Tis’ the season for high-stakes heads-up poker challenges

Jon Sofen
Published by:
Posted on: September 15, 2020 5:30 pm EDT

Heads-up, high-stakes poker challenges sure are in style these days. The 2020 fall season features three high-profile heads-up matches that will keep the poker community busy.

The first challenge, Galfond Challenge III between Phil Galfond and Chance Kornuth, kicks off September 16 on Run it Once, the poker site owned by the challenge’s host.

Friendly rivals Phil Hellmuth and Antonio Esfandiari recently competed against each other on High Stakes Duel, a heads-up poker show on PokerGO. The “Poker Brat” won the game but his opponent has challenged him to a rematch. They’ll face-off again from the PokerGO Studio in Las Vegas on September 23.

We saved the best for last. The third and final epic heads-up competition is between long-time, bitter feuding rivals Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk. The match will take place online, although the poker site and starting date haven’t yet been set.

Kornuth heavy underdog against Galfond

Galfond already won his first two Galfond Challenges, against online pros “VeniVidi1993” and “ActionFreak.” He’s ready to tackle another tough opponent in poker coach Chance Kornuth.

The Run it Once founder enters the match a heavy favorite. Why? Because he’s arguably the greatest pot-limit Omaha player ever, and that is the game chosen for the contest. Galfond and Kornuth will play 35,000 hands of $100/$200 PLO cash game.

After every hand is complete, the loser will owe the winner an additional side bet payout. Should Galfond take it down, he’ll receive $250,000 from his opponent. If Kornuth shocks the poker world and wins, Galfond owes him a nice cool $1 million beyond all the money he won from the cash game sessions.

Esfandiari seeks revenge

Esfandiari waited years to face Hellmuth in a televised heads-up match. He finally got his wish last month on the new PokerGO show, High Stakes Duel. But things didn’t go his way and the 15-time bracelet winner won the match and the $100,000 prize pool.

As per the show’s rules, Esfandiari was given the option to force a rematch, which he instantly did. The players will now each put in another $50,000 to the pot, making the payout in the rematch worth $200,000. Hellmuth and Esfandiari are both friends, but on the felt they are fierce competitors. The rivalry started in 2012 when the two faced off in the WSOP Europe series.

Esfandiari has long offered a heads-up match against Hellmuth. But as part of the deal, he suggested the winner shoot the loser with a taser gun. Hellmuth never accepted that arrangement, however.

These guys genuinely despise each other

Polk and Negreanu have never hid their disdain for each other. The feud between the legendary poker pros turned nasty a couple years ago when Polk spent thousands of dollars just to purchase a billboard outside the WSOP that mocked his rival.

Polk retired from poker two years ago. He openly admits he can’t stand the game anymore and even said that playing poker gives him anxiety. But he despises Negreanu so much that he’s willing to come out of retirement just to stick it to his hated rival.

Most consider Negreanu a massive underdog in this match. Matt Berkey came out and said he thinks Daniel has no shot to win. That’s because they’re playing heads-up no-limit hold’em online, which is Polk’s specialty. Doug is arguably the top online heads-up player ever.

But Negreanu refuses to back down and accepted the challenge. The date for the match hasn’t been set although it will likely begin in October. Final details and structure for the challenge haven’t officially been agreed to, but the preliminary agreement calls for 25,000 hands at $200/$400 stakes, likely played on GGPoker, the poker site Negreanu promotes.

Featured image source: Flickr