The show returns to the Golden Nugget where it began in Season 1 and had returned for Season 5. One big difference is the removal of A.J. Benza who had previously joined Gabe Kaplan in the commentary booth. With Benza gone, Kara Scott has joined the show to host short segments and interview players.
The removal of Benza from the show garnered a lot of reaction on the forums, including a still-ongoing “Online Petition to bring Back AJ Benza for HSP” thread on Two Plus Two. For those joining that cause, the thinking is the “HSP” hosting/commentating formula had worked well for the first five seasons, so there was no reason to muck with it.
I, too, liked Benza’s contribution to the show. Despite being a funny guy himself -- Benza’s initial appearance on the Ante Up! show (in June 2008) was one of the funniest episodes of that podcast I can recall -- Benza mostly played the straight man to Kaplan on “HSP.” The pair (both Brooklyn natives, actually) seemed to have great chemistry and added a lot of flavor to the proceedings, both with the poker commentary and the humor.
So I wasn’t necessarily happy either when I’d heard Benza wouldn’t be returning, although that doesn’t mean I’m not glad to see Kara Scott on the show. When I first saw Scott at the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event, I’d known she’d been a presenter or host on a couple of different poker shows in Europe, having worked on “Poker Night Live” and with the European Poker Tour. Scott made a deep run in that year’s WSOP ME, finishing 104th. I remember writing a little about her in a recap about one of the Day Twos here and having written a post about her late in the day over on PokerNews.
Scott does well, I think, in her somewhat limited role on “High Stakes.” I was surprised, actually, at how little screen time the producers give her, though in the short interviews both her poker knowledge and ease before the camera serve her well. This week, Jennifer Newell and I wrote a new “He Said/She Said” column for Woman Poker Player in which we discussed the subject of women and poker shows, and we both ended up remarking on how we thought Scott was underused on “HSP.” You can read those pieces here: He Said / She Said.
Meanwhile, Kaplan still gets to crack wise often enough. There do seem to be a few more quiet stretches with Benza gone, but Kaplan carries it well enough, and I remain a big fan of his humor and his poker commentary.
There are a couple of other small format changes to note. I’m noticing the frequent use of a graphic now and then to update us on stack sizes at the table -- a plus. (The minimum buy-in for the game is $200,000, with two players, Phil Ivey and Tom “durrrr” Dwan, having bought in for $500,000.) Also, Daniel Negreanu is hosting a brief “Did You Know” segment that is interesting enough, I guess.
What remains most interesting -- and the biggest reason why the show tops my list of faves on teevee -- is the poker. Many fascinating hands already on these first five episodes. I’m not gonna rehearse them here, both because I’d rather not spoil ’em for those who haven’t watched and intend to, and because I can’t hope to provide real analysis, but just share the reactions of a poker player/fan.
The first episode was dominated by Phil Hellmuth’s swift downfall, a rapid sequence that kicked off the season with a delicious sampling of schadenfreude. Although Kaplan says something about prop bets being forbidden this season, there have been several discussed already, including that big one involving Phil Ivey going vegetarian for a year. Meanwhile, Ivey once again shows his incredible acumen at the table, Negreanu struggles once again on the show, and other players come and go.
This most recent episode (the fifth one) was probably the most entertaining to watch so far. There were several all-in hands, though with a couple of exceptions most were not caused by the stacks being short but rather were consequent to a series of postflop decisions. One especially interesting hand took place between Jason Mercier and Ivey, a hand which Mercier recounts in an article from yesterday over on PokerListings.
Of course, the big highlight was the hand between Phil Ivey and Tom “durrrr” Dwan that concluded the fifth episode -- kind of a jawdropping hand on the order of the one from last year involving Dwan, Barry Greenstein, and Peter Eastgate. Ivey starts the hand with over $1 million, and Dwan with around $750,000. Watch and enjoy yourself:
I was saying last week how I hadn’t had a lot of time for watching poker on teevee. But if I’m only going to watch one show, this has got to be the one, yes?