This Sunday, March 1st, at 9:00pm Eastern Time, the fifth season of “High Stakes Poker” will debut on GSN. The fifth installment has been a longtime coming and perhaps no one is looking forward to it more than its host, A.J. Benza. The gossip columnist turned poker icon sat down with Poker News Daily to talk about the 13 brand new episodes of the high-stakes ring game.
Poker News Daily: How did you become involved with High Stakes Poker?
Benza: When the idea came about, GSN sent out a note saying they were looking for an “A.J. Benza-type person.” They didn’t know I lived in Los Angeles and asked if I played poker. I said sure, but I had really never played. I bluffed my way onto the show and got a few e-mails from viewers who were really crazy about poker telling me to drop dead. Over time, I received support from other people like me, who maybe don’t know everything, but weren’t afraid to ask.
High Stakes Poker is not like other shows where they’re playing for $20,000 or for charity. This is their real money and they act like they’re trading bottle caps. It’s almost voyeuristic to see people trade money that quickly.
PND: How were you able to expand your knowledge of the game?
Benza: My Co-Host Gabe Kaplan and our producer, Mori Eskandani. They had a lot of patience with me in the beginning. There are terms they used that made me petrified to go into work, but I’d learn little by little and ask questions. I started to steadily learn and watched other shows on television. You can’t teach the mathematical minds that these players have. In high school, I had to take algebra and trigonometry twice. I’m not a math guy.
PND: What are you looking forward to seeing the most when High Stakes Poker Season 5 debuts on Sunday, March 1st at 9:00pm ET on GSN?
Benza: Last season, we had a half-million dollar buy-in show. I believe there were one or two million dollar pots. We’ve done five shows so far this season and there have already been a few half-million dollar pots, one of which was earned on a bluff.
This season is special because we have both veterans and young guns. There are hundreds of thousands of young kids playing poker on the internet. One kid in particular, Tom Dwan, is almost on a rain man level. He’s amazing. His mind goes off and he calculates the odds and percentages. Ilari Sahamies is a very stoic guy and doesn’t say much. I’ve only seen him order drinks. You also have the old guys. This season is going to be great because you’ll see the young guns going against old vets. The old guard, such as Doyle Brunson, doesn’t play hands that these new guys do. The game is different.
PND: What goes into voicing over the shows that air?
Benza: The game is played about two months beforehand. They’ll chop the tape into 13 one hour episodes and then Gabe and I will sit in Hollywood, watch a hand, talk it out, practice it, and do it again. By the third time, we usually have it down right. Sometimes there’s chatter at the table, so we’ll let the players talk. Sometimes there’s no chatter, so we have to do all of the talking.
Each player has a mic and, let’s just say, sometimes things happen beneath the waist that can turn a hand into a comical one. It happened this year to one of our more established players and it certainly makes for a lot of fun. This year, Barry Greenstein is trying to coin a new catch phrase, “Math is idiotic.” He’s trying to stay away from the math and tell young players that sometimes you just go out and play a hand.
PND: When will we be hearing about High Stakes Poker Season 6?
Benza: I hope it happens tomorrow. I don’t want to have to wait like last year. You can be the number one show on a network, but it happens all of the time. Sometimes you have to wait your turn. I think we’ll have more viewers and after 13 weeks, I can’t see GSN moving its number one show off the network.
There were a bunch of poker shows three or four years ago and now there are just a couple. We’re the standout show. When you look on the Net and see that people have downloaded individual hands half a million times, it’s unbelievable. If you’ve never watched poker before, you might get addicted watching Season 5 of High Stakes Poker.