"Nik Airball" vs Matt Berkey: It's on like Donkey Kong

Matt Berkey and Nik Airball play at the Bellagio
Craig Tapscott
Posted on: April 01, 2023 04:19 PDT

If you haven't figured it out by now, super high-stakes regulars, Matt Berkey and Nikhil (Nik Airball) Arcot don’t like each other. It’s not a show for likes or clicks; the animosity is very real. When push comes to shove (more on that later) they despise each other, or so it would seem from recent developments.

Heads up battle for $1,000,000

The pot was stirred on Doug Polk’s podcast last week when Airball attacked Berkey’s training site, Solve For Why, as a scam and he further debated Berkey’s credibility as a winning-career player.   

After trading numerous punches back and forth on podcasts and Twitter, the two combatants decided on a heads-up battle for $1,000,000. The battleground would take place in Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio Casino, in Las Vegas.

Berkey and Airball continued to attempt a few knockout blows online, some were below the belt, but many were admittedly entertaining.

Poker Twitter raged into an inferno of chatter as sides were chosen, and side bets were placed.

To recap how things got out of control, PokerOrg shares some of the numerous discussions online regarding the match.

Doug Polk’s Podcast

Solve For Why Only Friends YouTube

Nick Vertucci Show

If you enjoy high drama, sit back, and enjoy the shows.

A voice of reason steps in - Phil Galfond

An arbitrator for the mano-a-mano match was agreed upon, which, of course, was everyone’s trusted choice for the job: Three-time WSOP bracelet winner, PLO wizard, and founder of Run It Once, Phil Galfond.

One of Galfond’s first mediations was a deal breaker for Berkey: Airball wanted to bring a friend (Eshaan Bhalla) to the private heads-up match. Most tweeters agreed this wasn’t ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire,’ and there would be no opportunities for a lifeline or a phone call to a friend.  

Galfond rebutted the discussions by sharing on Twitter that the negotiations were going smoothly.

Well, not exactly…

Galfond posted that the stakes were agreed upon as follows: $200/400 (400) $100k min, three sessions (Sat, Sun, Mon) each week with 6.5 hours per session. The Match will last 100 hours. Either player can quit down $1,000,000 and there is a $10k penalty for a missed session or quitting early.

Galfond may have bit off a little more than he could chew or stand to deal with as a sane voice between the two players. The task at hand evolved into even nastier slings as the match tottered from being off again to on again.

When asked what his payment would be after juggling the heated discussions between Berkey and Airball, Galfond tweeted “I get paid in karma from the poker gods.”

Professional players share their take on the match

PokerOrg reached out to a high-stakes regular on ‘Hustler Casino Live,’ Eshaan “Brownballa’ Bhalla, and Airball’s phone-a-friend, for his take on the match.

Eshaan Bhalla plays poker on Hustler Casino Live Nik Airball wanted Eshaan Bhalla on his rail for the match

“Nik doesn’t have a lot of heads-up experience, which will definitely work against him” shared Bhalla. “But I think Nik is definitely more talented than Berkey. I think they both have a high chance of getting emotional if things don’t go their way. This is a big factor because of how much ego and reputation is on the line.”

Bhalla shared some of the wise advice he’s offered to Airball. “I told him to keep his emotions under control. And to give himself space if he needs to take it. He needs to understand that the highest EV (Expected Value) decision is not necessarily the one that gets him unstuck the fastest.”

Saya Ono, a well-known and successful Los Angeles cash game specialist, weighed in with her thoughts. She has experience competing against both players in recent years.

“I think Berkey is the favorite in this match,” said Ono. “Airball is just trying to get more famous from the drama and the grudge match, in my opinion.”

PokerOrg reached out to cash game crusher and recently declared, Garrett (PC no more) Adelstein, for a comment. He was a bit more subdued than in recent posts but got straight to the point.

“I’d very much like Matt to win,” stated Adelstein.

Who's got the popcorn?

The drama intensified two days ago when a standoff between the opponents was caught on tape by Markus Gonsalves during a ring game at the Bellagio.

Entrepreneur, author, and fan favorite, Bill Perkins, was now even more excited for the match to commence:

The too-close-for-comfort altercation wasn’t received well by many on Twitter. The common thread was that poker may be a violent AF sport on the felt, but it wasn’t ever meant to be the physical brutality of the WWE or UFC.

What dark path is the game embarking down when these exchanges are the headlines on poker news channels and the major topic running amok on Twitter?

Poker icon, Norman Chad, and WSOP host with the most quips spoke out loud and clear.

Matt Berkey and Nik Airball share thoughts on the matchup

Berkey was all business when responding to PokerOrg’s questions in regard to how he will be approaching the match.

PokerOrg: Why choose to take on Airball at all? You have nothing to prove.

Matt Berkey: Plain and simple -- money. 

PO: He critiqued your play and training site as a fraud. Has this affected your business?

MB: Not at all. Airball’s opinion carries zero weight in this industry.

PO: How do you deal with a very boisterous player at the table constantly trying to disturb and needle you?

MB: I am there to just play well; I'm sure that'll look foreign to him.

PO: What’s your assessment of Airball as a player?

MB: He’s mediocre.

Nuff said.

PokerOrg reached out to Nik Airball while he was preparing for the match at the Bellagio. He didn’t pull any punches.

PokerOrg: How did you prepare for the match?

Nik Airball: I prepared hard. I am ready to crush Berkey.

PO: Do you have much heads-up poker experience?

NA: None beyond a few times at the end of sessions. But I’ve gotten a lot of input from elite heads-up players over the last week or so.

PO: You’ve been called a master of speech play at times on ‘Hustler Casino Live.’ What happens if Berkey wears his headphones?

NA: I’ll just shout over them.

PO: Why do you think you’re a favorite in the match?

NA: I’ve got more money, more skills, and more mental toughness. I will beat Matt for the $1,000,000 very quickly.

More than enough said. This match is lit.

Heads-Up poker is poker in its purest form

Berkey and Airball’s grudge match is real, and sure to be the talk of the poker industry over the next few weeks, if it lasts that long.  

Heads-up poker is mostly about how you bob and weave when it comes to adjusting to your opponent’s tendencies and style of play. In addition, there's a ton of variance; it’s a roller coaster of high highs and even lower lows.

How will Berkey and Airball adjust to each other? Will their emotions get the better of each of them? Will the dealer be called on to be a referee as the match heats up? It’s anybody’s guess at this point. 

Here’s hoping they abide by a few simple rules: No biting. No spitting. No low blows. Bluffing with air, that’s up to them.

So, it’s safe to say -- it’s anybody’s game.

Feature photo courtesy Ralph Wong