Will High Stakes Poker Survive?

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Posted on Dec 15th 2010  -  Subject: Will High Stakes Poker Survive?

The latest casualty of the ongoing business and marketing battle between PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker appears to be the popular TV show High Stakes Poker. Season 7 of the show began taping this week at the Bellagio, a month later than originally planned and with many of the show's biggest stars missing.

PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, as the two largest poker sites, have carefully guarded their brands and tried to manage their sponsored players to best advantage. First, PokerStars withdrew all their players from Poker After Dark after Full Tilt Poker became their sponsor. Now that PokerStars is sponsoring High Stakes Poker and have purchased their past library of shows to air on pokerstars.tv, Full Tilt has pulled their formidable lineup from playing in this season of High Stakes Poker.

Barry Greenstein, a PokerStars sponsored player, shared some of the reasons that Full Tilt gave to show producer Mori Eskandani, the founder of POKER PROductions. "Full Tilt has two major concerns. First is they don't like their players playing when PokerStars is the sponsor of the show. Secondly, they were unhappy that PokerStars bought the HSP archives. In the early seasons of HSP, the players didn't wear logos, so FTP is concerned that viewers will be able to go to pokerstars.tv and see the FTP players without logos and be confused by their affiliation."

The end affect is that big poker stars that have brought great visibility and action to the show will not be playing in Season 7 or possibly ever again. This means no Tom Dwan, who has been the most dominant action player the last couple of season. There will be no Phil Ivey, Patrik Antonius, Gus Hansen, or Mike Matusow either.

Since the news broke, even some players from the PokerStars stable have declined to play. Daniel Negreanu, a staple of every previous year and involved in some of the more memorable hands over the years indicated that he will be back in Las Vegas, but involved in a commercial shoot and won't participate. Lex Veldhuis, also a PokerStars player who played last season, indicated that he won't make it either.

Phil Hellmuth has said that he is "50/50" to play this year. Doyle Brunson hasn't mentioned anything about whether or not he is playing. David "Viffer" Peat is recovering from an illness and is hopeful that he can play.

The good news:

- Gabe Kaplan is back flying solo in the commentary booth.

- Kara Scott returns as hostess and to conduct interviews.

- Scheduled to play - Barry Greenstein, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, Jason Mercier, Phil Galfond and Scotty Nguyen who will be making his High Stakes Poker debut.

- The buy-in will remain $200,000 with a continued exclusive focus on No Limit Texas Hold'em.

Further evidence of the potential turmoil, in previous years, the press was invited for interviews prior to filming, but claims from GSN production stated "We have all of these new players, a new venue, and new elements. It's a small space. It's super tight and we just want to focus on the game play.'

My thoughts - It is understandable that the two biggest poker room brands would want to develop projects that promote their brands, but the reality is they both advertise very heavily on popularly viewed poker shows like HSP. High Sakes Poker isn't the same show if the heavyweights of the high stakes poker world like Dwan, Ivey and Antonius don't participate. Figure out a compromise and allow the viewers to benefit from seeing the world's best battle it out while you both enjoy higher ratings as a result.

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