In the recent head-to-head craze that has been sweeping the world of poker, no one has been more aggressive in taking on all comers than Phil Galfond.
The so-called “Galfond Challenge” was a gauntlet thrown down to the real money poker realm, inviting all kinds of individuals to compete in head-to-head matches with him. And Galfond, to this point, has come out pretty unscathed in the matches played so far.
Well, his record is still pretty spotless after his most recent match with Brandon Adams. But some controversy leaked into the duel and caused both players to reset and, in a way, start it all over again. It all came down to accusations of tanking which were lodged by Adams against Galfond.
For those who are unaware, “tanking” in poker terminology means something far different than it does in other parts of the sports world. In team sports, tanking has been used to describe the act of losing on purpose without making it obvious that you’re trying to do so.
Teams often do this by resting non-injured star players or sending out poor lineups in the hopes that they’ll end up with a worse record and, in turn, come away with better draft picks to help them rebuild.
But tanking players in poker aren’t trying to lose. They are just taking more time than others might find acceptable.
When a player goes “in the tank,” it means they are sitting for a long stretch deciding how to play a hand, even when it seems pretty obvious what their move should be to the rest of the world.
In the context of the Galfond-Adams match, tanking became an issue this week because of the structure of the match.
The two were scheduled for a total of 40 hours of pot-limit Omaha, with the winner not only getting the profits but also the proceeds from a hefty side bet ($400,000 for Adams if he won, $100,00 for Galfond if he won).
The two had been grinding away at it for several sessions and Galfond had forged a solid, though not insurmountable, advantage.
Earlier this week, Adams and Galfond paused their match. There were about 15 ½ hours to go, and Galfond was sitting on a lead of $48,000.
Galfond responded that he was abiding by the time limits that were put in place by the duo at the start of the match. But Adams complained that, while Galfond may not have been violating the exact letter of those terms, he was betraying the spirit of the match they had envisioned.
The fact that it was a live poker event—the only one that Galfond has taken on in his various challenges (all others have been online)—made the tanking even more excruciating in Adams’ point of view, especially for those who were watching it via streaming services.
Adams and Galfond Agree to a New Format
As is so often the case these days, social media was used as an adjudicator. The pair turned to other poker players and the chosen mediators, Max Silver and Isaac Haxton, did the math on the time remaining and the usual time that a hand takes.
There would be 338 total hands remaining in the match. The two players went right back at it after the decision and played just over 100 more hands, with Adams cutting the lead to $16,500.
But another problem then arose. Neither player was at all happy with the new format, saying that it resembled just your average tournament. That forced another pivot from Galfond and Adams.
As far as who is right and who is wrong in this dustup, that depends perhaps on your perspective. On the one hand, Galfond’s goal was to win the match, and playing fast with a lead would likely have come off as foolhardy.
If the pair were worried about the possibility of tanking, they could have put in stricter time limits at the start.
With that said, anyone sitting around watching Galfond pontificate on decisions for endless moments probably could see Adams’ point of view.
It’s a tough call either way. But the bottom line is that Galfond gets a “W,” albeit with an asterisk, and still hasn’t been knocked off in any of his challenge matches to this point, which have netted him close to $1 million in profit.
Hellmuth Keeps It Rolling
The latest challenger chosen to face Phil Hellmuth tried to sustain his recent head-to-head winning streak was someone who was a bit off the beaten path from a player you might expect.
But he turned out to be a pretty stout competitor, someone who really gave Hellmuth a literal run for his money. Still, in the end, Hellmuth’s streak of High Stakes Duel victories was extended to seven in a row.
To recap, Hellmuth took on Nick Wright. While a poker enthusiast for sure, Wright’s actual calling card is as a popular talk show host on Fox Sports.
But he proved that he was far from an unqualified wannabe by posing a real threat to the poker legend’s supremacy in the duel format utilized by PokerGo.
The $50,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em Poker showdown looked like a mismatch on paper. But Wright came out swinging and took an early, significant lead in the match.
As for Hellmuth, whose six-match streak to that point included three-in-a-row sweeps of established poker stars Antonio Esfandiari and Daniel Negreanu, it looked like he might end up on the wrong end of a major upset.
But he once again proved his mettle in a very tough situation. He had won the first match against Negreanu after spotting him a major lead. Against Wright, he had to overcome a similar deficit of nearly two chips to one as he scuffled through the first few hours.
Eventually, Hellmuth’s experience started to win out as Wright struggled to maintain his momentum. The final hand was a frustrating cooler for Wright, as both players ended up with flushes but Hellmuth had the higher top card.
It took 5 ½ hours to get through, but Hellmuth finally came away with the victory.
Hellmuth made it clear that he would prefer that to happen, since playing an amateur is a kind of no-win situation for professional poker players. When you win, everyone says you were supposed to. But if you lose, your status takes a major hit.
Well, it turns out Hellmuth’s wishes have been granted, as Wright made his announcement that he has decided to forego a rematch.
While Wright’s time commitment as a full-time TV personality had something to do with it, the financial burden of coming up with another $100K certainly played into it.
Chances are that a rematch would have seen Hellmuth’s skill level and experience much more in command that time around, which meant that Wright would have coughed up serious dough on a long-shot chance.
Looking for a New Challenger
Now that Wright is out of the picture, the question now becomes who will step in to replace him in the middle of this duel. The two names that have bandied about the most are Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey.
Dwan was apparently the second choice behind both Negreanu and Wright for the last two Duels, so maybe he’ll finally get his chance this time.
Some might say that this win doesn’t do much to enhance Hellmuth’s reputation, considering the reputation of Wright as a poker player coming into it. But anybody who watched the match could tell that Wright was far more accomplished than your average neophyte.
Hellmuth had to earn this victory, for sure.
On top of that, the seven wins in a row is clearly evidence that Hellmuth knows what he’s doing in this format.
Considering that the matches are relatively short (compared to other head-to-head duels), it means that variance for them should conceivably be pretty high from duel to duel. In other words, the chances, all things being equal, of a player winning seven in a row are extremely small.
Now, consider that Hellmuth has perpetrated this streak against the cream of the crop of the poker world and it becomes abundantly clear what an accomplishment this is.
Maybe Dwan and Ivey will come along and blow the streak out of the water when they meet with Hellmuth. Even if that’s the case, we should definitely be impressed by what the all-time great has achieved in this recent stretch.
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