For more than a year, the world of real money poker has watched intently as Phil Hellmuth has been impeccable in major showdowns, all of them coming as part of the High Stakes Duel format at PokerGo. Competitors came and went, and Phil’s streak continued. When he squared off with Tom Dwan this past week, the streak stood at seven victories in a row spread over three different opponents.
But seven would be as far as the streak would go. Dwan handled Hellmuth in the renewal of a rivalry that started more than a decade ago with an infamous hand and a Hellmuth tirade. Shades of that former hand came back to haunt Hellmuth this time around as well.
For those who are new to this story, Hellmuth first handled his good buddy Antonio Esfandiari in a three-match streak in 2020. After his comments about Daniel Negreanu’s play against Doug Polk in a separate head-to-head showdown earlier this year riled Negreanu, Hellmuth was challenged by “Kid Poker.” And sparked by an incredible comeback in the first match, Hellmuth handed Negreanu three defeats in a row to push the streak to six against two absolute legends.
His next challenge came from an unorthodox source when Fox Sports host Nick Wright, an avid amateur player, threw his hat into the ring. Surprisingly, it was a close battle that required another Hellmuth comeback before it was decided. But after several hours of play, Phil chalked up the victory to run it to seven in a row.
As per the High Stakes Duel format, Wright then had the chance to ask for a rematch for double the stakes ($50,000 doubling to $100,000). But he declined, perhaps realizing he wouldn’t be able to stay so close the next time around, leaving it open for someone else to step in at that level. That’s where Dwan, and a whole lot of intrigue, entered the picture.
All Those Years Ago
Dwan had been bandied about as a possible opponent for Hellmuth several times through this run of High Stakes Duel matches. In fact, most assumed he’d be the guy to start the third series, only for the Wright match to intercede. Nonetheless, his decision to step in sent the poker world racing back to 13 years ago when the first major clash of these titans took place.
The setting was the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship, a single-elimination, March Madness-style event. In the very first round, Hellmuth, one of the superstars of the sport, was pitted against Dwan, one of the first players who earned their reputation (and poker fortunes) through online play. Poker fans were sizing it up as a king of generational showdown that would pit a legend who thrived during the game’s boom in the early 2000s against a whippersnapper representing the internet poker world and all its new-fangled methods.
But instead of being a battle that shone some insight on the different styles, it turned out to be a short-lived match that was determined by a lucky draw. Dwan went all-in against Hellmuth with pocket tens against Hellmuth’s pair of aces. A 10 on the flop took Hellmuth out of the tourney.
Before Dawn could humbly shrug his shoulders at his good fortune and offer apologies for the dumb luck, Hellmuth gave it one of his trademark outbursts. His memorable assertion that Dwan wouldn’t be around in five years was the highlight (or lowlight, depending on your point of view). Considering the way that it ended, it seemed just a matter of time before these two would be locking horns many times over the coming years.
For the most part, however, and with a few minor exceptions here and there, the rivalry was in holding for all the time since that match until this head-to-head, Hold’em-style showdown. Dwan hasn’t been the type to seek out high-profile matches, sticking instead to his online sphere as well as high-stakes cash games. Hellmuth, meanwhile, has remained a steady presence in televised tournaments and the like.
Dwan, to his credit, didn’t take the bait, and was content to take what Phil gave him. Hellmuth actually forged an early lead but could never quite get to the point where “durrrr” (Dwan’s unique online handle that has become his nickname) had his back up against the wall. And a few hours in, Dwan jumped to the lead that he would never quite relinquish.
Not that Hellmuth went down quietly, as he continued to make it tough for Dwan to put him away. But he also couldn’t score that big turnaround hand to regain the momentum, as he had done in comebacks against Negreanu and Wright. He soon found himself clinging to just a few big blinds worth of chips when the cinching hand came to pass.
And once again, it came about when Hellmuth received pocket aces on the deal. He slow-played it initially, likely trying to ramp it up to a big comeback hand, and Dwan seemed to play into this strategy when he stepped into the fray with off-suited three-nine. The flop came 2-3-5, giving Dwan a pair and more of a chance of coming back in the hand.
When Dwan came out with a bet, Hellmuth went all-in. Dwan called and once again, like he did 13 years previous, received the help he needed. A nine came on the turn to give him the lead in the hand with two pair, and a six on the river didn’t change anything a whit, making Dwan the winner.
The win puts $100,000 in Dwan’s pocket, but that might not be the end of the story. It’s now Hellmuth’s choice whether he wants to run it back again against Dwan for twice the stakes ($200,000). In the direct aftermath of the match, Hellmuth sounded unsure if he wanted a rematch. But he’ll get a little time to think about it.
If Hellmuth bows out, somebody else can step in and play against Dwan for $200,000. But it’s hard to imagine Phil backing out at this point. He’s still up $650,000 total in these High Stakes Duel matches, so he has to have some confidence that he can rebound.
Plus, it’s doubtful that he wants to step away from the Dwan rivalry with fans thinking that “durrrr” got the better of him. There’s one thing that he might want to think about, however, if he does match up with Dwan again. He might want to watch out for those pocket aces, as they seem to be fool’s gold whenever this particular showdown takes place.
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