High Stakes Poker Season 11 debut: Queens, kings, & jesters

Mo Afdhal
Published by:
Posted on: April 28, 2023 4:09 am EDT

For full updates from our live behind-the-scenes stream, check out the PokerOrg Instant Live feed from High Stakes Poker.

If it had been any other poker show, everyone would have said it got off to a quiet start. In a normal world, the poker would have made the noise. At the start of this one, you couldn’t hear yourself think, let alone hear any actual poker.

The first-ever live-streamed High Stakes Poker event, the start of its eleventh season, looked more like what participant Jennifer Tilly playfully called “The Real Housewives.”

There was laughing. So much laughing. Some would say cackling. A polite way to put it was that spirits ran high and the mood felt light and fun, if somewhat pointedly directed at the Man Without a Country, Matt Berkey–the guy who had beef with more than half the starting field.

But, hey, Jennifer Tilly decked out in a princess-style tiara that declared her the Instigator of Chaos, took down the first pot of the night and it seemed that maybe–just maybe–it would be just another night of high-stakes poker.

Yeah, right.

Early fireworks: a big one between Airball and Berkey

The first sizable pot happened between Tilly and Upswing Poker founder Doug Polk. Polk’s flopped bottom set took Tilly’s rivered two-pair straight to value town, just in time for Rob Yong to arrive fashionably late and recording on his phone (both of which had been declared verboten by the PokerGo producers).

The real fireworks kicked off when the action folded to Berkey with A♠️A♦️ in the small blind. Nik Airball, sitting just to Berkey’s left had 8♦️4♦️. Berkey went for the sneaky call, but Airball didn’t take the bait and simply checked back his option.

The flop fell J♦️7❤️2♦️ and Berkey opted for the check-raise. Airball wasn’t going anywhere.

On the turn K♣, Berkey over-bet the pot and Airball called. The flush came home for him on the river with the 5♦️.

Facing a roughly half-pot sizing, Airball put Berkey all-in, and after a bit of deliberation (or mourning), Berkey mades the call.

The aftermath was ugly. Airball reached over and raked in Berkey’s stacks, refusing to allow him to pay out the pot with larger denomination chips. The quote in the graphic below is not made up.

And this is when Airball was still ostensibly sober.

Berkey battled back later in a pot vs. Jennifer Tilly with his top two-pair holding up against Tilly’s top pair plus nut flush draw. The money went in on the turn and Berkey held across two river run-outs. As Berkey collected the chips, there were, notably, no jokes at his expense as there had been earlier.

“…The Roast of Doug”

In an unexpected turn of events, many of the early needlings came at Polk’s expense. From CoinFLEX to Polk’s self-promotional outfit, to his YouTube content, to the fact that he sold action for the game, it was open season. Rob Yong (with no tiara to prove it) played instigator for most of the ribbings, taking it to Polk about videos featuring questionable play from Yong.

By and by, Jean-Robert Bellande arrived–slightly-less-fashionably late–and got the lowdown on what he missed.

Lynne Ji informed him, “JRB, you missed Rob’s two hour-long bit that we called The Roast of Doug.”

Tilly capped the Roast of Doug as only she could.

“Can I still invest in CoinFLEX?” she asked.

Polk finds the fold button–twice

In two hands that came nearly back-to-back, Polk found himself in two tough river spots.

The first came against Airball when Polk flopped top pair with A♠J♦️ on the 9♦️A♦️T❤️ flop. Airball, with the K❤️J❤️ , flopped a gutshot with backdoor-flush possibilities.

After Polk’s bet and a call from Airbal, the turn 2❤️ ensured Airball would pay to see the river.

That river rolled in for him with the 6❤️. Polk wisely checked to Airball who bet $100,000 into $46,000, a sizable over-bet. Polk glanced back at his cards and shipped them to the dealer–basically a snap fold.

