Luck on Phil Hellmuth’s side in Round 1 against Nick Wright

Jon Sofen
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Published: July 29, 2021 6:22 AM EDT

Nick Wright put up a fight against Phil Hellmuth in Wednesday’s High Stakes Duel III match, but the cards just weren’t on his side. As a result, the “Poker Brat,” who constantly complained after losing a pot despite repeatedly hitting monster hands, shipped the $100,000 prize pool and will await his next opponent, whom might be the same opponent.

Wright, a television sports talk show host on FS1’s First Things First, which airs weekday mornings, came prepared to play as he proclaimed before the match. But in no-limit Texas hold’em, no matter how well you play on certain days, the cards simply won’t cooperate.

Early edge to the sports guy

In Round 1 of High Stakes Duel, both players paid $50,000 to enter and the chip stacks started off at 500 big blinds deep. Wright, an amateur poker player who came in confident he could pull off the upset, seemed to confuse his opponent early on.

In fact, he dominated the match throughout the first couple of levels. Wright came out swinging, firing numerous bluffs and showing no fear. He played with a reckless abandon that paid off well early in the match. Nearly 90 minutes into the session, Wright held better than a 3/2 chip advantage, and Hellmuth was on tilt, cursing under his breath after every pot he lost, and complaining he was losing to a player he felt is inferior.

Poker champ fights back

During the first couple of levels, Wright was the talkative player at the table, not Hellmuth. But all of a sudden, in Level 3, the conversation came to a halt when the underdog began to fade.

Hellmuth took over the match thanks in large part to hitting numerous big hands. At one point, he flopped top pair or better more than a handful of times over a 10-minute stretch. He flopped a set in one hand while Wright rivered two-pair, just one of multiple coolers that went the 15-time WSOP bracelet winner’s way.

Wright expressed frustration after running bad for a couple hours. “You just don’t ever miss,” he exclaimed following a failed attempted bluff. Luck wasn’t the only reason Hellmuth went from a 3/2 chip disadvantage to having over 75% of all chips in play. He began picking up on Wright’s tells, and stopped allowing his opponent to push him around.

Despite Hellmuth expanding his calling range, Wright continued to fire out bluffs. The only problem was, after the first 90 minutes, those bluffs weren’t getting through. Some of that was due to Hellmuth catching a plethora of big hands, and some was the result of Hellmuth calling down with small pairs.

Wright grinds his way back

At one point, Wright was down to 11,000 from his 100,000-chip starting stack. But he would soon double up with pocket fives against Q-J when he flopped a full house on a 5-3-3 board. Slowly but surely, he battled back to 30,000 before again bluffing off some chips and then once again doubling back up, this time with pocket 10’s holding up against pocket sevens.

And yet again, he bluffed into his opponent’s big hands, bringing him back down under 30,000. But he was still in the game and was only one double up away from regaining the chip lead for the first time in over three hours. That’s when the upset bid came to an unlucky screeching halt.

Wright had 7-6 of clubs in the big blind and both players saw the flop come out K-5-A with two clubs. Hellmuth fired out a bet of 2,000 and his opponent called. The turn was a the 10 of clubs, giving the sports talk show host a flush. He again called a 2,000-chip bet and then an off-suit, meaningless 8 landed on the river.

Hellmuth bet out 7,400 and Wright check-raised all-in for 22,000. The “Poker Brat” tanked, likely making Wright confident that his low flush was good. But after about 30 seconds of pondering his move, Hellmuth called and turned over 8-5 of clubs for a slightly higher flush.

That put an end to the match, giving Hellmuth his seventh straight win on High Stakes Duel. He defeated Antonio Esfandiari three consecutive times in 2020 and then fared the same against Daniel Negreanu earlier this year.

What happens next?

After Round 1, the losing player. in this case Nick Wright, has the option to challenge the winner to a rematch. The winning player cannot decline the rematch or cash out until after Round 3 unless the loser gives up. If Wright wants back in, he’ll have to pay another $100,000, creating a $200,000 prize pool, to compete in Round 2. Will the FS1 host give it another shot next month?

“I got 72 hours, right? I’m going to need 71 of them (to decide),” Wright told PokerGO’s Jeff Platt in the post-game interview on if he’ll force a rematch. “Maybe I’ll be back to challenge Phil. I’ve got to think about that.”

Hellmuth, however, said he doesn’t want a rematch because he’d rather face a high-profile poker pro instead of a sports media personality. But the decision isn’t up to him. If Wright wants to play, Hellmuth must accept the challenge, which he acknowledged. Should Wright decide he’s ready to move on, Hellmuth would likely face either Tom Dwan or Phil Ivey next on High Stakes Duel.

Featured image source: PokerGO app