While the most recent heads up match between Phil Hellmuth and Antonio Esfandiari was entertaining, it is arguable that the battle between Poker Hall of Famer Daniel Negreanu and online high stakes heads up poker master Doug Polk has been more anticipated. Perhaps not since Johnny Moss and Nick “The Greek” Dandolos sat down in Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas way back in 1949 has a battle drawn the attention of poker players. But, since it is a competition, we’ve got to look at the history and handicap the matchup of what will be a venomous competition.
A Battle Four Years in the Making
To say that Negreanu and Polk have been building to this moment is a bit of an understatement. After Negreanu made some odd statements regarding a rake increase on PokerStars (the site he was sponsored by at the time), Polk skewered him mercilessly for the position. The verbal warfare continued across social media for some time before Polk upped the stakes in an outstanding fashion.
In 2018, Polk and Negreanu both were competing in the Super High Roller Bowl (with $300,000 each on the line) and (shock of shocks!) were not only seated at the same table with each other but Polk was on Negreanu’s immediate left. The duo tensely bantered back and forth until Polk unveiled a dagger of sorts, a “More Rake is Better” t-shirt that he had made for this event. Although Polk would not make it out of the first day of action, he kicked it up a notch further as, the next day, players who came to play in the SHRB were greeted by a billboard with the same “More Rake is Better” logo advertising a website where Polk continued to trash Negreanu’s statements.
The animosity has increased in the time since then. It finally came to a head this year as the twosome smacked insults back and forth at each other. There was agreement during the summer that there would be some sort of heads-up match “for rollz” but there wasn’t anything agreed to until the last couple of months. Thus, with some genuine heat brewing between Negreanu and Polk, we now will enter the virtual battleground to settle some scores (probably not, but it sounds good, at least!).
What Are We Playing For?
Here are the parameters that have been agreed to by the combatants:
Date: begins November 4
Game: Texas Hold’em
Opening Stack: $40,000, with automatic top-off after each hand
Number of hands: 25,000
The player who is behind after half the hands have been played (12,500) will have the option of ending action. The winner will be whoever ends up winning the most money over the hands played.
Handicapping the Match
Daniel Negreanu comes to the tables with many of the accolades that he has earned through his years in the game. A Poker Hall of Famer, a six time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, a two-time champion on the World Poker Tour and a long term cash game success, to say that Negreanu has earned his way to the pinnacle of the poker world is not debatable. What might be debatable is his skills in the online arena.
Negreanu isn’t a slouch in online poker play, having been sponsored by PokerStars and now GGPoker, but it isn’t his preferred battleground. Heads up is not his preferred discipline of the game either, although he does have nine strong finishes in such events at the WSOP, the National Heads Up Poker Championship (remember that?) and in Austria during two events in 2001 (results courtesy of The Hendon Mob database). He is coming off a decent showing during the 2020 online WSOP, cashing 36 times during the span of those events but none for any more than $26,643 (his cash at the Global Casino Championship).
Doug Polk is one of the online legends of poker. He was a dominant force in high stakes heads up play for the better part of a decade, playing under the moniker ‘WGCRider.’ You could also say he held his own in the live tournament arena, winning three WSOP bracelets (including the “High Roller for One Drop” in 2017) and amassing over $9 million in live career earnings. He created Upswing Poker, a training site, in 2018 and had retired from an active career in playing poker, but the mano y mano battle with Negreanu was too good to pass up.
Many sites and players have Polk as a 3:1 favorite over Negreanu because of his heads-up acumen, but it is going to be much closer than that. Negreanu’s no slouch when it comes to heads up play (I witnessed his action against the late Mike Sexton in 2006) and may very well jump out to an early lead over a coming out of semi-retirement Polk. The race is over 25K hands, however.
Over that many hands, the skills of Polk should be able to come to the fore. Although he’s been away from the tables for a bit, he’s been in a “crash course” over the past few months on America’s Cardroom preparing for this match. Even he admitted it didn’t start well, but he’s been able to consistently win recently in those battles and feels that he’s more than ready to take on Negreanu.
In the end, I would see Polk earning a victory over Negreanu, but it won’t be by a crushing margin. Let’s say that, in the end, Polk will earn a buy in ($40K) from Negreanu, and it will at least give the virtual railbirds something to talk about and earn some money for those who have wagered on the event. Don’t expect it to, however, silence either side in this argument – both Negreanu and Polk will continue to chirp at each other, just like they have for the last four years.