Negreanu wins short session, Polk just trying to hang on

Jon Sofen
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Posted on 01/26/2021

Daniel Negreanu cut the deficit against Doug Polk by over $45,000 on Monday in what was an unusually fast session. With massive side bets at stake and under 6,000 hands left to play, fans watching the challenge may have to get used to a different style of play going forward.

Polk is in an interesting spot right now. He’s not only facing Negreanu in a heads-up no-limit hold’em battle. The Upswing Poker founder also has some side bets on this challenge that he must take into consideration when concocting a strategy down the stretch.

We don’t know exactly how much he has on the line because he refuses to disclose that publicly. The only side bet we know for sure of is a $25,000 bet with Phil Hellmuth. The other bets, however, you can rest assured are for much larger amounts.

So, if Polk loses the heads-up match, he not only takes a hit to his ego and dumps some money to his long-time rival. He also will lose potentially millions in side bets to some undisclosed gamblers.

Thus, he may already be trying to run out the clock. Or, as they say in football, take a knee. He obviously isn’t going to disclose his strategy. But it sure appeared that way on Day 32.

Mixing it up

Entering Friday’s session (Day 31), Polk held a $1,002,000 lead. He danced and celebrated a $298,000 win that made it highly unlikely his opponent could ever come back to win. But then he got humbled on Day 31 and Negreanu returned the favor with a $390,000 win, erasing much of that hefty deficit.

That put Polk in a bit of a pickle. He came into Monday’s match still holding a 15 buy-in lead (over $600,000), and remained the heavy favorite. But a couple more heaters for Negreanu could put his side bets in jeopardy.

So, on Monday, he changed things up and played a style of poker you’ve probably never seen from the overly aggressive Doug Polk. Proper GTO strategy, Polk’s specialty, says you should almost always raise on the button in heads-up no-limit hold’em, and pretty much never just limp.

On Monday, however, he opted to limp his buttons quite often. Negreanu said in his post-match interview on GGPoker’s YouTube channel that he figured Polk is just trying to minimize the big pots played so that he doesn’t risk losing the challenge, and in turn, losing his side bets.

As Negreanu suggests, Polk is now more concerned with winning the side bets than losing back some of his winnings in the heads-up match. As a result, there were only two pots played on Monday. In one of those hands, Negreanu won the $104,000 pot with pocket threes against A-K (all-in pre-flop) as he flopped a set. In the other, Polk got maximum value on a king-high board with K-J when his opponent called with a pair of 10’s on the river.

Otherwise, there wasn’t much action during the two-hour session, the shortest session they’ve played since Day 5. On Day 32, they completed just 438 hands, which Negreanu won by $46,854, a little over one full buy-in. Polk’s previous $1 million lead is now down to $565,708 with 5,638 hands remaining.

We’ll now all wait and see if Polk limping buttons is going to become a regular occurrence, or if he was just playing mind games on Monday. That question will be answered Wednesday on Day 33, which begins at 2:30 pm PT on the WSOP.com poker site.

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