High Stakes Poker Season 7 is here. We’ve got new players, a controversial new host and a new location. It’s easy to see that things have changed this season but have they changed for the better?
We break it down, slap a letter grade on it and tell you whether it's worth your time in our Complete Guide to High Stakes Poker Season 7.
The Lineup – Grade: B
The most glaring difference this season is the absence of a single Full Tilt Poker patch at the table. What that means to fans is no Phil Ivey and no Tom Dwan.
Dwan was on the winning end of the show’s biggest pot ever ($919,600) and last season he played some of the best poker we’ve ever seen on TV.
Losing durrrr is definitely a negative but there is a silver lining. Dwan has a big effect on the table dynamic and the show definitely feels different without him.
For people like us with very short attention spans anything different is usually a good thing.
In place of those sharks we’ve been given whales. Robert Croak, Phil Ruffin and Bill Klein are all immensely wealthy so we’re getting a much more authentic high-stakes game dynamic.
Real-life games this high are usually built around a few rich players willing to give up an edge in exchange for competing against the best players in the world. That’s exactly what’s happening here.
Circling them are pros like Doyle Brunson, Antonio Esfandiari and Barry Greenstein. This is a game that could be going down regardless of the television cameras.
The Host – Grade: C+
Since HSP’s inception Gabe Kaplan has been the man behind the mic but that era has come to an end. Norm Macdonald is now filling those shoes. People are less than ecstatic.
The thing about Norm Macdonald is that a lot of people just don’t think he’s funny. I mean, he got canned from Saturday Night Live because one executive watched the show and became convinced Norm had no talent and didn’t belong on television.
But people who like Norm Macdonald, also known as smart people with good taste and a sense of humor, tend to like him a lot.
Belonging to the latter group we were quick to jump to Norm’s defense. After watching two episodes, however, we’ve downgraded “defense” to “suspending judgment”.
We’re hoping he settles into the role because his dry, monotone style doesn’t exactly lend itself to poker commentary.
Kara Scott is great as usual and she raises the letter grade by a full +.
The Action - Grade: A
The action is one area that has passed with flying colors. The first episode saw two massive all-ins and in the second we were treated to a $600,000 monster between Barry Greenstein and Antonio Esfandiari.
As much as we love big dollar amounts they’re just one half of compelling poker action. Without interesting lines and strategy it’s just degenerate gambling.
So far the strategy has been plentiful. From Vanessa Selbst’s much-criticized call with queens against Phil Ruffin’s set to Barry’s heroic $100,000 river bluff we've had no shortage of conversational ammo at the water cooler on Monday.
The whales have the money to burn and we're hoping this season will generate the first pot over a million dollars.
The Final Grade: B+
A lot of people are flapping their gums, saying things like, “RIP HSP,” and the like. We’re here to tell you that sentiment is way off the mark.
The show is different so if Ivey and Dwan battling was the only reason you tuned in, you’ve got a few adjustments to make. Yes, your beloved Gabe Kaplan is gone but give Norm a chance. He might surprise you.
Finally, with a legitimate whale-based game we’re actually excited to see who wins the money. These rich guys are comfortable dropping a million dollars in an afternoon. We'll see how the pros feel about it.