Hellmuth does it again, downs Esfandiari on High Stakes Duel

Jon Sofen
Published by:
Posted on 10/22/2020

Antonio Esfandiari just can’t seem to beat his nemesis, Phil Hellmuth, at least in the heads-up format. The “Magician” lost for the third consecutive time to the “Poker Brat” on PokerGO’s new show, High Stakes Duel.

Hellmuth can now refer to his three-time heads-up opponent as his “b—h.” It’s only fair, and fitting, given that Esfandiari said prior to that match that if he loses for a third time, he’ll just have to accept being Hellmuth’s “b—h.”

The third and final match in the first round of High Stakes Duel landed the 15-time WSOP bracelet winner $400,000. He was only in for his initial $50,000 buy-in from the first match. That means Esfandiari ended up losing $350,000 on the show.

The rules of the show state a player can’t cash out until winning three straight matches against the same opponent. In the first match, each player bought in for $50,000, followed by the loser adding another $100,000 to the pot in the second match, and then $200,000 more ($350,000 total) for the third show. Hellmuth had the option to continue playing for double-or-nothing, but he opted to call it quits instead.

Not exactly a heads-up MasterClass

In the first two matches, Hellmuth dominated. He made many key bluffs to win big pots, laid down some big hands when he was beat, and maximized his value on the monster hands he hit. That’s not to say Esfandiari played poorly, but he was clearly out-played even though Hellmuth seemed to have the edge in terms of luck.

But in the third match, Esfandiari was mostly card-dead, and the “Poker Brat” was far less aggressive, especially pre-flop. For some unknown reason, Hellmuth repeatedly limped in with premium hands pre-flop (four times limping on the button with A-Q, once with pocket jacks, for example).

Hellmuth won the match in the end, but he lost out on getting max-value out of many of his big pre-flop hands because he just limped in. In a couple of spots, he ended up losing the hand because he limped in pre. The decision to repeatedly limp in with big hands confused PokerGO commentators Nick Schulman and Ali Nejad.

Hellmuth also made some questionable raises on the river, twice going for value in raising with top pair and a weak kicker, a spot GTO experts will tell you to just call every time. In spots like that, you’re either going to get called by a better hand or force a weaker hand to fold, at least most of the time. So, it makes little sense to raise instead of just calling.

The eventual winner was also extremely tight pre-flop. He folded to a three-bet in one hand with Q-J (Esfandiari had an under-pair), and K-9 in a similar spot. Both of those hands are standard calls in heads-up poker. Again, the announcers were confused by his decisions.

But in the end, he won the match, his third straight against Esfandiari. Somehow, some way, Hellmuth continues to win despite playing an unorthodox style of poker. Maybe there’s some truth to the power of his “White Magic” strategy.

Featured image source: Twitter