Flush Magazine Article on GSN's High Stakes Poker - Richard Marcus

richardmarcusbooks.com

Flush Magazine Article on GSN's High Stakes Poker - Richard Marcus

FEATUREHIGH STAKES POKERTop Left: Doyle Brunsonrisks another bundle - ordoes he?Clockwise from top left:Phil Laak, Daniel Negreanu,Doyle Brunson, JohnJuandaALL ON THE LINE?Is High Stakes Poker all it’s cracked up to be? Richard Marcus investigates.Iwill tell you this much: High Stakes Poker iscertainly high-stakes but does that high stakesreally have anything to do with all those bigdenominationchips and bundles of cash weconstantly see lumped into huge pots in the middle ofthe table?Well, that’s a matter of opinion, and my opinion isto say that somebody participating in that TV show isreally making us the “boobs” when referring to televisionas the boob tube. Whether it’s the network, theshow’s producers, the players, or some combinationthereof, something is going on that does not meetthe eye, or I should say the camera. What am I saying—thatthe show is a fraud? Well, not really. Thereis some high-stakes stuff going on, but it’s not aboutthe no-limit hold’em games you’re watching. What it isabout is ratings-boosting for the network, Web trafficincreases for YouTube and exposure for the pokerplayers who get more launching pads for their books,blogs, appearances and endorsement contracts.In short, High Stakes Poker is a myriad of TV andInternet buzz that spreads across the world enrichingthose directly involved in it.What prompted me to write this article? Simply an e-mail from a suspiciousperson in the UK. He asked me if I thought the poker action portrayed on theshow was real. “Were Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Sammy Farha andthe rest of them really risking all those hundreds of thousands of US dollarsagainst one another?” he wrote. Before I answer that directly, let me go backto the opening page of my controversial book Dirty Poker, which was releasedin the spring of 2005. On that page I took a sideways look at another hugepoker entertainment package. This one was Fox Sports Net’s mega-poker tournament,which that mega-American network hyped as the biggest tournamentin the history of the world. For those of you who don’t recall this, it was slatedto take place on July 12, 2006, and be hosted by Mansion Poker. It was calledthe richest poker event ever and was to be broadcast live around the world. Itwas to feature six famous players, each of whom would put up $10 million oftheir own money to win the $60 million winner-take-all-jackpot. In other words,a $60 million freezeout! Two big-time players’ names were mentioned asbeing among the six to put up the ten mil and take part: Phil Ivey and JosephHachem, the winner of the main event at the 2005 World Series of Poker. Andif all that wasn’t enough, Fox Sports Net promised us a repetition of the megaeventin 2007, with a $75 million jackpot, and then yet another in 2008 with a$100 million jackpot!When I heard all this, I had lots to say. As Dirty Poker was released threemonths before the mega-event was to be held, the timing for my critique couldnot have been better. I basically begged Fox Sports Net to give me a break.Come on, I wrote, if this isn’t a prearranged hypeof mega-crap to boost Fox’s ratings while showingoff the players, what is?First of all, what pokerplayer in his right mindwould legitimately putup $10 million to win $60million against true oddsof five to one? There’sno value in it. Pro playersonly take the actionwhen they have the bestof it, and against players of roughly the same skills,there is no best of it. Secondly, what poker playereven has $10 million cash, and if any do, then howmany could afford to burn a spare $10 million? No, Ireasoned on the page, this was simply a mega-collusionbetween Hollywood and Las Vegas, wherethe six famous poker players became bankablemovie stars for their“roles.” The network in turn reaps millions inadvertising revenues and a huge boost in its ratings.What better way to perpetuate the Hollywoodglamour that had already come to the poker worldthrough the ex-movie star Jennifer Tilly’s victory atthe 2005 WSOP Ladies’ Championship? And finally,I wrote, “And we will have to suffer this again in2007 when the jackpot shoots to $75 million...Andagain in 2008 when it rockets to $100 million...Justa matter of time until they make it a billion!”When my book hit the stores I immediatelyreceived a lot of criticism from the poker world.“High Stakes Poker is a myriad ofTV and Internet buzz that spreadsacross the world enriching thosedirectly involved in it”Those wishing to avoid any tainting of it were quickto dismiss me as a raving poker-conspiracy nutjob. But the truth was that I was a threat to thepockets of a lot of people in the industry, peoplemaking millions on the proliferation of poker asa mainstream entertainment event. Then a funnything happened. Out of nowhere, Fox Sports Netand Mansion Poker announced that their megapokertournament in conjunction with each otherwas being cancelled. Suddenly like a sour bombdropping on a cornfield, this soon to be billion-dollartournament was not to be at all. Coincidence?Well, I honestly don’t know, but maybe one of theorganizers got wind of my book and suggested toanother organizer that maybe the public won’t gofor this “blockbuster event” after all.So that blew away only to make way for GSN’sHigh Stakes Poker. Now we see a dozen of today’sbrightest poker stars rushing to ante up a$500,000 buy-in and throw $10,000 packetsof cash into huge pots as Gabe Kaplan getsto revive his long moribund career as thepoker “color man” describing the intensity andstrategic maneuvering that we all just have toknow about. “Come on, gimme a break, Gabe!”I said aloud to myself as my eyes took in DanielNegreanu’s stacks of $100 bills chasing those ofGus Hansen, and then Sammy Farha and BarryGreenstein lancing their monetary bricks like medievalwarriors did their swords. And of courseeveryone at the table is constantly laughing andbuddy-buddying up with one another. I wonderedin amazement how the public could go for this.How can intelligent people really believe thatthese guys are really risking hundreds of thousandsof dollars without having any significantedge? After all, the difference in skill level athigh-stakes poker between any of these top prosis minimal, and for those who argue that it’s not,it is still not enough to warrant risking that typeof money. So why would these players risk suchlarge sums of money against one another whenthey could simply go play in high-limit games inVegas and California where there is an amplesupply of suckers with the same big money.Aren’t pros like these better off going up againstwell-heeled amateurs with huge bankrolls whothink they’re pros?48 www.flushmag.co.uk Issue 28 Issue 28 www.flushmag.co.uk 49