The second hand, with the straddle on from Polk, saw Lynne Ji raise up the A♦️9♦️ and action fold around to Polk, who put in the call with 5♠️5❤️. The flop came down 2♦️J♦️5♣. Polk checked his set of fives over to Ji, who fired $3,000 into $5,100.

Polk wasted no time in raising to $11,000. Ji promptly matched the bet. The turn K♦️ was the money card for her. Polk, now with the betting lead, fired out for $19,000. Again, Ji called. The river 7♠ changed nothing, but Polk, sensing the trap, checked.

Ji deliberated for about 15 seconds and moved all-in for her remaining $130,000. This time, Polk agonized over the decision. The set of fives he held was much stronger than his holding against Airball. Nevertheless, he came to the right decision again and mucked his cards.

The game hits the muck

Two hours into the session, Polk topped the leaderboard, up about $80,000. The rabid table talk overshadowed the poker, and the slowdown prompted commentator Nick Schulman to exclaim, “Okay, let’s go. Time for somebody to get stacked…brutally. This has been a little bit insane, actually. No crazy ones. Let’s go, guys.”

At that moment, Polk asked the table, “Are we drinking?”

We’ll never know what might have happened if the answer had been “no.” But the answer was, “Oh, yes, we are.”

For a full accounting of the entire stream, check out the PokerOrg Instant Live feed from High Stakes Poker.

Big hands collide

After a few more orbits, Schulman’s wish started coming true.

Tilly opened the action with the 6♦️9♦️, but Bellande woke up behind with the real hand–Q❤️Q♣–and put in the re-raise. Airball, in the big blind, looked down at A♣K❤️ and bumped it up to $30,000. The action folded back to JRB who opted to put in the rest of his money.

Airball stewed for a moment while getting a count from the dealer. He eventually made the call. The players agreed to run the action twice and, with $418,100 in the middle, each won a single board.

Everyone loves a chop pot, right?….right?

Not so much.

Berkey and Tilly were the next two to tango. The pre-flop action was unorthodox: a raise from Ji with A♠Q♣ and just a call from Tilly with K❤️K♦️. The pot odds let Berkey see a cheap flop from the big blind with J♣3♣. The flop–5♣2♠4❤️– saw Ji check, Tilly bet, Berkey raise, and thena third bet from Tilly.

With $37,000 in the pot, the turn K♣️ somehow went check-check. Sneaky Tilly.

The 4♣ river gave Tilly a full house and Berkey a flush, just enough to double Tilly up when she jammed in her $84,000 facing Berkey’s river bet.

JRB weathers the storm with sailboats

This hand was one of the more interesting of the night.

JRB found himself in the middle of a fairly sizable pot without much of a hand. The double straddle– $1,600–was on courtesy of Airball. Persson came in with a raise to $5,800 with K♦️9♣. Bellande, in the small blind, called with 4♠4❤️, which prompted Polk to follow behind with 4♦️4♣. The straddlers cleared out and, with all the fours accounted for, it was a nice spot for Persson to outdraw or steal the pot.

The flop–6♣J♣2♠–didn’t connect for Persson, and the action checked through to the 8♣ on the turn. Bellande, clubless, lead into the field for $12,000. The bet shed Polk, but induced a bluff-raise from Persson to $42,000. Bellande didn’t think too long before calling. The river J♠ saw the action go check- check and Bellande announced, “Two-pair.”

When Bellande tabled his fours and Persson mucked, Polk jumped up out of his chair in shock.

Bellande, unmoved, raked in the chips.

Brent Hanks, secured away in the commentary booth could only say, “What did we just witness?”

Biggest pot yet: Yong vs. Polk

Yong’s $800 straddle was on, and JRB raised his 7❤️6❤️ to $4,000. Polk, next to act, re-raised to $13,000 with J❤️T❤️. Airball called behind with 9♦️9♣, and Yong looked down at K❤️Q❤️ and completed the action with a call. The 7♠T♣A❤️ flop connected Polk who fired out $17,000. Yong, with a gut-shot straight draw and backdoor flush hopes, called.

