Phil Hellmuth can’t prove anything against Nick Wright

Jon Sofen
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Published: July 26, 2021 12:17 AM EDT

Phil Hellmuth will face sports media blowhard Nick Wright heads-up Wednesday on PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel III show. Although the poker app will benefit financially from the match, a win does nothing for the “Poker Brat’s” legacy, and proves very little, if anything at all.

It’s obvious why PokerGO wanted this match-up, or a similar match-up. Wright, the loudmouth host of FS1’s First Things First show, has a large following in the sports world with over 400,000 Twitter followers. The PokerGO app seems to attract mostly hardcore poker fans, and the company previously known as Poker Central is looking to attract more casual viewers.

So, in that sense, this match makes perfect sense. But from a legacy standpoint and Hellmuth continuing to prove he is a world-class heads-up player like he claims to be, High Stakes Duel III serves no purpose.

Tough to beat

In 2020, Hellmuth defeated Antonio Esfandiari, who waited years for this match to happen, in three straight games before cashing out his $350,000 profit. In High Stakes Duel, both players initially buy-in for $50,000. The losing player then has the option to challenge the winner to a rematch and must pay $100,000 to enter Round 2. After the second round, the losing player again has the option to force a rematch, but must pay $200,000 for Round 3, creating a $400,000 prize pool.

Following the third match, the winner has the option to cash out and then face a new opponent, or the competitors can both agree to go at it again in Round 4, this time with $800,000 in the pot, and this possibility continues all the way up to a $12.8 million pot.

Earlier this year, Hellmuth did the same against Daniel Negreanu, dropping “DNegs” in three straight matches before cashing out. For those of you who aren’t great at math, that makes him 6-0 on High Stakes Duel.

What does it prove?

Now that Esfandiari and Negreanu are in Hellmuth’s rear-view mirror, the 15-time WSOP bracelet winner is preparing for his next battle. And this one is against an amateur poker player — Nick Wright.

Hellmuth’s in a lose-win situation against Wright. If he wins, he’ll make some money, as if he needs it. But if he loses to an amateur who doesn’t have any meaningful accomplishments as a poker player, he loses money and pride.

The game against Wright wasn’t Hellmuth’s choice, so it’s not like he’s ducking tougher opponents. Skilled players such as Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan are waiting in the wings to step in the High Stakes Duel ring. In fact, Dwan was originally scheduled to face Hellmuth before Negreanu, but PokerGO made the switch due to Negreanu’s social media attacks on Hellmuth’s game. They decided Hellmuth/Negreanu would be more appealing at the time than Hellmuth/Dwan.

Once again, Dwan was passed over so that PokerGO could dip into the casual sports and poker audience. Perhaps, some sports fans will pony up $15 for a month-long subscription to PokerGO, and maybe they’ll even extend it further. If so, Cary Katz’s company stands to make some money off this match.

But what’s in it for Phil Hellmuth? He’s expected to win going up against an amateur player. Even Wright, on the No Gamble No Future podcast announcing the match, said he should be considered a heavy underdog.

So, Hellmuth’s in a position where even if he wins three straight games against Wright, he won’t get any respect for his performance from the poker community. If he were to instead face Dwan or Ivey, and win, he’d get plenty of props from poker Twitter.

Featured image source: PokerGO app