Tony G Trolls Phil Hellmuth & 4 Other Epic Moments from the PokerStars Big Game
After more than 12 years in hibernation, the PokerStars Big Game show will return to the airwaves in 2024. For those who weren't around the poker world in the pre-Black Friday era (early 2010s), you missed out on some entertaining moments from what was and will be again one of poker's most iconic shows ever.
The Big Game is a unique cash game show that pits an amateur, dubbed the "loose cannon," against pros. In 2010-2011, when it originally aired, players such as Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and Doyle Brunson appeared to take on the loose cannons, who were staked to play in the high-stakes games. At the end of each episode, the amateur would get to leave with any profits they accumulated throughout the session.
If you're new to this PokerStars classic, or an old fan who wants to relive some memories, we present to you five of the most entertaining Big Game moments (in no particular order).
Read more about the return of the PokerStars Big Game here!
"Of Course I Lied. It's Poker!"
Hellmuth and Tony G were not only two of the most colorful players in the game during the poker boom era. They were also rivals, at least during televised shows. There were a number of Phil vs. Tony G hands we could have included, but this one stands out.
As you can see in the video above, Hellmuth made it $6,600 preflop the size of the pot in a pot-limit hold'em game with AJ. Tony G then announced all in, but could only legally make it $21,600 with AK. He claimed to have not looked at his cards and raised in the dark, which wasn't true.
"If you haven't looked, then I guess I'll just move in," Hellmuth then said before pushing his entire $30,500 stack in the middle.
Hellmuth turned his cards over before seeing that his opponent had him dominated. "Oh, you lied," an astute "Poker Brat" uttered. "Of course I lied, it's poker. What do you think this is?" Tony G responded.
The board ran out QQK7J, and the best preflop hand held up. On the way out, Tony G, as he often did to an opponent he busted back in that era, taunted Hellmuth.
Vanessa Rousso Serves Up a Heavy Dose of Karma
Vanessa Rousso, now a retired poker pro and former PokerStars ambassador, gave Tony G a taste of his own medicine in one of the most epic hands in televised poker history.
In a blind-versus-blind situation, Antanas Guoga (aka "Tony G") raised to $1,200 with 65 before beginning to chirp at Rousso, who woke up with AA in the big blind. She opted to slowplay her hand and just made the call.
"I bet two thousand," Tony G said before the dealer exposed the flop. "It's fair, you know. I think it's better betting in the dark."
The flop would come out 6J5, a lucky two pair for the former Lithuanian politician. Tony G continued talking, and Rousso, without saying a word, let it be known she wasn't entertained by his antics. She was done slow-playing her pocket rockets and raised the dark bet to $5,600, unaware that she was behind.
Tony G then three-bet to $20,000 before attempting to talk his opponent into moving all in with an inferior hand.
"You ready? If you win the hand, you keep me quiet," Tony G informed the former poker pro, which generated a laugh from everyone at the table except Rousso.
Rousso just called to see the A on the turn, which completely changed the direction of the hand around in her favor. Tony G again bet out, this time for $10,000. "You can shut me right up," he then said, and his bet earned a call.
The river was the 5, the ultimate action card, giving both players a full house. Tony G had already checked in the dark.
"Now you've got to show some guts," a taunting Tony G informed his opponent. "Can you bet this or are you going to make a really weak check on the end?"
Rousso then moved all in for $65,000 and received a snap-call. She quickly announced "aces full" and took down the $192,800 pot. Justice was served.
Selbst's $170k Punt
Vanessa Selbst, the winningest live poker tournament player ever among women, has never been afraid to pull the trigger on a massive bluff. But she picked one awful spot against Prahlad Friedman to try one of her pantented bluffs on the Big Game.
Selbst raised it up to $1,700 with J7 before Friedman, who was holding AA, made it $4,000. The former long-time PokerStars Team Pro member then four-bet it to $13,200.
Friedman, who was in position, had a decision to make call and set the trap or end the hand with a big re-raise. He opted for the latter, five-betting to $35,000, except that wasn't the end of the hand. Selbst was content on making a move with jack-high, so she raised again to $106,200, the size of the pot. But then the all in bet ($170,000) came and she was pot committed.
Both players agreed to run out the board three times, all of which were favorable to the pocket aces. Friedman collected the entire $340,000 pot, while Selbst exited stage left.
Hellmuth and Perkins Rivalry
If Hellmuth vs. Tony G wasn't the biggest rivalry on the Big Game, it was Hellmuth vs. Bill Perkins, a wealthy hedge fund manager who was relatively new to the televised high-stakes poker scene at the time.
Despite being an amateur and far less experienced than the now 17-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner, Perkins didn't back down from the bratty poker legend. The two would tangle on numerous occasions for some huge pots. They also traded verbal jabs quite a few times.
In one instance, the trash-talking Poker Hall of Famer predicted the amateur would lose $100,000.
"Well thanks for the vote of confidence, Mr. Cocky," a sarcastic Perkins responded.
"I'm just speaking the truth, man," Hellmuth jabbed back.
"No, you're speaking your opinion ... man," Perkins said. "Yeah, well that's just your opinion. I don't think so highly of it. Just because you're married to a woman for 20 years doesn't mean that I'm going to tolerate you. Relax, buddy, you may be able to push other people around, but not me."
Loose Cannon Hits a Straight Flush, Goes for Max Value
Part of what made the Big Game so entertaining was watching regular folks receive a $100,000 stake and have the opportunity to win some life-changing money. Bobby Ferdinand, a loose cannon, played the pot of his life in one episode against Twitch poker legend and PokerStars ambassador Lex Veldhuis.
With $9,000 in the pot on a flop of 976, Ferdinand had the nuts with 108 and a straight flush draw to boot. Veldhuis bet $5,600 with Q9 for top pair, and then called a $65,800 shove with 3% equity. The turn was the 2, which secured the $140,600 pot for the loose cannon. But the river 9 gave the loose cannon a straight flush for the cherry on top.
How to Qualify for the PokerStars Big Game
At the NAPT Las Vegas on November 5, PokerStars is running exclusive satellites giving players the chance to qualify for The Big Game on Tour for free. Shootout tournaments will see 20 winners advance to the casting stage on November 6-7, where they will audition for a seat in the game.
A panel of judges, including the show's hosts, Hartigan and Stapleton, will decide which two players they think are deserving of an invitation to be staked $50,000 so they can rub shoulders with some truly great opponents.
PokerStars is keeping its cards close to its chest regarding The Big Game on Tour's line-up, but you should get some idea when two $100/$200 No-Limit Hold'em cash game tables run at NAPT Las Vegas on November 8-9.
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