Kornuth waved the white flag

There was much uncertainty from both Phil Galfond and the poker community as a whole when Galfond embarked on his “Galfond Challenge” a year ago. Once one of the best poker players in the world, Galfond had effectively retired from competitive poker to launch his very own online poker room, Run It Once. The Challenge was more or less a marketing tool, but in boosting traffic to his site, Galfond was risking his own money. No doubt he also wanted to see how his skills still stacked up to some of the world’s best, but it certainly felt like it was either a terrible idea or a genius one. Well, so far it has been the latter, as over the weekend, Galfond clinched his third match in as many tries when Chance Kornuth conceded his Challenge before reaching the predetermined hand limit.

The two men had agreed to play 35,000 hands of $100/$200 Pot-Limit Omaha. The player in the black at the end of the match would not only keep his winnings, but also nab a side bet from his opponent. Galfond risked a cool million for the side bet, versus Kornuth’s $250,000.

After a terrible downswing of more than two and a half months, Kornuth decided to cut his losses on Saturday, sacrifice the $250,000 side bet, and just call it a day. After 25,400 hands, Phil Galfond won $726,500, not counting the side bet.

The Galfond/Kornuth match got started in late September 2020 and it was Galfond who got out to a nice lead by early October. Kornuth went on a tremendous run into mid-November, however, building a lead of $344,500. From there, however, it was nothing but a struggle for Kornuth. On December 9, Galfond got out of the red for good, edging up to $28,500 to the positive. He won almost every session thereafter, profiting another $700,000 through this past Saturday.

Apparently, Kornuth had seen enough. They had fewer than 10,000 hands remaining, but it looks like Kornuth just didn’t see a path to profitability, so rather than trying to at least make back some of the money he had lost, he decided to just not risk getting into a deeper hole, shake his opponent’s virtual hand, and move on.

For his part, Galfond had nothing but praise for Kornuth, saying, “He tested my game in ways no other opponents had, exposing weaknesses I wasn’t aware of, and I’m stronger now for it.”

Insane comebacks are possible

Galfond himself is no stranger to massive deficits in these challenges. In his first one last year against VeniVidi1993, he was down nearly $1m. It was so bad that he decided to pause the challenge, even paying his opponent for each scheduled day they missed. He posted a long essay on Twitter, explaining that he had some soul searching to do, not sure if he was just having a ridiculous string of bad luck or if he was just honestly not as good as VeniVidi1993.

Galfond came close to quitting, but he decided to press on. It turned out it was the right decision, as he made a gigantic comeback, clinching the victory with just 75 hands remaining.

In his second challenge, Phil Galfond bested Ioannis “ActionFreak” Kontonatsios.

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