FEATURE HIGH STAKES POKERAnother thing I can tell you is that pros like PhilHellmuth, Phil Ivey and Barry Greenstein wouldnot need to play another hand of high-stakespoker in their lives to continue living them instyle with all the money they could ever need.So why would they risk it? Are they gamblers atheart? Well, they’re not supposed to be; they’reprofessional poker players governed only bytrue odds. So, then, is there a reason to theircollective advantage to keep playing for so muchmoney on television? Youbet. It’s all about promotion.These top pros can makemuch more money promotingthemselves to the publicand the media and attachingtheir names and images withhandsome contracts to onlinepoker sites than they couldever make playing highstakespoker. And add to thattheir bestselling books, pokerboot camps, appearances andeverything else not related to playing that theydo to earn large sums of money. Nobody candispute these facts. But in order to keep theirnames in the limelight they have to keep playinghigh-stakes poker—or at least give the imagethey’re playing high-stakes poker. So, let’s say fora moment that I am not a strung-out poker conspiracytheorist and that maybe I am exposing arealistic scenario.What would that scenario be?Try this: Within the body of GSN’s high-stakespoker players there is an unspoken law, call it thehigh-stakes poker players’ “Omerta,” similar tothat infamous Italian Mafia code of silence that forcenturies prevented the truth from ever gettingout. What would high-stakes Omerta be amongstthe players? Simply this: Let’s give ’em a good showfor their advertising dollars and then we’ll giveeach of us our money back after the show is over.“How can intelligent peoplereally believe that these guysare really risking hundreds ofthousands of dollars withouthaving any significant edge?”This way we make the world think we’re playingfor cash millions, get all this exposure and reap allthe benefits (including whatever deals they havewith GSN) without risking the loss of as much asa wooden nickel. See what I mean? Isn’t this morebelievable than Daniel Negreanu losing $300,000in a single pot against Gus Hansen? Isn’t it morebelievable than any of these guys (or women likeJennifer Harman) repeatedly risking their bankrollsagainst players of equal or better caliber? Andultimately, can all these players really affordthese kinds of losses? I tend to doubt it.What about the non-poker pros in these TVlineups, people like Jerry Buss, the Los AngelesLakers owner, Dr. Amir Nasseri, a Las Vegasphysician, and the Chicago restaurant owner,Fred Chamanara? What do they have to gain ifthey’re not looking to enhance their poker statureand possible endorsement contracts? Maybenothing, and maybe they are not even involved inwhatever is really going on in the show. Perhapsthese wealthy gentlemen are in it for otherreasons and don’t care what’s going on betweenthe pro players. Maybe it’s their egos on display,who knows? But as they are small in numbersthey don’t have much effect on the games andare never a significant threat to the best proplayers at these “high-stakes” tables. And even ifthey have the same suspicions I do, perhaps theydon’t care.So, is the GSN going to discontinue this hugelypopular poker show because of my innuendos?No way, Jose! It’s too established and too hugelypopular. But getting them to axe the show ishardly my motive. High Stakes Poker is, beforeanything else, great entertainment, especially ifyou love watching big-time poker, or the simulationof big-time poker. But remember one thing:just like everything else in this world, don’tbelieve everything you see and hear.www.richardmarcusbooks.com50 www.flushmag.co.uk Issue 28

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