High Stakes Feud: Polk vs. Negreanu inside the numbers

Daniel Negreanu Doug Polk
Jon Sofen
Posted on: December 24, 2020 09:10 PST

Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk have now completed 20 sessions of high-stakes heads-up no-limit hold'em against each other. A deep dive into the stats from the match show that the eventual outcome isn't as predictable as you might think.

There's no doubt that Polk is expected to win. He entered the challenge as a 5-1 favorite. The Upswing Poker founder is considered one of the best heads-up no-limit players ever. And his opponent has made his money on the felt playing live tournaments.

Through 20 sessions, totaling 11,318 hands, he leads by $696,327 at $200/$400 stakes on WSOP.com. On the surface, that isn't much of a surprise, and the current result is about where most predicted. Few gave Negreanu much of a chance. Even high stakes pro Matt Berkey, a friend of Negreanu and a hater of Polk, said on his Solve for Why podcast before the competition began that the GGPoker ambassador stood virtually no chance.

But despite Polk entering the challenge as the heavy favorite, and leading by a massive amount through a fairly large sample size, those who bet on Polk to win shouldn't celebrate just yet, because this match is far from over.

Polk and Negreanu have agreed to play 25,000 hands, although the losing player can opt out at 12,500 hands. Negreanu has made it clear that he has no intention of giving up. So, you can expect this epic battle to continue for another 13,682 hands.

Current Basic Stats from High Stakes Feud

  • Hands played: 11,318
  • Hands remaining: 13,682
  • Current score: Doug Polk +696,327
  • Sessions played: 20

Digging deeper into the numbers

The sizable lead by Polk may not be surprising to most. But he's also been fortunate to hold such a big lead. Poker player Corey Steel (@CoreySteel_ on Twitter) has been compiling some interesting stats that show this match is closer than the score indicates.

Steel has calculated all-in expected value (EV), a luck factor statistic. Expected value of all-in situations with at least one card to come has been heavily in Polk's favor, according to the above chart.

When the players are all-in with card(s) still to come, they no longer have any control over the outcome. At that point, you just have to hope your hand holds up or, if you're behind, you hit the needed card to win the hand.

In these situations, as Steel proves, Negreanu has been extremely unlucky. Polk is running $389,271 above his expected value. That means his $696,327 lead is a bit fabricated.

Negreanu has lost in numerous all-in spots with the best hand. In one hand, he went all-in pre-flop with pocket aces against pocket kings, and Polk spiked a king. A similar situation occurred early in the match when Polk's pocket eights cracked pocket jacks.

What that tells us

If you subtract the pure dumb luck from all-in situations in which at least one card to be dealt remains, Polk's true lead is actually $307,056, or about 7.5 buy-ins.

That seems more reasonable given the quality of play in this match. Polk is, objectively, the better player. But, overall, the luck has been on his side far more often than Negreanu.

Polk's "true" lead equates to a $27.13 profit per hand dealt, on average, or 7.7 big blinds per 100 hands. That's a reasonable deficit to one of the best heads-up players ever, and shows that Negreanu is better at heads-up poker than most expected.

The numbers show that Negreanu has been unlucky during the first 11,318 hands. But they also show that Polk has been the superior player. With that said, there are no guarantees Polk's lead will continue throughout the entire 25,000 hands. Negreanu isn't so far off in ability that he can't tweak a few things and erase this deficit before time is up.

Featured image source: Twitter