What we learned from the first, and possibly only, Hellmuth/Wright match

Jon Sofen
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Published: July 30, 2021 3:41 AM EDT

Nick Wright was, perhaps, more competitive against Phil Hellmuth than most expected, but he still took the loss on Wednesday in a $100,000 heads-up match on PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel III show. After watching the two poker players compete for over five hours, we learned a few things about the underdog’s game, most notably that he’s probably a bit better than you anticipated.

With the Round 1 win, Hellmuth is now 7-0 on High Stakes Duel. He defeated Antonio Esfandiari in 2020 three straight times and then fared the same against Daniel Negreanu in 2021.

His next opponent is unknown at this point. Wright has 72 hours from the end of the first match to challenge his opponent to a rematch. Should he do so, he’ll be on the hook to add $100,000 to the prize pool for Round 2, creating a $200,000 pot. Shortly after the final cad was dealt at the PokerGO Studio in Las Vegas Wednesday evening, he told PokerGO announcer Jeff Platt he isn’t yet ready to make a decision. If he opts to quit, Hellmuth would likely face either Tom Dwan or Phil Ivey next.

Challenger came to play

Nick Wright is the co-host of FS1’s sports talk show, First Things First. He is a former sports talk radio host in Kansas City and Houston before moving to national television. Although he doesn’t have any meaningful known poker accomplishments, the sports media personality made it known to the poker world that he isn’t a fish and has plenty of cash game experience. But few in the poker community knew what to expect from his game.

During the Round 1 match, Wright proved to us all a few things. First off, he showed that he is a competent player. Early on, he dominated a high-pressure match against one of the all-time poker greats. Two hours in and he had a fairly sizable lead thanks in large part to successfully pulling off a number of bluffs. He even showed that he can play competitive poker while engaging in table talk.

But he also showed, at least at this point in his poker career, he really only has one gear, and that is zoom zoom. Wright lived by the sword (aggressive play) and eventually died by the sword. He certainly showed he had no fear and wasn’t intimidated by the 15-time WSOP bracelet winner. However, when Hellmuth started catching cards, he seemed unable to take his foot off the gas and refrain from bluffing so frequently, especially considering Hellmuth began calling him down light.

More of the same from Hellmuth

Phil Hellmuth has been around the block a time or two. He’s played poker professionally for nearly 40 years and has appeared on televised poker shows more times than we can count. So, unlike Wright, there weren’t many surprises from his game Wednesday night. The “Poker Brat” played his usual style — limping frequently pre-flop, finding the occasional bluffing spots, and making tough calls with marginal hands. And, as per usual, he often complained after losing pots.

Much like his matches against Esfandiari and Negreanu, he also showed that he’s one of the best at making adjustments. Following the match, he said during the post-game interview on PokerGO that his opponent had him “dazed and confused” early on. But he made some key adjustments, the most important being picking off Wright’s bluffs by calling him down with marginal hands.

Hellmuth was expected to win as he is the professional who went up against an amateur. The Round 1 match showed, however, that even the best players in the world can’t underestimate a recreational player, especially one with a solid amount of playing experience.

Although Wright didn’t win, he hung tough for most of the match. Even when things started to go south for the FS1 host, he kept his cool and didn’t just implode like many other amateur players would in that difficult environment, especially with so much money at stake. But, as we learned, he clearly isn’t good enough to beat the all-time WSOP bracelet record holder.

Featured image source: PokerGO app