After plenty of sniping between the duo, it appears that there will be a “heads up for rollz” battle between two of poker’s most…engaging…personalities. 15-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth and fellow Poker Hall of Famer Daniel Negreanu will step to the felt against each other, with the festivities to be broadcast at a future date on PokerGO. But who has the edge in this mano y mano battle?

How We Reached This Point…

Negreanu recently completed his “Heads Up Duel” with another thorn in his side. Doug Polk, after years of badgering Negreanu, finally got him on the virtual felt. As many predicted, Polk defeated Negreanu handily over the 25,000 hands played, taking down a $1.2 million payday and an untold amount in side bets. But this matchup seems to have been the catalyst for the upcoming Hellmuth/Negreanu fight.

In some of his Twitter commentary on the play, Hellmuth was quite derisive of Negreanu’s efforts on the felt. Hellmuth stated that, knowing the people who had coached Negreanu in his preparations against Polk, that the reason for Negreanu’s loss laid directly in his hands. Negreanu did not take this slight very well, to say the least.

After a three-month battle against Polk, Negreanu immediately challenged Hellmuth to the same battle that the “Poker Brat” had taken on at the end of 2020. In that match, Hellmuth took on Antonio Esfandiari in the first of what was supposed to be a series of matches under the banner of High Stakes Feud on the streaming channel PokerGO. Hellmuth thrashed Esfandiari, winning three heads up matches with escalating stakes, eventually winning $400,000 from “The Magician.”

Hellmuth, never shying away from a chance to get in front of a camera, accepted the challenge. This will take place quite soon, on the stages of the PokerGO studios (instead of online like Negreanu’s battle against Polk), and it will be broadcast at a future date on the streaming outlet. But who will have the edge in the Hellmuth/Negreanu showdown?

Format Accentuates, Harms Skills of Each Player

The format of the PokerGO show is a departure from what Negreanu just finished. Instead of an extended cash game format, the players will put up $50,000 in the first match. The play will continue until one player has taken the other’s stack – no reloading. Upon the completion of that match, the next one will commence, but this time with each player loading up with $100,000. The same rules apply in the second match, with play continuing until one person is felted. The doubling escalation of each match (third match players enter with $200K, then $400K) continues, but before the start of any match, a player can wave the white flag and end the proceedings.

This would lend itself to more of a tournament freezeout style of play rather than a cash game style of play. In a tournament, you do not push EVERY edge you get because it can eliminate you (players are not as apt to race with a 52/48 edge). In a cash game setting, however, you CAN push every edge because the worst thing that can happen is you reach in your pocket and reload. Thus, the PokerGO format might favor Hellmuth’s tight style of play better than Negreanu’s more exploratory, small ball approach.

It must be noted, however, that Negreanu’s war with Polk has prepared him for heads up poker. “Kid Poker” learned a lot of lessons in that matchup with Polk, only considered one of the best the online game has ever seen, and they could translate into future battles, including this one against Hellmuth. Hellmuth barely broke a sweat against Esfandiari (sorry, Antonio!) and has not had an active challenge on the felt in some time. This is a challenge that might see-saw between the competitors. I could see Hellmuth taking an early lead, perhaps winning the first two matchups, before Negreanu gets his “sea legs” under him and takes the third.

After that, it is entirely up to the two men what happens. Do they keep playing for the escalating stakes? Do they call it after three games, like in the Hellmuth/Esfandiari competition? Or do they adjust things to make it more like a cash game situation? These questions that will be answered, but there is one thing we know already – people WILL watch two of poker’s most entertaining personalities square off on the felt!

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