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Gaming Guru

Jeff Haney

Jeff Haney previews the upcoming third season of 'High Stakes Poker'

10 January 2007

Almost a year to the day after its debut, "High Stakes Poker" will begin its third season of shows at 9 p.m. Monday on GSN (Cox cable channel 344).

The program portrays some of poker's top players competing, by invitation only, in a no-limit Texas hold 'em cash game with a minimum buy-in of $100,000.

The show has emerged as a hit among fans as well as professional poker players, who are drawn by the more subtle strategy inherent in a high-stakes cash game, as opposed to the usual TV format of a tournament, coordinating producer Mori Eskandani said.

"The pros can't get enough of it," Eskandani, a former poker pro, said.

Footage for the 13-week third season of "High Stakes Poker" was shot during two days of extended play on a specially con structed - and tightly secured, given the amount of money on hand - set in October at South Point .

Many players opted to buy in for more than the $100,000 minimum, so it was common for more than $4 million - in the form of live casino chips and bundled stacks of $100 bills - to be sitting on the table at any given time, Eskandani said.

The two previous go-rounds of "High Stakes Poker" were also filmed in Las Vegas. Season 1, which began airing last January, was shot at the Golden Nugget. Season 2, which ran for 16 weeks starting in June, was shot at the Palms.

As in previous versions of the show, players in Season 3 posted "blinds," or forced bets, of $300 and $600 along with an ante of $100 to get the action going. Players who bust out, or lose all their chips, were permitted to make one "short" buy of $50,000 (or more) if they wanted to continue playing. As in a casino poker game, players were allowed to take breaks at will and cash out at any time.

Regular viewers will notice one difference in Season 3. Producers asked the players to refrain from engaging in so-called "props," or proposition wagers - meaning side bets among themselves on what community cards would be dealt. Although betting on props is common in big casino poker games, in Season 2 of "High Stakes Poker," players could be heard chattering about the results of prop bets, which some viewers might have found distracting.

The cast of Season 3 will feature "High Stakes Poker" veterans such as Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Shawn Sheikhan and Mike Matusow, along with newcomers such as reigning World Series of Poker champ Jamie Gold, World Series finalist Paul Wasicka, Internet poker star Brian Townsend and Bill Chen, co-author of the book "The Mathematics of Poker."

Established poker stars Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Phil Ivey also make their first appearances on "High Stakes Poker" this season.

Gabe Kaplan, the series' on-air analyst along with host A.J. Benza, makes a surprise entrance onto the set during the second episode. One of the players in the game volunteers to relinquish his seat, and Kaplan sits down to take on the game's elite with his own money. An accomplished poker player and investor, Kaplan is best known for his starring role on "Welcome Back, Kotter" and for a classic, if brief, interview with Stu Ungar after Ungar's 1997 World Series of Poker victory. After a poignant conversation in which the troubled Ungar says he hopes to turn his life around, just before the ESPN footage fades to black, Kaplan cracks: "Can I get that $300 you borrowed from me about six years ago?"

Gold, who won the $12 million top prize at last year's World Series, figures to be a draw on "High Stakes Poker," as viewers tune in to find out if he can reprise his successful run at the Rio. Show executives do not reveal the game's big winners and losers beforehand, nor do the players. Eskandani did say Gold was feeling confident enough to ask for more playing time in the high-stakes cash game at South Point after his scheduled allotment had expired.

As a teaser for the Season 3 premiere, at 8 p.m. Monday GSN will air a one-hour special in which Kaplan and Benza recap the best moments from the first two seasons.

"High Stakes Poker" podcasts, featuring interviews in which the players discuss their strategies in the big game, will be available on Apple's iTunes.