High Stakes Poker: Winners and Losers

It was the greatest poker show on TV, but who were the biggest winners and losers, and what can you learn from them? PokerPlayer investigates….

1. Tom Dwan, Seasons 5-6: +$1,756,500

It’s testament to how good Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan was on High Stakes Poker that he won the most money, despite only coming to the table in Season 5. He ripped through the field, taking a huge pot of $919k off Barry Greenstein in a flip, but he outplayed a lot of the old guard too.

One of his biggest weapons was that he was totally fearless. It paid off for him when he bluffed Peter Eastgate off a monster hand – Eastgate was playing too high and it showed. But he didn’t care who he was up against or what sort of money was at stake.

In this hand, after a bit of goading, Dwan raises it up preflop with 8♠-9♠ and picks up Phil Ivey with A-6. The two players are the biggest stacks in the six-handed game – Ivey has over $1m and Dwan over $750k.

The T-Q♣-K flop is huge for Ivey and he calls Dwan’s $45,800 bet. The 3♠ turn helps no one but Dwan fires out again – $123,200. Ivey makes the call. Ivey makes a pair of Sixes on the 6♣ river but Dwan isn’t stopping and bets $268,200 into the pot of $408,700. Ivey asks how much the bet is and how much Dwan has left before tank-folding, despite muttering, ‘This is going to be the sickest call of all time.’ Dwan looks nervous at the end, but hangs on to bluff the best player in the world.

Dwan didn’t get them all through but his wild image meant he got paid off a when he had it to compensate. He won a $500k pot off record mogul Alan Meltzer when Meltzer called a big river bet with Kings on a 3-A-T-J-J♠ board. Dwan had J♣-T♠.

2. David Benyamine, Seasons 3-6: +$904,150

You shouldn’t be surprised to see David Benyamine near the top of the winners list. Nicknamed ‘Degenyamine’, he’s a top high stakes player with a penchant for gambling.

He also ran well on High Stakes Poker, running quads into a stuck Daniel Negreanu and then taking him for another $250k when he called correctly with Aces on a T-8-3-3♣ board. Negreanu had T♣-9♠.

His unconventional wild style pays off in this hand when Jamie Gold effectively tells him what he has, enabling him to run a huge bluff. After three players call the preflop bet of $1,200, Benyamine shows he’s come to play by raising to $21,200 with 7-2. He’s hoping to take it down here and then show his cards to advertise that ‘Degenyamine’ is in session, but he reckons without Jamie Gold who makes the call with K-T.

Benyamine bets $38,000 on the 6-8-3 flop – almost half pot. Gold calls and says, ‘I’ve got so many outs it’s ridiculous,’ telling Benyamine ‘I know you’ve got a pair.’ If Gold’s telling the truth, and Benyamine’s astute enough to have picked up on the fact that he usually is, he knows he’s just got to fade hearts and straight outs. The J♠ turn is perfect, Benyamine bets big again and gets an insta-fold from Gold who has to endure being shown the 7-2. It’s not a great moment for the ‘world’s best bluffer.’

For Benyamine it couldn’t have worked out any better. He did what he set out to do – advertise himself with the 7-2 bluff – but also picked up a $122k pot into the bargain.

3. Johnny Chan, Seasons 1 and 7: +$616,600

It’s always good to look down at aces in a high stakes cash game, but the way you play them can determine whether you’re going to win a big pot or take the blinds and antes. In this straddled pot, Chan limps preflop in the knowledge that Negreanu is unlikely to let his straddle pass without punishing the limpers. Negreanu obliges, raising to $9,100 with 8♣-9♣. It gets better for Chan as Erik Boneta and Phil Laak come along for the ride with K♠-Q♠ and Threes, before Chan raises to $30,100 in a pretty clear statement that he’s got a monster.

Boneta hasn’t read the script though. Chan is pretty much a by-the-book player who is never getting out of line here in a bid to pick up the pot with a weak hand. Boneta calls – much to phil Laak’s amusement, who decides to set mine, getting a huge price with his threes.

