Nostalgia is a powerful feeling — and it sells.
Wednesday evening saw the return of sorts of High Stakes Poker, available on demand at PokerGO, a streaming service dedicated to all things poker. The 45-minute episode took poker fans on a short trip down memory lane for what was once one of the most iconic poker programs on TV, in which the game’s most feared internet players ditched the mice and met face-to-face against the pre-internet era’s legends.
The cast of characters is largely different, unsurprising for a show that has been off the air for nine years, after originally becoming immensely popular on the Game Show Network. The exception during the first episode was Tom Dwan, better known by his online handle “durrrr” back in the original HSP heyday.
These days, at least on HSP, he’s just Dwan — no longer an internet poker wunderkind and now a grizzled 34-year-old poker player. It’s unclear if he considers himself a poker pro these days. The show’s hosts — Gabe Kaplan and AJ Benza — remarked how there is no “durrrr” anymore. The now defunct poker site, Full Tilt Poker, was where Dwan, a native of New Jersey, rose from the low stakes to the nosebleeds, winning and losing millions of dollars like money was nothing but ammunition in a war of attrition for online poker supremacy.
The swings were like nothing seen today in the world of online poker. According to the poker tracking website HighstakesDB, durrrr was a $7.3 million winner on Full Tilt in July 2009, but by November of that year he was more than $1 million in the hole. In April 2010, he was an $8.2 million winner. He gave a lot back, before settling in as a roughly $2 million winner on that site alone when all was said and done.
The swings were stomach-churning for observers but not far out of the ordinary at the top of the online poker mountain at the time. In the live poker realm, where Dwan and everyone else could no longer play a handful of tables simultaneously, High Stakes Poker became his stomping ground. Dwan lit the poker world on fire with some of his extraordinary and brilliant bluffs on HSP, sometimes making him look utterly unstoppable. Durrrr had become a verb. To be “durrrr’d” was to be borderline embarrassed in a large pot by a man who could seemingly show up with any two cards, displaying a loose-aggressive style that very few people could play without running into catastrophe. Dwan was a special player.
The original HSP aired during an unprecedented era of poker, when there was a seemingly limitless source of funding for the high stakes community. One factor is a stain on poker’s history. It turned out that the owners of Full Tilt Poker were not content with just the rake revenue and also dipped into player deposits to enrich themselves, helping fuel a poker ecosystem that provided ample opportunity for a sort of rags-to-riches poker story like Dwan’s. It’s said that he began his poker career as a teenager with a $50 deposit.
Money almost did grow on trees back then, but Dwan could still send the heart rate of any poker player skyrocketing, leaving many shaking their heads as the dealer pushed a pot worth a house or two to Dwan.
‘Seven years ago he might have just emptied the clip’
One of the notable pots from episode one of the HSP reboot was a relatively calm pot, albeit worth $148,000, Dwan played against former MLB player Mike Schwimer. Dwan had pocket jacks but was out-flopped when Schwimer’s 10-9 hit two pair. Schwimer was able to string Dwan along, milking him for a $20,000 value bet on the river that was less than 20% of the pot.
At an earlier point in the hand, it looked like Dwan was about to make a spectacular fold, something he long ago showed he’s also capable of doing, but he ended up not finding the fold button here.
“Seven years ago he might have just emptied the clip on you,” Jean-Robert Bellande, a longtime Las Vegas-based poker player, said to Schwimer as he was raking in the chips after the relatively small bet on the river. Bellande was referring to back to when such an obvious value bet might have resulted in Dwan check-raising all in and putting Schwimer to the test with a marginal hand.
“If he did that I was folding like a cheap suit,” Schwimer replied.
“Really?” Dwan perked up.
“No, hell no, you know me better than that,” Schwimer said.
Dwan smiled and appeared to look slightly to the side off into the distance, a familiar mannerism for anyone who has observed Dwan over the years.
“The old Tom Dwan might have emptied the clip on you,” Bellande reiterated.
Who knows what Schwimer would have done, but the Dwan of 2020 didn’t even appear to have contemplated a brazen bluff in this hand.
According to Dwan, he ran like a god
Age will humble a person. In poker, it’s the wisdom acquired from those years of dealing with the ups and downs on the felt. Dwan appears to look back at the old HSP days as the peak of his poker career, but he’s honest enough with himself to know that the public perception of him from the show didn’t exactly square with the reality of the game of no-limit hold’em.
“So I talked about High Stakes Poker a lot,” Dwan reminisced in an aside during episode one of the new HSP. “People have asked me questions over these years. One thing I’ll usually say is that when those shows were filmed it was a lucky time for me. I think I was, I don’t remember each exact year, but often I was quite at the top of my no-limit game and usually a bit ahead of most people in the game. But I think on a lot of days that meant I should have rated to be the biggest winner by a little bit, or one of the biggest winners.
“There was probably a little bit of a skill edge, but I happened to get really lucky also, so every decision I made I just looked like a genius, and obviously I’ve played plenty of shows and tournaments where I’ve ran bad, but High Stakes Poker was not one of them. Yeah, I ran pretty good.”
Some of those people he looked like a genius against were the likes of Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey, two Poker Hall of Famers. Many regard Ivey as the great poker player who has ever lived. You have to be 40 years of age to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, and it appears likely that Dwan is destined for induction for the mark he left on poker when the game was arguably at its zenith.
“He seems to be playing a little different,” Kaplan said of Dwan during the show. “It’s not as entertaining, but I think he’s going to be more successful with this style. He seems to be reading people pretty well and more in tune with the game. He seems to be a more mature Tom Dwan.”
Since 2011, Dwan, who calls Macau home (at least before COVID-19) and reportedly has played extensively over there in cash games, has made the money in just six major live poker tournaments — and none at the World Series of Poker, still the game’s biggest stage. Does Dwan’s time on the new HSP mean he’s all in on poker glory once again? Will he become a fixture in a second poker wave made possible by state-by-state regulation of online poker in the wake of online sports betting (the new gambling craze) going mainstream?
Time will tell, but without a doubt he’s still one of the game’s most compelling players to watch.