High Stakes Duel II Confirmed: Phil Hellmuth vs. Daniel Negreanu

Negreanu gets first bite

A few days ago, the poker hype machine appeared to be kicking into gear, foreshadowing a heads-up duel between either Daniel Negreanu or Tony G and the 15-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth.

Phil Hellmuth is talking out of his ass”

It all started when Hellmuth expressed his disappointment in Negreanu’s performance against Doug Polk (despite watching zero hours of that match). Negreanu fired back, saying “Phil Hellmuth is talking out of his ass” and suggesting that they settle matters on the felt. Not to be outshone, Tony G got in the mix, tweeting that he also wanted a piece of Hellmuth.

Last night, Negreanu appeared on the new PokerGo show No Gamble, No Future to confirm that it is he who will be getting the first crack at The Poker Brat. These two icons of the game will put their money where their mouths are on what is being dubbed High Stakes Duel II, a follow-up to the match where Hellmuth trounced Antonio Esfandiari in a three-round sweep in late 2020.

Negreanu confident Hellmuth can’t exploit him

Looking ahead to the contest, Negreanu said: “[Phil] is the most extreme exploitative player I’ve ever seen and it works because people make big mistakes against him that I won’t be making.”

Phil has, in the past, rejected that assessment of his game, implausibly claiming that “he invented GTO (Game Theory Optimal).”

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On this, Negreanu is correct. Hellmuth’s greatest poker skill is understanding how players alter their strategy against him and finding the best counter-exploit. Versus a balanced strategy, Hellmuth may struggle, and Daniel’s game is a lot more balanced after being put through the rigors of the Polk Grudge Match.

That said, High Stakes Duel is a fast format, so variance will play its part. Over a million hands, you find out who is the best player. Over 25,000 hands, the cream probably rises to the top. Over one evening of live heads-up, it’s anyone’s game, but expect the bookmakers to give Negreanu a small edge.

Poker players as professional wrestlers

What is clear from how this match is being built up and promoted is how poker has begun to take a page out of the book of professional wrestling. It’s not a bad strategy at all. The game, after all, is diffuse. There are lots of brands, lots of formats, lots of sole traders. There is no governing body and very few galvanizing influences. Naturally occurring narratives are few and far between, so why not get a little help from the writers’ room?

Polk versus Negreanu challenge showed what genuine animosity can bring to a contest

Drama engages the audience and conflict is the essence of drama. Fans of professional wrestling suspend their disbelief, engage with the story and enjoy the spectacle. The Polk versus Negreanu challenge showed what genuine animosity can bring to a contest. We are about to find out if manufactured animosity can work as a hook.

The date for High Stakes Duel II is yet to be determined, but the show’s booker Brent Hanks promises that “it is coming very soon.”

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