Last night we laid witness to what was the funniest poker live stream in a long time - possibly ever! Given the lineup of Nik Airball, Doug Polk, Matt Berkey, Eric Persson, and Lynne Ji (who you may or may not know is an ex-girlfriend of Berkey), the fear was that the levels of antagonism would leave a sour taste. However, the group took it all in their stride and produced arguably the funniest poker game we’ve seen.
The biggest storyline going into this game was what would happen between Nik Airball and Matt Berkey. The two were even sitting right next two each other, with Berkey sandwiched between Doug and Nik in what was surely his personal idea of hell.
The two tangled early on, with Berkey’s AdAs facing off against Airball’s 8d4d just 25 minutes into the stream. Berkey check-raised his aces on a flop of Jd7h2d, and Airball called. Berkey then overbet the turn, betting $10K into $8.3K on the Kc, which Nik quickly called. The magic 5d hit the river - jackpot for Nik. Berkey bet $15K, Airball shoved for the remaining $70K, and Berkey called off, giving Airball a rebate on the heads-up match they’ve been playing.
Things threatened to boil over after that hand, as Berkey tried to pay Airball in the big chips he had behind him so he didn’t have to make change, but Airball insisted on taking the chips that were on the table. After a bit of back and forth, Airball just scooped the chips from in front of Berkey and brought them into his stack while saying, “They’re my chips mother f*cker!”
Given the history between the players and the confrontational video that was doing the rounds on Twitter, I’m sure everyone was expecting it to kick off at that point, but that incident aside, they were remarkably well-behaved for the duration of the stream. This can be attributed to the fact that it took Berkey close to an hour to even say a word to the table - only responding after a needle from Doug about publicly sharing private messages.
In fact, Berkey generally seemed miserable throughout most of the night - partly due to his position at the table and partly because of his poor run of cards. Given his table draw and the volume of his two neighbours, we can’t say we blame him for feeling slightly perturbed! There were many other sympathisers on Twitter, with poker personality K.L. Cleeton giving his take on what was known around Twitter as “the seat from hell.”
While we were all expecting the fireworks to be between Airball and Berkey, we had a surprise challenger in the form of Rob Yong. A late arrival to the game, he sat down and immediately started going in on Doug. Nothing was off limits; Doug’s two patches, his YouTube content - even his ill-fated CoinFlex ambassadorship were the subject of Rob’s barbs.
Doug is no stranger to a bit of give and take and was in his element as the whole table followed Rob’s lead. Of course, it was all in jest (perhaps aside from Berkey), and it set the tone for the rest of the night.
It made for an incredibly funny table, with wild topics of conversation and pointed needles that never failed to get a laugh from someone at the table. Whether it was talks of an ab-off and titty-off between the players (yes, really!) or Rob’s honest assessment of Doug, Berkey, and Airball, the table remained light-hearted and friendly throughout the night.
At one point, we even had Eric Persson’s wife take over for a couple of hands - something the table saw as a huge improvement to the quality of poker coming from that seat. The game was full of needles flying back and forth, stories of playing against Ivey, and plenty of chips flying back and forth. As well as plenty of hilarious table talk, there were also plenty of interesting pots for the poker connoisseurs to enjoy.
After about 3/4 hours, the game started to die down a little - not surprising given how fast everyone came out of the blocks. Just as we were thinking everyone was settling in for the night, the drink orders started. Several players were on the wine, while others were on vodka, and the group shared a nice moment where everyone “cheers-ed” each other (minus Berkey).
It didn’t take long for the pots to start increasing in size, as players started to gamble more. As the night progressed, some people were able to hold their own as the wine continued to flow, whereas others were not so composed. Nik Airball looked visibly drunk by the end of the night - like that annoying guy that comes in at 2am, absolutely hammered, who then proceeds to win every single pot. At one point, he did the classic drunk-guy move of spreading his chips over the table rather than stacking them neatly like everyone else. If there was ever a more perfect visual metaphor for someone’s state of mind, I’m yet to see it!
However, Nik didn’t seem to have the run-good that’s associated with being drunk, and proceeded to play manically for the rest of the night. While he managed to bluff people off some hands, he also lost some big pots to end down around $100K for the night.
Given his aggressive style, it’s perhaps no surprise that Airball was involved in most of the big pots played in the game. He stacked Berkey early on for a $200K pot when his 84s cracked Berkey’s AA, and also got into a big preflop pot against Jon Robert Bellande.
Tilly started the hand off by raising to $1100 with 96s from early position, JRB 3bet his QQ to $6K after Rob Yong called, and Airball cold 4bet to $30K with AKo from the big blind. The action folded back around to JRB, who shipped in his $200K stack. After a few moments of deliberation, Airball called off, which meant the two were flipping for a $418K pot. The two of them decided to run it twice, and after bricking the first board, Airball hit a king on the second board to chop the pot.
