and Greenstein re-raised to $12,000 with just J-9 suited. Dwan looked down to find a real hand, pocket aces, so he bumped it up to $31,300. Eastgate folded but Greenstein, possibly still reeling from Dwan’s earlier bluff, called.
The flop came 3-J-10, giving Greenstein top pair/weak kicker. Dwan had the overpair to the board, so he lead out for $46,200. Greenstein raised to $146,200, and Dwan shoved all in. Greenstein called creating a massive $548,700 pot. At this point, Dwan had about a 75 percent chance of raking in the pot.
But the turn was a disaster for Dwan, a nine, giving Greenstein two pair. Dwan needed an ace or a ten on the river, but it blanked and Greenstein won. After Dwan calmly said, “Nice hand," Greenstein responded, "Math is idiotic. If you feel like you're going to win, you've got to put it in."
He later explained that the catch phrase “math is idiotic” was meant to help raise money for the charity Children-Inc.org.
In the last episode with this lineup of players, Dwan got the better of Greenstein once more. Eastgate raised in late position to $3,500 with AK offsuit. Acting next was Greenstein, who looked down to find pocket aces and bumped it up to $15,000 to go.
Dwan was next, saw K-Q spades, and called the raise. Back to Eastgate, he called. Three went to the flop. It came Q-4-2 with two spades. Dwan led out for $28,700, about two-thirds of the pot.
Eastgate folded, but Greenstein, with his over pair, and not wanting to give his opponent the chance draw to a flush, raised it to $100,000. With the pot sitting at $176,100, Dwan raised to 224,600. Barry raised to 436,100 and put Dwan all in. There was $919,000 in the pot. It was a statistical coin flip.
Greenstein asked, “You got anything?” Dwan grinned. “A little bit of something.”
Greenstein asked if he wanted to take a couple hundred thousand back out of the pot and Dwan said no. The queen on the turn meant Barry had one out, the last ace in the deck. But the river was a seven, and very quietly, with barely a smile on his face, Dwan scooped the largest cash pot in television history.
No blood, no bruises, but quite a beating. It was a sight to behold.