The action card came on the turn. The J♠ gave Yong the nut straight and Polk two-pair. A pot-control check-back from Polk yielded a 3♦️ blank on the river. Yong cleverly set the trap and checked to Polk, who took the bait and bet out for $50,500. Yong took a moment before raising to $200,000. The raise brought Polk to his feet. Polk, admitting he was in a tough spot, took his time, but ultimately called.

Yong got cheeky, offering, “Good call…for me”

Bellande, sober and salty, dubbed it, “The Creative Slow-Roll.”

Remember when they started drinking?

It had to happen.

There was no avoiding it once Airball started in on the wine. His wine. Ji’s wine. All the wine the Aria would bring. Airball began badgering Berkey to raise the stakes to $500/$1,000. Berkey held his line, offering to play Airball whenever he wanted, but refusing to raise the stakes in the moment.

Berkey said, “We can always negotiate. We can finish this challenge. You’re buried. I’m not gonna let you out.”

That’s when Airball let the Pinot take over.

He started to scream.

“If I’m so bad, let’s fucking set a min (buy-in). Let’s kick it up! Why are you so scared to kick it up?”

Walking away from the table, Airball screamed, “You play a $30K stack! Don’t f—ing talk to me!”

The ragged end, and a new monarchy

As the night wound down and play looked to be coming to an end, Airball unsurprisingly ended up involved in the two pots most folks will remember. Neither is what a modern poker player would call standard.

The first happened with the double straddle on. Airball–first to act–woke up with A❤️A♦️. And so, he raised… to $25,000.

By this point, while the game had gotten a little more lively with cocktails, only Airball seemed overly afflicted. He’d been chugging glasses of wine like a fraternity guy might attack tallboys of Keystone Light (and belching with the same effect).

Whether an act or an affliction, the image worked perfectly to induce Bellande into jamming his entire $148,000 stack with 6♠6❤️.

They only ran it once, and that one time saw the 6♦️ and no more aces. Bellande, who had been suffering all night, found himself in a much better spot.

That could have easily been how the night ended. No more insanity. No more wine. No more–oh, wait. There is one more hand to go.

The Princess and the Pinot

Tilly, who had never removed her tiara, faced Airball’s $1,600 straddle and raised with J❤️J♣️. Bellande and Berkey tagged along, as did Airball with A❤️2♠️.

The flop fell J♠️9♠️5♠️, and Airball offered a donk-lead for $400. Tilly, who had allowed her knife-wielding Chucky doll to decamp to the faux-bar behind her, raised to $7,000. Airball, with some sort of plan (or something) called. On the Q❤️ turn, Tilly led the betting for $15,000. Airball sprung his trap and raised to $50,000.

Tilly took her time, and that gave Airball time to talk about a lot of things–his potential holdings, his admiration for Tilly, his level of sobriety. At one point, it began to sound like some odd modern poetry, at which point Tilly cut Airball off. She ripped in her final $157,000.

Bear in mind, this game was over, no matter what happened. The rest of the players had already racked up. Minutes passed. Airball covered his face. He put his head down. He buried his cards under his scattered chips. He offered Tilly the opportunity to go to dinner and come back to learn whether he called or folded. Ultimately, Polk–who had recently been allied with Airball in a grudge match against Berkey–called the clock, if only to save Tilly’s dinner reservation. It was, in a word, surreal.

Nick Schulman–stuck in the booth and wondering how he’d ever ended up in this spot–spoke for everyone who had just witnessed the stream.

Schulman said to his co-host, “Brent, what the f— is going on right now?”

No one knew, really. But Airball eventually muttered “Fold” into his hands, and the stream was over.

For months, Airball had been declaring himself the King of LA poker, and somehow when it was all over, Tilly, still decked in her tiara, looked like a queen.

For a full accounting of the entire stream, check out the PokerOrg Instant Live feed from High Stakes Poker.