Weekly Poker Update: March 2, 2021

Weekly Poker Update

It’s been head-to-head fever in the world of poker for the past few months. With live tournament play being a difficult prospect these days—and online action perhaps not quite the showcase that some of the biggest names in the game prefer—these one-on-one matches have proven to be an interesting substitute. And it now looks like the two guys who might be bigger names than anyone else in real money poker these days are headed for a rendezvous.

The Kid vs. The Brat

After a few weeks of being discussed on social media, it appears that a head-to-head match between Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu is a full go. The president of PokerGO, Mori Eskandani, admitted as much in a recent interview. He also insinuated that the match would begin filming in the middle of March, saying that anybody who wanted to get a bet down on the action shouldn’t wait too long to do so.

As for now, it looks like the format of the match will be the one used by PokerGO for such events. It’s called High Stakes Duel, and it features escalating stakes for as long as the match continues. The end comes when one player quits or one player wins three matches in a row (or two matches in a row after Round 5).

Poker Player Daniel Negreanu

Losers can choose to double the stakes after each round. If they do bow out, there is the opportunity for other players to buy into the match. Eskandani mentioned Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan as potential players who could make an appearance if that situation arises during Hellmuth-Negreanu.

In any case, the match will pit two players who have risen to the top of the poker world with not only great play, but also combustible personalities. Sit them in a room together (early indications are that this will indeed be live action, not online) for an extended period of time and fireworks are bound to ensue. Ironically enough, it took another head-to-head match to actually get us to this point where these two titans are prepared to meet

The Back Story

The Hellmuth-Negreanu hookup might never have happened were it not for Kid Poker’s (Negreanu’s) recent battle with Doug Polk. In that match, Negreanu went in as the heavy underdog to Polk because the online multi-hand format was not something with which he was very familiar, at least not compared to Polk, who built his reputation on that style of play. Hellmuth showed his faith in Negreanu by betting on him as an underdog at 4 to 1.

After about a week of close action, Polk built a sizable lead in that match. Negreanu battled back to make it a bit closer several times, but never to the point where Polk ever seemed in jeopardy. Polk finally closed out the 25,000-hand battle last month with a winning margin of over $1 million on Negreanu.

During the match, as Negreanu started to fade from contention, Hellmuth gave an interview where he spoke of disappointment with Kid Poker’s play. The gist of his opinion was that he felt that Negreanu was trying to beat Polk at his own style, which was heavily influenced by Game Theory Optimal. When in fact, what Negreanu should have been doing, at least according to Phil, was bringing his own style to the table to try to counteract and maybe even disrupt Polk’s expertise.

Poker Player Phil Hellmuth

By most accounts, Negreanu acquitted himself well in the match against Polk. The majority opinion was that Negreanu got the worst of in terms of luck during the match. Although Polk probably still would have won had the luck evened out, the margin likely would have been much smaller than expected for a such a heavy favorite.

Needless to say, Negreanu didn’t take too kindly to the comments. He quickly responded with a challenge to Hellmuth for a match of their own. And Hellmuth didn’t take long to accept.

For a minute there, it looked like the match might just be speculation. Negreanu even suggested that he expected Hellmuth to chicken out. Bu the comments from Eskandani this past week seem to indicate that there’s no backing out now, and that these two titans will meet on the felt for bragging rights and a whole lot of cash.

Picking A Favorite

There is no doubting the intentions of these two guys when it comes to tournament play. Head-to-head play is a different matter. The fact that a name like Negreanu was at such a disadvantage against Polk, who knows that format inside and out, is a good indication of that.

So, which of these guys should we expect to come out on top when the chips go down on the table? According to BetOnline.ag, Negreanu is the betting favorite at -250. In other words, you’d be getting odds of 2 ½ to 1 if you take the Brat (Hellmuth).

On the one hand, Negreanu is coming into the match full of information on the head-to-head format. He was coached extensively to prepare and had what you might call “work-related experience” playing 25,000 hands against Polk. His game should be honed to a fine edge, which is most likely why he’s a relatively substantial favorite.

You shouldn’t underestimate what Hellmuth can do. He recently went through the High Stakes Duel format against Antonio Esfandiari, no slouch at all in the poker world, and swept three rounds. That makes it seem like maybe those odds are skewed a bit too heavily the other way.

We’re still awaiting details on all the particulars, such as the exact start date and when and where we can start to watch it. But right now, it’s safe to say that anticipation for this match should ramp up pretty quickly. Expect social media to be abuzz in the next few weeks as fans and other poker pros weigh in on who they think will come out on top.

In any case, it should be an entertaining Hold’em affair. If you were going to pick two players for such a matchup, in terms of level talent and star power, Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu would be at the top of many lists. Now, we get to see if the action lives up to the hype.