Benza says fans saved ‘High Stakes Poker’

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Did you see the letter(s) we included on pages 5-8 for you to send to your Tallahassee representatives to improve Florida poker? If you feel such campaigns are futile, here’s a perfect example where poker players saved something that was dear to them.

Game Show Network debuted Season 5 of High Stakes Poker on March 1, and for anyone who followed the events that unfolded in June, this is nothing short of remarkable. It started with a short online report that GSN was moving in a new direction, looking to appeal to female viewers, and that HSP might be on the chopping block. Outraged fans lit up the forums and blogs, and even the show’s co-host, A.J. Benza, was so upset he appeared on the Ante Up PokerCast to vent his feelings. After months of campaigning and complaining, GSN recognized the fan base for HSP was just too large to ignore and granted another season. And this came on the heels of the network surrendering its rights to broadcast the World Poker Tour, which had better ratings. Well, Benza is forever grateful, and he’s convinced if the fans had kept quiet the show wouldn’t be on the air.
“It was gone,” he said in the Feb. 27 episode of the Ante Up PokerCast. “And I tell ya, it ticked me off. … We have a core audience and base of fans that are so crazy for the show. … It was horrifying for me because we literally went through a year without working, and that ain’t easy these days.

“With the help of you guys (Ante Up) and a lot of bloggers … I really think that was a big part of them bringing us back. And now we’re looking for a 52-week commitment after these 13 weeks are done, so we could be here for a while.”

It’s no secret HSP is my favorite poker show. Perhaps it’s the Godfather references Benza and Gabe Kaplan always make, maybe it’s because the best players in the world are on week-in and week-out, or maybe it’s just because I’m a cash-game player. Whatever it is, HSP is here to stay. So what do we have to look forward to this season?

“One guy I’ve got to point out,” Benza said, “who is unequivocally the best poker player I have ever seen. He’s 22 years old; you’ve ever heard of Tom Dwan? He’s like “Rain Man” good. … He figures out every single hand. He makes Doyle Brunson, who I know is spectacular, seem like a dunce. … Poker takes a tough turn for Daniel Negreanu in the first five shows; there’s a half-million dollar pot that an old-timer takes over a young gun. … (But) Dwan, I’ve never seen poker like his on High Stakes in the last five seasons. … Some of the stuff Dwan says, he sounds like Napolean Dynamite. If someone says to him, ‘What’d you have, king-jack?’ Instead of just saying no, he’d go, ‘Huh, that’s like the worst hand that I could’ve had.’ I would punch that guy’s face in at a high stakes game.”

High Stakes Poker airs Sunday nights at 9 ET on GSN, and if you’d like to hear the rest of Benza’s hilarious interview go to anteupmagazine.com and click on the Feb. 27 episode.