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Daniel Negreanu and Chance Kornuth took on difficult poker challenges that few accomplished pros would be willing to try. And for that very reason, they each deserve our utmost respect.
Both players accepted heads-up battles against players they were unlikely to defeat. That isn’t a knock on the game of either player. It’s more a compliment to the caliber of their opponents.
Kornuth is locked in a 35,000-hand pot-limit Omaha competition against Phil Galfond, arguably the top PLO player ever. The pre-match odds had Kornuth as a 4-1 underdog, and few gave him a chance to win. Negreanu was in a similar boat against Doug Polk, in a no-limit hold’em contest, facing even longer odds.
These two brave poker stars are risking millions of dollars to compete against the toughest opponents they could find. Few would risk that kind of money to prove their skills. Most poker players would rather, to use sports terminology here, run up the score against inferior opponents.
What Did they Have to Gain?
The easiest thing quality players and teams in sports or poker can do is to only face weak opponents. It take some brass stones to step up to the plate and battle against those who are at the top of the game.
In college athletics, many teams hide behind weak non-conference schedules. My beloved Iowa Hawkeyes football squad rarely faces quality non-conference opponents. They prefer piling up wins against the Sisters of the Poor and, even worse, Iowa State (I’ve been waiting forever to find a way to mix in a joke in an article about our instate rival).
Sure, it helps the program post impressive records most and get to quality bowl games in most seasons. But coach Kirk Ferentz would earn more respect nationally if he’d be willing to take on Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida, and other top teams. Instead, he’s content going 9-3 against moderately weak schedules, finish in the top 25, and collect his $5 million annual salary.
Ferentz doesn’t have much motivation to up the competition. He’s wealthy, headed to the College Football Hall of Fame, and has job security. Daniel Negreanu and Chance Kornuth are both in a similar position. They’re both accomplished poker pros with bankrolls the size of California who have already supplanted their poker legacies.
Negreanu is one of poker’s top ambassadors of all-time. He’s won six WSOP bracelets, is already in the Poker Hall of Fame, and has over $43 million in live tournament winnings. Kornuth is a three-time bracelet winner, his won millions playing cards, and his Chip Leader Coaching site is one of the most respected poker training academies out there.
Can They Actually Win?
Not only did Negreanu and Kornuth take on a difficult task, they’ve both performed above expectations. And they’ve proven to the poker world they belong.
Kornuth currently trails by $516,000 over 24,500 hands in the Galfond Challenge. He’ll need to run red hot to pull off the upset. But even if he doesn’t, he showed he can compete against an elite PLO player. For about two months, he dominated the match, and led at one point by around $340,000. Since then, Galfond has taken over and is looking to coast to victory.
Negreanu was a 5-1 underdog entering his 25,000-hand challenge against Doug Polk. They’ve played 26 sessions entering Wednesday, with Polk leading by just under $500,000. But the match has been highly competitive for quite some time, with Negreanu winning five of the past six sessions. Even Polk, who has verbally attacked “DNegs” repeatedly for years, showed some props to his opponent recently.
I gotta say @RealKidPoker is playing just night and day better than at the start of the challenge. I still think I have the edge but I wouldn’t be surprised if its pretty low at this point. Gotta give credit where credit is due.
— Doug “Truck Driver” Polk (@DougPolkVids) January 12, 2021
With only about 9,000 hands remaining and a half-million-dollar deficit, Negreanu’s chances of winning are slim. But he deserves respect from the poker community for taking on such a difficult challenge. And the same goes for Kornuth. I tip my cap to both.