Over the past few months, we’ve been telling you all about the head-to-head poker battle between Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk known as the “Grudge Match of the Century.” On the one hand, the match has played out pretty much the way poker experts thought it might. But for those who have been following the pair over the years on social media, the relationship between the players during play has really been nothing like anyone would have expected.
In terms of the actual poker-playing, the results have been predictable. Polk is the more experienced of the two in terms of the head-to-head real money Texas Hold’em. That’s why Negreanu was a considerable underdog (generally around 4 to 1) going into the match on online gambling sites.
Expectations for Polk vs Negreanu
For the most part, actual play between the two has indeed turned out that way. From about the second week, Polk has had a sizable but not quite insurmountable lead. Negreanu, to his credit, has stuck around even with most watching the action in agreement that he was getting the worst of it in terms of luck.
But that had been far from the case coming into this week. Part of that could be laid down to the fact that, except for the very first session, these two haven’t been in the same room together for the poker play. Still, they could have easily stirred things up via social media, but they’ve instead kept it on the lighter side, even showing some grudging admiration at times.
That came to end this week. To set the table, on Friday the week before last, Negreanu came up with the biggest single-session win of the entire match nearly $400,000; he desperately needed a big score to preserve his chance. That reduced his deficit to about $613,000, and it had some talking about his comeback chances, even with only about a quarter of the 25,000 scheduled hands left to play.
Change of Poker Styles
On Monday, Polk’s style changed suddenly and drastically. He started doing a lot of limping into hands, which threw up some red flags.
For those who don’t know the poker terminology, “limping” usually means making the minimum possible wager in the hopes that it will allow the player who does it to see the flop as cheaply as possible. In poker circles, it’s generally (though not unanimously) seen to be the modus operandi of a weaker player.
It also led to speculation that Polk had changed his strategy as a way of preventing the kind of loss he had in the previous session. There were also some that thought Polk was concerned about side bets he had made around the grudge match. In any case, it certainly caught the attention of Negreanu, who mentioned it in his social media post mortem in derogatory terms.
For the record, Negreanu won the session, but he was only able to pocket a somewhat meager $46,000 in the process. He clearly wasn’t pleased by the turn of events. When they returned to play on Wednesday, it was his opportunity for a controversial change in methods.
As the pair began play, it quickly became clear what that change would be. Cards were dealt and time ticked away; while Negreanu waited to make decisions that usually happen in a heartbeat, it certainly seemed like some intentional tanking.
Here’s another quick definition for casual poker fans: “Tanking” is when players purposely take time before deciding whether to bet or not, often as a way of playing mind games with an opponent.
Once play resumed, Polk found some momentum and ended up winning the session by $136,000, helping to stem the tide on his recent slump. And in perhaps the most predictable turn of events in the entire match, he took to Twitter to vent his frustrations. Among other things, he called Negreanu’s actions “pathetic” and set up a poll for others to weigh in on the proceedings.
Poker Tactics and Tension
After all the rising tension, nobody knew what was going to happen on Friday. As it turned out, most of the questionable tactics were laid aside and the pair got back down to poker. And as it has been the case throughout the matchup when they’ve done that, the action was thrilling.
Polk jumped out to a considerable lead, only have to Negreanu fight back and actually take the lead. On the last hand of the session, Polk came up with a heater on the river and moved back out in front. The final margin ended up around $35,000.
It was the end of a tumultuous week in which the latent tensions between the two finally exploded. That led to a wild social media skirmish (Polk was still pleading his case even after Friday’s session) in which fans and fellow players lined up one side or other in the debate. If you had made a prediction before it all started what a Poll/Negreanu battle might look like, this past week might have been it.
On the other side, some people will say those tactics are just gamesmanship. Look at any sport and you’ll see examples of it, such as a coach calling time out to ice a kicker or free throw shooter. You’ll hear also about tactics that are frowned upon but in no way illegal, like a baseball player admiring his home run for too long.
The only thing that is settled when it comes to the Polk/Negreanu is the score. And things are really looking dire for Negreanu. His deficit is around $736,000, and there are less than 5,000 hands left to play.
Will Negreanu Make a Comeback?
It’s getting harder and harder to do the mental math necessary where Negreanu could somehow make a comeback. And it gets even more difficult if Polk goes into lockdown mode again. We’re almost at the point whether the question isn’t so much whether Polk will win, but by how much.
The other question: How will the remainder of the online poker match play out? Will it go back to pure poker play without the theatrics, or will we get more of the blood feud that exemplified the past seven days? No matter, it’s a safe assumption that it will be entertaining either way.