Hellmuth-Wright match almost didn't happen over structure controversy

Jon Pill
Posted on: July 29, 2021 13:36 PDT

High Stakes Duel III almost ended before it began when Phil Hellmuth refused to play if the blinds were not adjusted up from 20 to 30 minutes.

The event, which saw sports personality Nick Wright take on the self-professed poker GOAT heads-up, had originally been scheduled for 30-minute blinds. When Hellmuth arrived and found the clocks set for 20 minutes, he issued an ultimatum.

"Controversy right before the match begins!" Nick Wright tweeted. "@phil_hellmuth is claiming he only agreed to 30-minute blind levels, while it's set up for 20-minute levels. He's threatening to walk if I don't agree with 30-minute levels!"

Usually, play has to have got underway before Hellmuth throws a tantrum. No point wasting a quality rant before the cameras are on. But here it looks like he was just getting PokerGO to stick to the rules.

Hellmuth took to Twitter to give his side in response. "True that!! I signed up for 30-minute levels: $50,000 buy-in needs more skill."

The error on PokerGO's part was understandable. Hellmuth and Antonio Esfandiari used 20-minute blind levels for the first High Stakes Duel. However, against Daniel Negreanu, the blinds got stretched to 30-minutes. The mixup was quickly cleared up, and play started more or less on time.

Hellmuth did play in the end and went on to win the event.

The blind leading the blind levels

It might feel a little mean-spirited when one of the top players in the world tries to squeeze every possible edge out of an amateur. However, rules are rules, and changing them last minute isn't especially sporting either. Especially if it is true that Hellmuth signed up with blind levels as part of his conditions. Plenty of people took either side when the debate hit the court of public opinion.

One commenter even went so far as to suggest that creating debate was the point. "These two are close friends," David Eatherly wrote. "This thing is a set up lol. Cmon this is incredibly obvious. ENTERTAINMENT."

Certainly, if you don't follow sports, Nick Wright is unlikely to have been on your radar before this match. Compared to Negreanu and Esfandiari, High Stakes Duel III was looking to be a lull in the hype machine. A little bit of controversy couldn't hurt viewership numbers. We're all aware of how professional wrestling works.

That said, Hellmuth might want to be a little more accommodating if he wants to drum up more action. Luring a $50,000 stack to the table with a complete amateur behind it is hard enough when you're running seven for seven like he is. Though Hellmuth may not struggle to find fish that want to try and take a chunk out of a shark.

Hellmuth has said that he hopes the next match will be against a pro. But if Wright comes back and challenges him, he'll have to play.

For everyone who's anxious to see Tom Dwan or Phil Ivey take over as King of the HSD hill, let's hope that Wright cuts his losses and lets someone else take their shot.

Featured image source: PokerGO