AJ Benza didn’t develop up enjoying playing cards, and has by no means gambled for enormous sums of cash, however the New York City native has grow to be entrenched within the poker world for his work on some of the iconic reveals the trade has seen.
Benza co-hosted High Stakes Poker with Gabe Kaplan for the primary 5 seasons of the present, which premiered in 2006 and shortly turned in style with each professionals and amateurs watching at dwelling.
After the fifth season of the present in 2009, the duo was damaged up and ultimately changed altogether with comic and avid poker fanatic Norm Macdonald in season seven. But after greater than a decade away from the sport, PokerGO introduced again each Kaplan and Benza to revive the well-known money sport sequence for an eighth season.
High Stakes Poker featured world class poker professionals and rich businessmen who had been keen to place enormous piles of chips within the center, however it was Benza and his Welcome Back, Kotter star companion within the commentary sales space that gave the present its preliminary legs on the peak of the poker increase.
“It is so much fun to be back in the booth with Gabe,” stated Benza about his return. “I have tremendous respect for his poker knowledge and his comedic timing.”
With a number of years working collectively, the 2 have developed fairly a rapport. Kaplan, who has expertise enjoying high-stakes money video games and first began attending the WSOP in 1978, serves because the skilled. Benza, who has had many notable on display credit similar to Mysteries and Scandals, Rocky Balboa, and Celebrity Fit Club, serves as his straight man.
“There are times where I feel like Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire, because clearly he leads and I need to follow,” stated Benza. “And it’s not always easy since I do not know the intricacies of poker like Gabe does. I am comfortable in my role [speaking for] the guy sitting at home who doesn’t quite understand all the terminology and odds and outs and percentages.”
Despite having a entrance row seat to a few of the greatest poker minds on the planet at work, the 58-year-old doesn’t attempt to decide up any technique ideas. He simply desires to benefit from the drama and be capable to crack jokes with Kaplan alongside the best way.
“It used to drive me mad because I wanted to try and catch up, but that’s impossible,” stated the actor and former gossip columnist for E! Entertainment Television. “So while I love the action and the drama, I finally accepted the fact that I’ll never be anywhere near Gabe’s level of expertise. But what I have heard from so many people I run into is that they like the fact that I ask ‘dumb’ questions or occasionally get stuff wrong, because it allows many people to learn at home as they go.”
The C.W. Post College graduate additionally takes satisfaction within the authenticity of his work and feels lucky to work alongside somebody he respects.
“I love that I’m back in the booth voicing the best poker show there’s ever been, with a guy who’s better than the rest,” stated Benza. “And whenever things get a little complicated, I take comfort in the fact that we’re just two guys from Brooklyn. We have a shorthand.”
As somebody who was nonetheless inexperienced in his poker information when he took the job, the sheer amount of money on the desk took him abruptly. He started asking himself the query each non-poker participant watching the present asks themselves.
“Initially, it was the amount of money laid out that caught my attention,” stated Benza. “I remember seeing Daniel Negreanu betting a million bucks in season one and it felt fake. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Those stacks looked fake, but they were real.”
“Obviously, I was a neophyte at poker when I got the job, so I couldn’t believe the amount of money on the table,” stated Benza. “But some hands stand out for different reasons.”
Benza recalled a hand from the primary season between Daniel Negreanu and Barry Greenstein as one in every of his favorites. Negreanu raised with Okay 9 and Greenstein three-bet out of the small blind with A J. Negreanu referred to as and the flop got here down 7 3 2.
Greenstein wager $10,000 and Negreanu took two $50,000 bricks of money and put them within the center. Greenstein referred to as with the nut flush draw and was all in for a pot of simply over $200,000. The three-time bracelet winner drilled a membership on the river, taking down one of many first large pots of the season.
“Barry caught the jack of clubs on the river to win and I knew right then… holy shit, this is real money.”
The hand between the 2 poker legends was possible extra memorable to Benza than some extra informal poker followers as a result of it was the primary time he noticed cash of that measurement change arms, all whereas the 2 combatants concerned reacted the identical as anybody would at a $5 dwelling sport.
“I know there were many battles between two of my favorites, Eli Elezra and Sammy Farha,” stated Benza. “I loved seeing the way they battled and stayed friends throughout it all. It didn’t matter if the pot was worth $50,000 or $500,000.”
But even Benza, who has seen hundreds of High Stakes Poker arms up shut and private, isn’t proof against the classics.
“I remember the hand when Brad Booth tossed out three bricks with just four-high against Phil Ivey’s pocket kings,” stated Benza. “I remember seeing that before Ivey laid his hand down.”
With $300-$600 blinds, David Williams raised to $1,800 from the lojack with J 9 and Booth three-bet to $5,800 from the cutoff with 4 2. Phil Ivey was within the large blind with Okay Okay and chilly four-bet to $14,000. Williams folded and Booth referred to as. Booth had purchased in for $1 million and Ivey began the hand with about $300,000 in his stack.
