Hellmuth vs. Negreanu match preview: tale of the tape

Jon Sofen
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Posted on March 23, 2021 5:13 pm EDT

Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu are set to battle it out in what will surely become one of the most watched heads-up matches in poker history.

The match will take place later this week in Las Vegas on an undisclosed date, and will air in its entirety on the PokerGO app on March 30. Hellmuth and Negreanu were set to face off last week but a positive COVID-19 test within the PokerGO crew forced a delay.

The format for the upcoming heads-up challenge on the show “High Stakes Duel” differs from online poker battles such as Negreanu vs. Doug Polk, or the Galfond Challenge.

Instead of playing a pre-arranged number of cash game hands, this match will be played sit-n-go style, and the loser will have the option to challenge the winner to a rematch.

In the first game, each player will buy-in for $50,000. If the loser decides to walk away, the winner banks that money. There is very little chance of that happening. Assuming there is a rematch, which is a pretty good bet, the losing player from the first match will then chip in an extra $100,000 to the pot.

The rules stipulate that the winning player cannot walk away until after the third match unless the losing player decides to call it quits. As the game extends, the stakes rise. So, one of these Poker Hall of Famers could conceivably walk away with a high six-figure loss before all is said and done.

‘Kid Poker’

Daniel Negreanu is an iconic poker star and one of the most successful poker pros ever. With over $43 million in live tournament cashes and six WSOP bracelets to his name, he’ll forever be a legend in this game regardless of the outcome of his match against Hellmuth.

Negreanu should have an edge against Hellmuth, but likely a minimal edge given the sit-n-go format increases variance compared to a lengthy cash game heads-up competition. He has an edge because of the experience he gained playing Polk heads-up over 25,000 hands.

Polk is considered one of the top heads-up no-limit hold’em players ever, and he defeated Negreanu by $1.2 million over 25,000 hands. That was an expensive lesson for “Kid Poker,” but it just might pay off for him against Hellmuth.

The ‘Poker Brat’

Phil Hellmuth is one of the most polarizing poker players of all-time. Many don’t care for his whiny demeanor when he loses a pot. But many others find it makes great television.

The “Poker Brat” holds the World Series of Poker record with 15 gold bracelets, and was the 1989 Main Event champion. He is considered arguably the top no-limit hold’em tournament player of all-time.

But this isn’t tournament poker. Hellmuth and Negreanu are competing in a heads-up match, so his experience dominating WSOP fields won’t help him out much in this challenge.

With that said, he’s been highly successful in the format played on “High Stakes Duel.” In 2005, he won the 64-player NBC National Heads-Up Champion, another sit-n-go style heads-up event, and then finished runner-up in 2013.

And he’s unbeaten on “High Stakes Duel,” having beaten Antonio Esfandiari in three straight matches last year.

So, we’re going to see a poker player who gained valuable heads-up experience against another player who has a history of crushing it in the live heads-up sit-n-go format. We’ll find out on March 30 which one will come out victorious.

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