The flop comes down a harmless 2-5-6♣ and Chan bets out $45,000. Boneta, without even a backdoor flush draw to fall back on, moves all-in, trying to represent a set. Chan quickly calls and despite running it three times wins 100% of the $516,400 pot. and that’s how you make the maximum from aces.

The pocket rockets were really good for Chan on High stakes poker. He won another monster pot with them against Fred Chamanara’s A♠-J♠ when all the money went in preflop.

He could have made more from the show as well. Phil Laak made a great fold with a full house on the river in another huge pot when he was crushed by the orient express.

4. Daniel Negreanu, Seasons 1-7: -$2,000,150

It’s fair to say that Daniel Negreanu didn’t run well on High stakes poker. He got on the wrong end of a ridiculous number of coolers, including set-over-set with Gus Hansen, who sucked out to quads on the turn. It’s ironic that one of the best players on the show would be the one to lose the most, but Negreanu showed that even top players can make poor decisions when they’re stuck and running bad.

In this hand Negreanu flops the nuts against Erick Lindgren with T-9 on a Q♣-8-J board. He bets and Lindgren calls with a set of Eights.

The turn brings another Eight giving Lindgren quads. He bets out again and Lindgren calls. Negreanu bets out again on the A river and Lindgren opens the trapdoor, moving all-in. Negreanu knows he’s beaten. He’s visibly angry and slams the table bemoaning his luck. As Gabe Kaplan says in commentary, ‘He’s reached the end of his rope here.’

Negreanu knows he can’t beat anything but a bluff, and that it’s really unlikely Lindgren is bluffing here. The pot is $160k and it’s another $100k to call, but Negreanu convinces himself that Lindgren is capable of making the move and calls to get the bad news.

5. Phil Galfond, Seasons 4, 6-7: -$431,500

Phil Galfond didn’t run so well on High Stakes Poker, but it could have been worse. He struggled to make an impact in Season 4, which was notable for its big buy-ins and crazy action, and was christened ‘Sweaty Phil’ by Jamie Gold. Luckily the nickname didn’t stick but Galfond did end up stuck, despite making a much better fist of it in Seasons 6 and 7. He made some great folds, including a full house against Eli Elezra, but he was also taken to school by businessman Bill Klein, who got the keepsake for his highlight reel in this hand.

Galfond raises Klein’s straddle to $3,500 in the hijack with Q♠-T. Another businessman, Robert Croak, calls with A♣-J♣ from the small blind and Klein completes with T♠-6♠.

The J♠-9-2♠ flop is a beauty, giving everyone something. Croak bets $5,500 and Klein plays his flush draw aggressively, raising to $17,500. Galfond calls, despite Croak sitting behind him, perhaps relishing the thought of being in a businessman sandwich and hitting his straight. Croak calls as well. The K♣ turn makes Galfond’s straight. Croak checks and Klein carries on betting his flush draw. Galfond raises to $67,000, Croak folds and Klein calls.

There’s no way an experienced player would call with a weak flush draw at this point. So, when the J drops on the river and Klein bombs the $200k pot with a bet of $150k, Galfond folds saying, ‘What else could he have called with?’ Klein shows the bluff and apologises, but takes a few fist bumps from the jubilant table.

6. Bill Klein, Season 7: -$430,700

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Bill Klein didn’t get away with his audacious bluff (see above) cheaply. After losing over $200k with Aces in a big flip with David ‘Viffer’ Peat, he looks to exact revenge when he picks up Kings the next episode – but he plays them terribly.

Vanessa Selbst raises with Eights UTG+1, Antonio Esfandiari calls with T-9 and Klein just calls from the small blind, giving Viffer the opportunity to get involved PP cheaply with 7-5♠. Klein should have realised that Viffer would call with pretty much anything and only raise if he woke up with a hand. Playing four-handed out of position against three top pros is far from an ideal situation with Kings.

Predictably the flop comes down J♣-5-5, Klein checks, Viffer bets out $5,000, Selbst and Esfandiari fold, and Klein check-raises. Viffer just calls to set the trap perfectly.

Klein bets $20 on the 2♠ turn and Viffer just calls again. The 9 comes on the river and Klein bets out $40,000, which slows Viffer down. He’s never folding but opts to just call, winning a $160k pot.

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