The flop was 7 6 3 and Ivey wager $23,000. Booth moved all in, putting $300,000 in money into the center. It turned an iconic scene in high-stakes poker lore and prompted Ivey to utter, “I wish you had put the chips in. The cash just looks so sweet.”
Benza acknowledged it in actual time, saying, “It is a bit intimidating,” as Ivey tanked for what was nearly one other two minutes earlier than laying his hand down.
And in fact, although it’s from some of the latest episodes, Benza stated the laydown made by Doug Polk towards Phil Hellmuth was one in every of his favourite arms to look at.
“It is one of the best lay downs in the history of the show,” stated Benza. “It was just amazing.”
During its early days, the present captured followers as a result of this system was in contrast to some other poker present accessible, pitting the most well-liked gamers round towards one another. Tournaments with large prize swimming pools made for thrilling TV as effectively, however the lineup of gamers was unpredictable. High Stakes Poker ensured that the world bought to see essentially the most partaking personalities on the desk.
After watching many poker reveals come and go through the years, diehards within the poker neighborhood would typically reminisce concerning the previous episodes of High Stakes Poker with tons of money being thrown round. And now that the present is again, a few of the youthful gamers who got here up watching it have now even made it onto the printed.
“Many of the guys on season eight continually talk about how they grew up watching it as kids and now they’re playing against sharp pros,” stated Benza. “I love to hear guys talk about how High Stakes Poker was the show where they learned how to play. And here they are many years later and we’re still calling the action. It’s very exciting.”
The sport has clearly modified through the years as methods and kinds evolve. However, what drives the drama hasn’t modified in any respect. It’s nonetheless only a battle of wits for big sums of money with a good quantity of luck concerned.
“What stands out to me is how many times an [amateur] will go up against a pro and win,” stated Benza. “I will always admire the balls on these guys, and how their play has improved over the years. I love knowing that Gabe and I – and the way we called the games – had a hand in that.” ♠
Doug Polk Makes Incredible Fold Against Phil Hellmuth
The 12 months is way from over, however it’s going to be powerful to discover a higher televised play in 2021 than what Doug Polk pulled off in a latest episode of High Stakes Poker towards 15-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth.
The no-limit maintain’em sport featured blinds of $200-$400, and a rotating lineup that additionally consisted of Jake Daniels, Brandon Steven, James Bord, John Andress, Bryn Kenney, Phil Ivey, and Tom Dwan.
Hellmuth opened the motion by elevating to $1,100 from the hijack with Q 10. He was referred to as by Bord on the button with 2 2 and Polk defended from the large blind with 10 7. The flop got here down J 9 8, giving each Hellmuth and Polk a straight. The motion checked to Bord, and he wager $2,000.
Polk check-raised to $7,000, and Hellmuth shocked the desk by transferring all in for $97,200. Bord shortly put his underpair into the muck, and Polk went into the tank for a number of minutes, partaking Hellmuth in some desk discuss earlier than making his determination.
“Since Phil raised before the flop, I would definitely be putting him on a set,” stated Kaplan to the house viewers. “Doug’s got to call. He can’t possibly be putting Phil on Q-10.”
Despite Kaplan’s assertation, nevertheless, Polk was hesitant.
“This is insane,” stated Polk. “It’s just such a monster raise. Phil, what do you got over there? I’m considering making a very big laydown. A very, very big laydown.”
Hellmuth, sensing he may probably lose a buyer, responded with, “I could easily have…” earlier than Polk interrupted.
“What could you easily have?” requested Polk incredulously. “You just bet a lot into very little.”
Hellmuth continued to speak, telling Polk he may have a set, blockers with a hand like pocket tens, or an enormous drawing hand like A 10.
“Oh, now you’re busting out blockers? God, if I fold this and I’m wrong…” stated Polk.
It was then that Hellmuth determined to cease speaking, although the far aspect of the desk was busy putting bets on whether or not or not Polk would name.
“I think I’m dead a lot, given this,” Polk stated, referring to Hellmuth’s desk discuss. He then confirmed his playing cards to the remainder of the desk, which solely introduced extra disbelief from the opposite gamers. Despite their shock, he nonetheless determined to muck.
“That’s not a fold, are you crazy right now?” requested Steven, who had wager on the result. “If he’s got Q-10, then he’s got Q-10. Pay the man and let’s move on to the next hand.”
Hellmuth determined to not present his playing cards on the evening the episode was filmed, and even requested to rabbit hunt the flip and river, implying to Polk that he had a set. However, he couldn’t conceal from the truth of the state of affairs as soon as the present aired.
“Imagine making like 15 big blinds here,” Polk jabbed, tweeting together with a screenshot of his laydown.
Hellmuth, to his credit score, took the ribbing in stride.
“Sigh. I can see why you say that this was the best fold of your career. Great fold Doug! [You] saved $90,000 that everyone else would have lost. Everyone else! That’s $90,000 that is not in my bank account.”
Kaplan agreed, closing out the printed of the hand by saying, “Doug Polk is one of the few people on the planet that would have folded there.”