Mori Eskandani Talks HSP and History of Televised Poker

history of televised poker
During his latest podcast, Daniel Negreanu chatted with Mori Eskandani, one of the people who helped make the history of televised poker (source:

There is no doubt that we’ve all enjoyed shows like High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark and were sad to see them go away. But have you ever wondered how these shows got to be on the TV in the first place? How was the idea of High Stakes Poker born?

What is the history of televised poker?

The answer to these and many other related questions were provided by one of true industry insiders Mori Eskandani who was a guest for the latest poker podcast by Daniel ‘KidPoker’ Negreanu. Daniel and Mori covered a lot of ground during their chat, and we are bringing you just a few highlights from the one hour interview.

The full podcast can be located here, and the Mori part starts at the 54 minute mark.

Making history of televised poker: The birth of HSP

You may or may not have heard the name Henry Ornestein but if you enjoy watching poker on TV, he is the man who made it possible. Ornestein came up with the concept of the hole card camera, the invention that changed the history of televised poker forever.

Henry had some other ideas on his mind when he created the first fully TV-ready poker table (which, apparently, cost him around $600,000), but his initial idea about gathering top pros and having them play on TV, with people betting on the winner, flopped.

However, it was just a beginning.

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The first big show to be aired on TV was Poker Superstars and it was the one that kicked everything off. The show was quite popular with the audiences and WSOP coverage also started to receive more attention with the introduction of the hole card cams. This didn’t go unnoticed with the big TV networks.

history of televised poker
High Stakes Poker, the show that left a huge mark on the history of televised poker and remains to this day the best poker show to ever air

The GSN (Game Show Network) approached Ornestein and Eskandani and asked them to create a show for the network. Initially, they were interested in making a show that revolved around the tournament play and was more gimmicky in nature.

Johnny Chan’s Contribution to the history of televised poker

However, all that changed one night at the Bellagio when the GSN people happened to be there when Johnny Chan himself casually walked by and casually told his bad beat story to Mori.

I’ve just lost $700k pot, started Johnny, and proceeded to explain the hand.

However, GSN producers lit up like a Christmas tree at the mention of $700,000 exchanging hands. They were interested in what he meant by that, and when Eskandani explained them the concept of cash games, especially the high limit ones, where pots would surge into the six and sometimes even seven figure territory, they were hooked.

history of televised poker
Johnny Chan, the man who unwittingly helped create High Stakes Poker, was also one of the regular players on the show

The next day they called Mori and asked him if he could make this “cash game” happen on TV. Mori agreed, and the rest is, as they say, the history.

Or, better yet, history of televised poker.

Picking players for the show

Eskandani also revealed some details about how he picked players for the show. He explained it was often hard for him because everyone wanted to be a part of the history of televised poker, but there was no way he could bring every single player to the High Stakes Poker table. It being a TV show after all, decisions had to be made.

While poker on its own was highly entertaining, he also needed to put together players that would create some banter, needling, and friendly chatter. The GSN, like any TV network out there, was all about ratings, and good atmosphere at the tables was certainly very important to people watching.

HSP becomes a landmark of the history of televised poker

From the first episode which was a real struggle, as they needed to come up with some sort of the storyline to accompany the game, High Stakes Poker grew into the most watched poker show in the history. Their numbers were off the charts and surpassed the network’s initial expectations by far.

Sadly, after the Black Friday HSP was discontinued. Mori went on to join the Poker After Dark crew which was another great and very popular show, but it never succeeded to surpass High Stakes Poker in terms of popularity and fan base.

history of televised poker
While Poker After Dark certainly has its place in the history of televised poker, it still comes second best to HSP

The full interview is about an hour long, but it is well worth your time if you enjoy poker tales from the old days.

I can personally say that I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, but then again, I’ve never tried to hide my love and admiration for High Stakes Poker which, in my opinion, was the best poker show ever and the best future shows can hope for is to come close.

I hope someone can prove me wrong, but somehow don’t see it happening.

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