Can Daniel Negreanu pull the upset and beat Doug Polk?

Doug Polk Daniel Negreanu
Jon Sofen
Posted on: October 28, 2020 11:14 PDT

Daniel Negreanu can beat Doug Polk. No, seriously, he really can. But he'll need certain breaks to bounce his way or he might as well just ship his rival $1 million.

There's no denying that Polk is a prohibitive favorite. PokerShares has Negreanu as a 4-1 underdog, and there's good reason for that. Polk specializes in heads-up cash game no-limit Texas hold'em, the game played during the challenge, and is widely considered one of the best in the world at that format. His opponent, on the other hand, is a master at live multi-table tournaments, a stark contrast from HUNLH.

But that doesn't necessarily guarantee a Polk victory. Even if Negreanu doesn't win, and it's admittedly unlikely that he will, he can still be competitive and surprise many who doubt his ability to even keep it close.

So, here's what they're playing for — potentially as much as $1.5 million. The long-time feuding poker pros have agreed to play at least 12,500 hands of $200/$400 NLH on After those hands are complete, the player who's in the red has the option to call for another 12,500 to be played. The match begins November 1 and much of it will air live on the PokerGO app.

Will the large sample size make it impossible for DNegs to win?

Anyone who has played poker for an extended period of time understands that the best players win out over the long-run. Sure, darn near any donk can get lucky and win any given tournament (what's up, Jerry Yang?) or a few cash game sessions. But the pros will get the fish's money eventually.

So, this is where Negreanu could be in trouble against Polk. Obviously, Daniel isn't a fish, especially at hold'em, the game he's won most of his money playing. "Kid Poker" has over $43 million in live tournament cashes, likely good for around a $20-$25 million profit. He's no fish despite what some of the new-school grinders seem to think.

But he's about to face one of the best heads-up players ever over a fairly large sample size (as much as 25,000 hands). For Negreanu to pull the upset — which just might be the biggest upset in poker history — he'll likely need to run above expected value, meaning he wins more/loses less than his true abilities would indicate due to getting luckier than his opponent.

The only problem with that is 25,000 hands — or even 12,500 hands — is such a big sample size that the luck factor will be minimal compared to, say, a few cash game sessions. Variance in no-limit hold'em significantly decreases in a match this long.

What if Polk really isn't that great anymore?

Doug Polk hasn't played poker professionally for a couple of years, and it's been quite some time since he was in the high-stakes heads-up online streets. Over the past month, he's been practicing up, taking on some tough competitors such as Ali Imsirovic in preparation for his match against Negreanu. But there's still a possibility that the Doug Polk of 2020 just isn't the same as the Doug Polk of 2015, on the felt.

What if he's rusty? What if he gets too cocky and underestimates Negreanu's game? If those things happen, Negreanu just might have a shot in this challenge.

Polk has openly stated that he expects to "back the truck up" on Negreanu and win $1 million or more. And he might be right. But he also might be underestimating the abilities of his opponent.

Make no mistake, Daniel Negreanu is one of the best poker players in history. He doesn't have the heads-up resume of Polk by any stretch of the imagination, but he is talented enough to find holes in Polk's game.

Negreanu is a smart enough player to adapt his game during the match to remain competitive. Polk shouldn't expect his opponent to make the same mistakes repeatedly. The six-time WSOP bracelet winner will learn to adapt accordingly as the match goes on, and he'll make adjustments.

But in the end, it likely won't be enough. Even if Polk is a bit off his game or rusty, Negreanu's facing an uphill battle and will need to run above his expected value to keep it close. With that said, I expect "DNegs" to adapt his game accordingly throughout the match to give his fans a good showing, but inevitably he'll lose by around $150,000.

Featured image source: Twitter