The two would tangle again later on in the night , when Airball would get in AA against JRB’s 66 for a $300K pot. It’s worth noting at this point that Airball is visibly hammered, and after looking down at aces with a $1600 double straddle in front of him, Nik makes it $25K to go. The action folds around to JRB, who ships in his $150K with 66. Airball snaps him off, and JRB decides to run it once.
The 6d appears in the window, and Airball suddenly needs an ace or running diamonds to win. The turn and river were blanks, and JRB won a $300K pot right at the end of the night. It was an inspired decision to run it once after deciding to run it twice earlier, something Airball picked up on, saying, “One time JRB? I guess we’re one time for life.”
If things had worked out differently, we could have laid witness to a seven-figure pot between Airball and Polk. Doug raised to $2000 with QcTc, Airball 3bet to $6500 with AcAh, Tilly and JRB made the call with QhTh and 9h8h respectively, before Doug closed the action with a call. The flop came Kc6c5c, giving Doug the second nuts and Airball aces with the ace high flush draw.
Doug checked, Nik bet $13K into $27K, and Doug called. The turn was the 4d, Doug checked again, and Nik bet $50K - a near pot-size bet. Doug decided to just call again, and on the 7s river, the action checked through, and Doug claimed a $150K pot.
Berkey was also no stranger to a big pot in this game, stacking off early on against Airball, and played two $200K pots against Jennifer Tilly. In the first pot, he got in top two against Jennfier’s top pair and a flush draw for a $200K pot, getting him even shortly after losing his first buy-in. However, Jennifer got her money back a few hours later, rivering a full house while Berkey rivered a flush to claim another $200K pot.
Doug would end up in another big pot later on in the night, tangling with UK businessman Rob Yong. Doug was one of the big winners at the time, whereas Rob was stuck nearly $120K. Bellande opened 7h6h to $4000 on Rob’s straddle, Doug 3bet to $13K, Airball cold called with 99, Rob Yong called with KhQh, and JRB called. The flop came AhTc7s, the action checked to Doug who bet $17K, Airball folded, Rob Yong peeled one off with the gutshot, and JRB folded.
The turn was an action card - the Js, giving Yong the nut straight and Doug two pair. However, sensing danger, Doug Polk checked back the turn after Yong checked to him. Rob snap-checked on the river, letting Doug think it’s safe to value bet. Doug duly obliged and bet $50K into $83K, and Yong instantly made it $200K. After much deliberation, Doug made the call, at which point Yong said, “Good call… for me!” and turned over the straight to win a $487K pot - the biggest of the night.
As the game was winding down, many people didn’t want it to end - one of those people being Nik Airball. When it came to the last hand of the night, he decided he was going to savour the moment, taking over 10 minutes to make a routine turn fold. Either that or he finally succumbed to alcohol poisoning and had a mini-stroke on stream.
Airball started the hand with a double straddle, and Tilly min-raised to $3200 with JhJc. JRB called with Kh5h, Berkey called with 7s5c, and Airball defended his straddle with Ah2s. The flop came Js9s5s, giving Tilly top set, and Airball and Berkey weak flush draws. The action checked to Airball, who made a min bet of $400. Tilly raised to $7000 and the action folded back to Airball who made the call with the 2-high flush draw.
The turn came the Qh, Airball checked, Tilly bet $15K, and Nik insta-raised to $50K. Tilly went into the tank for a short time before shoving her remaining $100K into the pot. At that point, it was time for Airball to go into the tank. He spent nearly 10 minutes on this turn decision before Doug Polk put everyone out of their misery and called the clock. Airball eventually folded, giving Tilly the last pot of the night to end the stream.
High Stakes Poker is well-loved for its behind-the-curtain look into how these big-money games are played, and the earlier seasons did a great job of showing us just how similar their games are to the ones we play in every day. They’re real people playing the game they love, ribbing their friends and firing out needles to make each other laugh.
The recent seasons of HSP have felt much more polished than its previous iterations - like they were trying to create the best-quality poker product rather than a “warts and all” look into the world of high-stakes games. However, this live stream felt much more like a return to form, getting to see high-stakes players in their element, making impressive plays, all while fending off barbs from their tablemates.
It was refreshing to see the personality come back to the game - and while there’s been some debate about how much that matters, this game had a healthy mix of interesting table chat and high-level play.
Some people took issue with the fact that the live stream gave a platform to some of the more antagonistic players, potentially giving them unwarranted credibility in the eyes of the average player.
Others went so far as to call the game a disgrace, calling for the video to be removed from the Poker Go archives forever!
While we can appreciate the game wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, there was no arguing that it was entertaining, and there was still plenty of poker being played. Notable high-stakes pro Andy Stacks had this to say about the game.
While it may have garnered a mixed reception, with over 14,000 live viewers the High Stakes Poker debut live stream has been a resounding success. There was plenty of action, hilarious table talk, and hours of entertainment. When we see games like this, it seems criminal to edit it down to a 45-minute episode - could you imagine being in the editing room trying to work on this episode?
We hope that the success of this stream encourages PokerGo to put on more of these live streams and maybe even release a whole season of High Stakes Poker streams! We can dream, we can dream…
Images courtesy of PokerGo
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