Weekly Poker Update: January 4, 2021

Blue Poker Chip With a Question Mark

The schedule claimed that, by the end of the calendar year, we would have a definitive Hold’em Main Event winner in the long saga of the World Series of Poker in 2020. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that it hasn’t quite worked out that way in this year unlike any other. But at the very least, we’re closer than ever to naming an ultimate champion.

This past week saw the culmination of the domestic half of the WSOP. By domestic, we mean that players originally had to log onto the online portion of the hybrid event from either New Jersey or Nevada in the United States. After the field was narrowed down to nine, the final table took place at the Rio in Las Vegas.

It seems almost redundant to say that things didn’t go quite that smooth, as has been the case with just about every poker event in 2020. The biggest name still left in the field, Upeshka De Silva, wasn’t allowed to participate due to an apparent positive test for COVID-19. That left eight players to battle it out with the show of winning $1.5 million for first place.

After a quick elimination of eighth-place finisher Gershon Distenfeld, seven-handed play rolled on for a few hours before other players started dropping in a fast and furious fashion. Joseph Hebert and Ron Johnson were responsible for most of the knockouts. It was fitting then that they were the last two players standing at the table.

Then There Were Two Poker Stars

In most cases, real money poker head-to-head matchups on final tables are drawn-out affairs. Even though Hebert held a solid lead going into his battle with Johnson, you still would have expected a pretty good struggle. Instead, it lasted all of one hand.

On the first hand of the head-to-head session, Hebert was quick to raise with ace-king. Johnson, who had battled his from seventh chips position to make it to that point, owned pocket queens himself, so both seemed to betting from strength. After a series of raises, short-stacked Johnson called Hebert’s all-in challenge.

When they turned over the hole cards, Johnson held the lead in the hand. But when the flop came ace-king-seven, it turned overwhelmingly in the favor of Hebert. The final two cards didn’t change anything, and just like that, Hebert was the winner.

As is so often the case in the World Series of Poker, the winner wasn’t anybody you would have expected when it all began. Hebert’s earnings for the victory were more than twice what he had won in previous pro tournaments. There was also a lovely human element to the story as well, as Hebert dedicated the victory to his mother, who had passed away in September.

Poker Player Daniel Negreanu

If all had gone according to plan, Hebert would have been following up his win two days later with a head-to-head matchup with Argentina’s Damian Salas. Salas had captured the international portion of the WSOP a few weeks ago and was supposed to make the journey to Vegas to jostle with Salas the day before New Year’s Eve. But it didn’t work out that way, thanks to travel issues that kept Salas out of the country.

Thus, the final of the WSOP final tables (it seems like there have been a lot of them) is taking place at press time. We, of course, will let you know how it all turned out in this column a week from now. That’s assuming nothing crazy delays it again, but who knows?
And just think, once it’s all over, it will be time to start talking about whether or not there will be a World Series of Poker in 2021 (besides the end of the 2020 version, of course). Strange days indeed, as John Lennon once sang. But at least, in terms of the action at the tables, exciting days as well.

Daniel Negreanu (Kid Poker) Will Go On

All throughout the poker Grudge Match of the Century between Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk, a few milestones loomed large. Obviously, there was the 25,000-hand marker, at which point the match is over and the player leading in purse will be declared the winner. But the 12,500-hand halfway point also stood out as an important one.

According to the stipulations of this match, held primarily as an online poker event after an initial live session, at the 12,500-hand marker, the player trailing had the option to call it a day. There were times when it looked like that might be an option for Negreanu.

During the second week of the matchup, which started back in November, Polk took a significant advantage. Negreanu, the heavy underdog due to his relative unfamiliarity with the multi-hand, head-to-head online format, was fighting an uphill battle.

Pro Poker Player Doug Polk,

We have officially reached the 12,500-hand milestone in the matchup, which meant that the ball was in Negreanu’s court. He had hinted in an interview that he might consider calling it quits. But he announced this week that he would indeed be playing on to the completion.

Truth be told, this was always the way it was going to probably play out. Negreanu giving it up after there was so much back-and-forth between the two leading into the matchup certainly wouldn’t have been a good look. On top of that, the lead—while pretty substantial—isn’t quite insurmountable.

Right now, Negreanu trails by $764,000. But that is below what the lead once was, as Polk once had the advantage briefly over a $1 million. In addition, Negreanu won the last session, trimming his deficit by about $40,000, so there is a bit of momentum on his side.

More than anything else, however, there is a sense that Negreanu has received the majority of the bad beats to this point in the match. If the luck starts to turn in his direction a bit, that lead could dissipate in a hurry. Polk also has to strike the right balance between nursing the lead while staying aggressive when the time is right, which could get tricky.

In any case, the real winners in Negreanu’s decision are the poker fans who have been enjoying the action to this point. Ideally, the match would tighten up and we could get a photo finish from these two stars. At the very least, we’re getting the full compliment of poker hands as originally envisioned.