Hype is something that can get the best of all of us, and it certainly applies to the world of poker. We often get excited over some potential matchup between two superstars, only to see that the cards are often in control.
One lucky stretch for one player or the other can make even the juiciest matchups somewhat anticlimactic.
But the hype was more than justified when Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu met for $100,000 in a High Stakes Duel courtesy of PokerGo earlier this week. First of all, the two have engaged in some back-and-forth on social media to set the table in the short term.
But in the long term, these are two of the biggest names in real money poker going back for a few decades now, and any opportunity for them to meet should be relished.
Hellmuth and Negreanu Go Head to Head
For the most part, these two have battled it out in various tournaments and cash games over the years.
But with the head-to-head format catching fire over the past couple of years, with each man involved in some high-profile matchups with others in that span, it seemed just a matter of time that they would find a reason to meet in a one-on-one scenario.
And not surprisingly, it was Hellmuth’s mouth, or at least his social media mouth, that led to this week’s match.
It came about while Negreanu, aka Kid Poker, was struggling against Doug Polk in their “Grudge Match of the Century” earlier this year. Hellmuth had bet on Negreanu, despite the latter being an underdog, and expressed disappointment in Negreanu’s strategy during the match.
Negreanu essentially responded with something like “any time, any place,” and the match was on with Hellmuth, also known as the Poker Brat.
Interestingly enough, betting slightly favored Negreanu coming into the showdown. That was likely because he had just been seasoned in head-to-head action against Polk.
But people were forgetting that Hellmuth had recently dominated fellow legend Antonio Esfandiari in the very same High Stakes Duel format that would be in place against Negreanu.
For much of the early part of the six-hour match held this past Wednesday, Negreanu was firmly in charge. While there really weren’t any overly decisive hands or ones where Negreanu seemed to outsmart Hellmuth, he nonetheless grinded his way to a massive chips advantage.
At Hellmuth’s lowest point, he had about 4% of the chips left in play and was down to just a couple of blinds left before he would be squashed.
At one point, he brandished a box of tissues when Hellmuth complained about his bad luck. He even started to speak of Hellmuth’s streak of wins in head-to-head matches in the past tense, which turned out to be a case of pride goeth before the fall if ever there were one.
Hellmuth started inching his way back a hand at a time. He pulled out some nice river cards for wins, caught Negreanu in a bluff here and there, and—before anyone realized it—he was on firm footing.
Once he took the chip lead from Negreanu, the small trickle of momentum had turned into an avalanche.
Hellmuth pulled out a couple of straights to beat Negreanu’s pairs and sets to solidify the lead while the latter seemed bewildered by the turn of events.
The final straw came when Negreanu’s last 15,000 chips fled when a 6-7 suited ran into Hellmuth’s pair of 9s. Although the flop gave him some hope, neither the turn or the river gave any help to Negreanu, and it was over.
Possible Future Rematch?
It is important to remember that the format for the High Stakes Duel on PokerGo allows for the losing player to call for a rematch at double the stakes. Negreanu indicated upon shaking hands with Hellmuth that one was certainly forthcoming.
But this win had to be a sweet one for Hellmuth, both for the fact that he was underestimated by the oddsmakers and because he had to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In this case, the hype actually fell short of the actual action that transpired.
Let’s hope that the rematch, if it is forthcoming, can be just as entertaining.
WSOP Back Live In 2021
The World Series of Poker went through a wild 2020 season that was instigated by the need to pivot away from a live tournament.
First, they went through an online series in late summer that even crowned a Main Event champion. That was followed by an 11th-hour live Main Event, that featured online early rounds, live final tables, and a head-to-head matchup between the international and United States winners to crown an ultimate champion, which actually didn’t take place until the beginning of 2021.
It appears that this year will feature a return to some form of normalcy. While there will again be an online series in the summer, that will only whet the appetite for a live World Series of Poker that begins in September and runs for the following few months.
That includes a Main Event taking place in November at the Rio in Las Vegas.
Last year’s craziness frustrated some people in that the WSOP seemed to be sending mixed signals. When the online event was announced, organizers claimed that it would have all the prestige of the live version, with actual bracelets and a definitive Main Event champion.
They undercut that in some ways when they came back with the hybrid version at the end of year, which some people saw as somehow delegitimizing the earlier online event.
It was a debate that, hopefully, will have to only come up once, as this year seems like a more traditional setup. For one, the Main Event will go back to an all in-person without any rebuys available, which forces the world’s best to play without a backstop.
And you’ll get all the entertainment value of seeing players at a table together instead of being represented by online icons as digital cards fill the screen.
Obviously, all of this is tentative. It’s assuming that the worldwide health crisis that forced the changes in 2020 eases up to the extent that a massive live event can be possible.
And anything can change in a few months’ time, as the last year has proven again and again. You should probably pencil all of this in for now instead of writing it in ink.
But it is undoubtedly good news that we once again could see the world’s most prestigious professional Texas Hold’em event take place in the way that it was intended to be.
The poker world will all have those dates toward the end of the year circled on their calendars. Stay tuned to see how it all transpires.