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PokerStars "Big Game" debut is a winner17 June 2010
"The Big Game" is a six-handed cash game ($200/$400 blinds with $100 antes) with five well-known pros and an online freeroll qualifier, called the "Loose Cannon." The pros put up their own money and the online qualifier is given $100,000 by PokerStars to use in the game. The game runs for 150 hands, and the amateur at the table gets to keep any winnings. If he finishes in the red or busts out, he gets nothing. The amateur player who wins the most during the first season will also win $50,000 in live tournament buy-ins for the year. This week's show featured Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Phil Laak, Tony G and Phil Hellmuth. Ernest Wiggins was the online qualifier.
There are plenty of poker shows that pit amateur players against pros, but those generally feel more like game shows than pure poker shows ("Face the Ace" comes to mind). With five high-quality professionals knocking heads, this show is most similar to High Stakes Poker. But the addition of the "Loose Cannon" gives viewers insight into the strategies professional players use when an amateur is sitting at the table.
For instance, in the first week of episodes, Daniel Negreanu continually took advantage of his position on Wiggins' left, raising him with any two cards nearly every time Wiggins limped in. Watching the sharks lick their chops as they circle their prey is quite revealing. It helps that you know that the "Loose Cannon" isn't risking his own money, and you definitely find yourself rooting for the amateur.
The 150-hand limit also has serious strategy implications as the game nears its end. If the "Loose Cannon" is down any amount, he will likely get really aggressive to try to get in the black — hey, he's not risking his own cash, right? And if he's up big, expect him to play only premium hands … or will a "Loose Cannon" try to take advantage of that perception to pick up some more cash?
Wiggins, the "Loose Cannon" picked for the first week of the show, is perfect for TV. His introduction on Monday night was epic. He sports at least a dozen nicknames, and he clearly is having fun playing with some of the game's greatest players.
The fact that Wiggins is a good fit for TV is no accident. To make it onto the show, players must finish in the top 200 in an online qualifier and then submit a casting video to be considered. PokerStars clearly made a good choice in their first contestant; expect more characters in future weeks.
The professionals who played the first week appeared to love every second of the game. Well, all the pros except for Hellmuth, who suffered through one of the most unbelievable hands in televised poker (see video below). The players loved bantering with Wiggins, and he was more than happy to join in.
"What are you going to do if I move in? Do you call?" Hellmuth asked.
"Phil, of course. I have no choice but to, my brother," Wiggins replied.
"You got aces or kings?" Hellmuth asked.
"Man, if I had aces or kings, man, I'd be the man right now, wouldn't I?" Wiggins said.
"I love you Ernest," said Laak.
"This is why this show is so fun!" Negreanu said.
Another great innovation for the show is that all hands are played as pot-limit Hold'em before the flop and no-limit Hold'em after the flop. This induces a lot of action, as players find value in seeing flops and generally aren't able to shove all their chips in during the first round of betting.
If the first week is any indication, "The PokerStars.net Big Game" could have a long run. Check your local listing for times, or watch full episodes online through PokerStars.
Best of Aaron Todd