I recently read an interview with Antonio Esfandiari where he mentioned the $600,000 pot we played in season seven of High Stakes Poker. He had 7♥8♥, I had pocket fours, and the flop came T♣6♥4♥. We got all the money in, me with a set and Antonio with a double gutter and a straight flush draw. I lost the pot when Antonio turned a flush and I failed to pair the board on the river. At that point, it was the biggest hand Antonio had ever won in his life, while for me, it was the one that really did me in on High Stakes Poker.
I haven't played a high roller event since I lost that pot, whereas it really turned Antonio around. He did really well that session and started playing high roller and super high roller events shortly thereafter. Antonio, of course, went on to win the largest tournament prize ever awarded at the inaugural One Drop event at the WSOP. I almost think the result of that pot ended up sending each of us in different directions.
A lot of people believe pots like that couldn't be real, and I've been asked many times if the hands on High Stakes Poker were set up to induce action. I can guarantee you that was not the case. The reason the hands can look a little bit set up to people is because only the most interesting ones made the cut. When you take out all the boring hands and only leave the compelling ones, it can seem artificial. I remember speaking with one of the producers at the end of an eight-hour session, and he told me the day's action was so boring there was only one hand they might show.
We also played for our own money. Some people sold off action and weren't playing for 100% of themselves whereas I always was. We were paid an appearance fee of $1,250 an hour ($10,000 a session), but everything on the table came out of our own bankrolls. Not only did I have 100% of myself on High Stakes Poker, but that $600,000 pot did some damage, and it changed the course of the events I played in the following years. I have no doubt Antonio would have been successful regardless, but there's a good chance we wouldn't have seen him atop the money list if he hadn't won that pot.
Obviously I could have turned it around with some better play and better luck since then. Like the coach of a losing football team might say, "It's just one play. The last play that went wrong may have cost us the game, but there were all those other plays in between that could have altered our course." This was a memorable hand, a costly hand, but it is just one hand in a long, long poker game.
Barry Greenstein is a member of Team PokerStars Pro