Nick Wright opts out of rematch against Phil Hellmuth, thankfully (Op-ed)

Jon Sofen
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Posted on: July 31, 2021 6:11 pm EDT

Nick Wright announced via a Twitter video that he isn’t going to challenge Phil Hellmuth to a rematch on High Stakes Duel III, and that certainly isn’t a bad thing for viewers.

The sports talk show personality lost the $50,000 buy-in match against the “Poker Brat” Wednesday night on PokerGO. He was surprisingly competitive, especially for an amateur player battling one of poker’s all-time greats. Early on, he dominated the game, leading at one point with over 65% of the chips in play. Afterwards, Hellmuth admitted his opponent left him “dazed and confused” with aggressive play at times.

But when it was all said and done, the player who was expected to win came out victorious. The professional poker player with over 30 years of experience was just too much for a recreational player whose career is in sports media and not poker.

Game over

Hellmuth won Round 1, but can’t just cash out the $100,000 prize pool until his opponent gives up or after Round 3. He said after the first match, however, that he was hoping Wright would decline to challenge him again. On Friday, he got his wish.

“To be totally candid, I’m still not really over the loss,” a dejected Wright said in a video a few hours before the 72-hour decision deadline ended. “Not because I got unlucky or anything, Phil deserved to win. But because I feel like I blew it with some really poor play in the middle. I don’t know if it was fatigue or lack of experience, or whatever. But I had a plan, I was executing it, I strayed from it.”

The FS1 sports talk show co-host then shared his future poker plans. “So the question is, after losing that $50,000, am I going to wrangle up another $100,000 to face him again? And the answer to that question, regrettably, is no. To the PokerGO community and subscribers that were excited to see Phil vs. Ivey or Phil vs. Dwan, and I’m one of them, I don’t know who his next opponent will be, but, unfortunately, it won’t be me.”

Wright went on to explain that spending another $100,000 to enter a poker game wouldn’t sit well with his wife. Thus, he must move on, head back to sports television, and allow Hellmuth to compete against a new opponent. The “Poker Brat” gave his former opponent some words of encouragement on Twitter.

“Great match @getnickwright! I’ll see you at the televised tables again soon, on Poker After Dark, only on the @PokerGo App. I enjoyed our dinner after the match (at Carbone @AriaLV), and enjoyed meeting your wife: she is awesome,” Phil Hellmuth tweeted.

More intriguing challenge

Nick Wright was chosen to face Hellmuth because PokerGO, a subscription-based poker app, was looking for some crossover subscribers from the sports and poker world. It made perfect sense given that PokerGO could dip into the casual audience. But one match between a poker legend and an amateur player is enough. A rematch simply wouldn’t have been all that intriguing because Hellmuth has nothing left to prove against an inexperienced opponent.

With Wright out of the way, the focus is now on who will step into the heads-up poker ring to challenge the 15-time WSOP bracelet winner. That answer isn’t known just yet and will likely be revealed on a future No Gamble No Future episode, a PokerGO podcast with hosts Jeff Platt and Brent Hanks.

In a previous episode of No Gamble No Future, Tom Dwan, a guest on the show, said he was originally scheduled to face Hellmuth before being bumped for Daniel Negreanu, who would go on to lose three straight matches. Platt and Hanks have also both said that Dwan and Phil Ivey are both waiting in the wings to compete on High Stakes Duel.

With that said, Dwan or Ivey is the likely next opponent for Phil Hellmuth. And that is a far more intriguing matchup than Hellmuth-Wright II. That’s no disrespect to Wright, who performed at a higher level Wednesday night than most anticipated. But it’s time to see Hellmuth battle against a great heads-up player.

A decade ago, Dwan was arguably the top heads-up player in the world. Few would consider him in that category anymore, but he still has more experience at heads-up poker than Esfandiari, Negreanu, or Wright, Hellmuth’s first three opponents on High Stakes Duel.

Plus, this is a match that’s been in the making since 2008 when Dwan first burst onto the live poker scene at the NBC National Heads-Up Poker championship. He famously busted Hellmuth in an early round match with pocket 10’s cracking pocket aces. Hellmuth, in true form, couldn’t just accept the bad beat and say, “nice hand.” Instead, he went off on the young online pro known as “durrrr” for making what most would consider a standard play.

Dwan didn’t just sit back and let Hellmuth run his mouth. He challenged the “Poker Brat” to a high-stakes heads-up match. But that match never took place, although it could in the coming weeks.

If Dwan isn’t the next opponent, it very well could be Phil Ivey, arguably the greatest poker player in history. Should Hellmuth continue his prowess on High Stakes Duel against Ivey or Dwan, or eventually both, it would be difficult for the poker community to continue trashing his heads-up game.

The seat is open, per High Stakes Duel rules, for 30 days. So, we’ll have an answer as to who is up next to challenge Hellmuth before the end of August, but likely sooner. And it’s a good thing that it won’t be a rematch against Nick Wright.

Featured image source: PokerGO app