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Throwback: Remembering ‘The Big Game’ Television Series on Fox

Rewind to the USA in 2010 and we were in the height of the poker craze. Casinos were full, online poker was booming and young maths geniuses were discovering that if you were clever enough, there was a lot of money to be made from playing poker.

But watching poker was also immensely popular. The best poker players became more and more well-known and there was an ever-greater amount of people tuning in to their television sets just to see their favorite poker players.

Names like Phil Helmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Tony G were entertainers as well as poker players which is why television producers and directors, Max Mayer, Jason Wald and Brian Lockwood came together in order to create a brand new poker show for the Fox Network, The Big Game.

Poker shows on television were nothing new in 2010. In fact, prior to The Big Game, there had been several successful TV poker series, most notably, Poker After Dark, which premiered on NBC in 2007. However, The Big Game was bringing something new to the televised poker scene, it allowed several lucky amateurs to take on the best poker players in the world.

The Big Game Format

An amateur known as the ‘loose cannon’ is staked $100,000. The loose cannon then has 150 hands of Texas hold’em poker in order to increase his/her starting stack against five other players, who stake their own money. The five other players are mostly made up of professional poker players although they can also consist of sports athletes, businessmen and other well-heeled amateurs. The rule is that loose cannons get to keep all winning in excess of the initial $100,000.

In order to become a ‘loose cannon’ he/she must first make it through qualifying rounds on – a poker website which were sponsors of The Big Game.

The show aired five episodes per each loose cannon. The highest earning loose cannon at the end of the season wins an additional prize – a North American Poker Tour (NAPT) passport valued at $50,000.

Notable Players who Played The Big Game

•Phil Helmuth
•Daniel Negreanu
•Tony G
•Jennifer Tilly
•Phil Laak
•Doyle Brunson
•Andrew Robl
•Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier
•Vanessa Rousso
•William Perkins

Notable Moments during The Big Game

The Big Game featured numerous unforgettable moments. However, the highlight of several shows was when Lithuanian/Australian poker pro Tony G faced off against America’s Phl Hellmuth. These showdowns would pit poker’s worst loser (Helmuth) against poker’s worst winner (Tony G). Whenever these two faced off on the big game, Tony G always came out on top and this would ensure that fireworks would ensue. A mixture of bad plays, bad luck and extremely bad sportsmanship ensured Phil Helmuth (aka the poker brat) ended up losing over $200,000 in total over both seasons the show aired for.

Tony G vs Phil Helmuth

The most controversial moment as well as the most exciting happened in Season 2 week six of the Big Game. “All in without looking” said Tony G to Phil Helmuth as he clearly looked at his cards. Without spoiling it too much for you, Tony G certainly did look at his cards and fooled Helmuth into moving his whole stack into the middle. You can see the whole hand for yourself here:

Loose Cannon vs Phil Helmuth

Unfortunately for Phil Helmuth, the most entertaining moments on The Big Game (of which there were many) almost all included him. In this hand, Helmuth loses a pot worth over $200,000 to the loose cannon David Fishman. As usual, the rest of the players at the table do their utmost to rile Helmuth up following the showdown where Fishman reveals he has the best hand possible for the board, a straight, beating out Helmuth’s two pair. Helmuth goes on to launch a tirade of abuse to his fellow players and even the dealer:

Why did The Big Game End?

The Big Game aired for a total of two seasons, but it was not lack of ratings that called an end to The Big Game. On April 15, 2011, along with almost every other online poker website was forced to shut down by the U.S Attorney’s Office to players from the USA. SInce 2011, Pokerstars has not been able to allow any person in the USA to gamble on its website for real money. The NAPT, which was run by Pokerstars immediately ceased operation and the main prize for the loose cannon was cancelled.

The charges against Pokerstars were filed prior to the airing of the second season of The Big Game. However, since it had already been filmed, the final season ran in the months after the NAPT was dismantled. The winning loose cannon in series 2 was eventually given a passport to the European Poker Tour (EPT). PokerStars and other poker sites are still accessible to players outside of the USA.

Will we see another Big Game?

The popularity of poker around the world has unfortunately fallen. Playing high stakes online poker has become a sea of sharks such are the skills possessed by players now. Online casinos such as still offer poker related games, however, casino gaming has become much more popular since the end of 2010. To this day in 2020, the US online poker market remains restricted to players playing within US borders.

However, should online poker in the US become legal once more, we should expect to see more live poker related TV shows. Most poker shows that were formerly aired in the USA are free to watch via YouTube and have racked up millions of views.