Matt Berkey explains on his podcast why Negreanu won’t beat Polk

Jon Sofen
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Posted on August 13, 2020 5:25 pm EDT

Matt Berkey, in his recent Solve for Why podcast with co-host Christian Soto, made it very clear how he handicaps the upcoming grudge match between Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk. And let’s just say he thinks Negreanu is about as likely to win as the US is of defeating COVID-19 before Christmas.

There’s no secret about who is favored. Even Negreanu, who wrote in a recent blog post that he’s a heavy underdog, admits it. And he wasn’t looking for an excuse for losing, if he does. Or at least that wasn’t the only purpose of the blog post.

Negreanu has over $42 million in live tournament winnings, most in no-limit hold’em. The poker stars have agreed to play thousands of hands of no-limit hold’em online. So that should be right up Daniel’s alley, right? Not exactly.

Heads-up no-limit hold’em and ring game or full-table, multi-table no-limit hold’em tournaments are similar in the same way free-throws three-pointers in basketball are the same. Sure, both are forms of playing basketball. But just because an athlete can consistently make free-throws doesn’t mean they can knock down perimeter shots. In the same way, a skilled multi-table tournament player isn’t necessarily strong at heads-up.

Berkey all-in on Polk to win

Although Polk hasn’t played poker regularly in a couple of years, he is known as one of the best heads-up no-limit online poker players in history, and maybe the best. A few years back, he crushed the highest stakes heads-up games on PokerStars for quite some time. He became so dominant in that form of poker that he could no longer find anyone to play so he had to quit.

Now he has an opponent in what is certain to be one of the most intriguing matches ever. The two bitter rivals will play between 10,000 and 25,000 hands of no-limit hold’em cash game at the $200/$400 stakes. They have agreed to play two games at a time. Complete details on where they’ll play and how many hands haven’t yet been determined.

Matt Berkey, a successful high-stakes poker pro and poker trainer, gives Negreanu virtually no chance. He went into detail on why he’s taking that stance on his recent vlogcast, Solve for Why. He suggested “Kid Poker” should have negotiated a 10% refund on losses, so as to cut his losses short given how much of a disadvantage he’s at.

“If we’re talking about six-max no-limit hold’em, Doug’s not elite,” Berkey said in his vlogcast. “If we’re talking about super high roller tournaments, Doug’s not elite. That doesn’t mean he’s not profitable.”

He then questioned why Negreanu would even accept such a difficult challenge.

“I can’t see where the stars align that he’s motivated to learn heads-up cash against a guy who literally wrote the book,” he continued.

Berkey then made an analogy to mixed martial arts superstar Conor McGregor stepping into the boxing ring to face undefeated boxer, Floyd Mayweather.

“At least when McGregor fought Floyd, he got paid,” Berkey said. “He got compensated for sacrificing his skill-set to enter the domain of a master. And they both know how to punch, much like both of these guys know how to play no-limit Texas hold’em. But we’re talking about two very different arenas. Even compromising doing this live versus online neutralizes the advantage.”

He continued, saying that Daniel has an “uphill challenge.” Berkey explained that online heads-up poker is “robotic” and pointed to Polk’s experience playing against an artificial intelligence (AI) bot, experience that is helpful in a lengthy heads-up match.

Negreanu is nearly a 3-1 underdog (+280), according to PokerShares. Despite the massive underdog status, Berkey doesn’t think the smart money is on Negreanu at that line.

“I don’t know that he has a fighter’s chance her,” Berkey said of the heavy dog. “I think he has a better than average chance of keeping this match close, I think we could easily see this ending somewhere between minus five and 15 buy-ins. And I think that’s respectable. If they play 25,000 hands, and you lose 10 buy-ins, it’s not really that big of a deal.”

“Do you think he can win?” Soto asked.

“That’s the thing,” Berkey responded. “I don’t know that he has a fighter’s chance. I really don’t because I played a lot of heads-up throughout quarantine, and I don’t think I’m very good at heads-up. My skill-set, like Daniel, is in ring.”