It was billed as an epic clash, but no-one could have predicted the drama that went down in Round 1 of the High Stakes Duel between Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu on Wednesday evening in Las Vegas.
Having won all three High Stakes Duel rounds against Antonio Esfandiari on PokerGO, Hellmuth went 4-0 in the series as he took down the opening clash against old frenemy, Daniel Negreanu.
It was a case of White Magic prevailing, but how did the drama go down? We’ve got your bet covered.
The War of Words
“I think it’s very clear that I’m the greatest tournament player of all time.”
After some jovial banter before the cards were in the air, the two men sat down to begin what would be an epic six-hour heads-up battle. As Phil Hellmuth himself told us last week, he thought Daniel Negreanu to be “delusional” if he thought he was going to have it all his own way.
The opening verbal exchanges in ‘The Weigh In’ had all centred around each players’ legacy, with Phil Hellmuth again claiming his place in poker history as the Greatest of All Time, or G.O.A.T. for short.
As Hellmuth declared, he was afraid of nobody.
“They said ‘would you play Ivey next?’ and I snap said ‘Yes’. They said ‘would you play Dwan?’ and I snap said ‘Yes’. They were surprised. I’m not afraid of anyone when it comes to heads-up, I do my own thing.”
Negreanu fully believed that his favourite tag going into play was justified, and Bovada had Kid Poker as the -1.90 pick ahead of The Poker Brat, who was available at 1.45 before the action started.
“I think it’s very clear that I’m the greatest tournament player of all time.” Said Hellmuth, and filling up on Breinfuel, Hellmuth’s go-to match preparation as we delved into this week, the match was under way.
You can watch the entire Weigh-In right here.
Negreanu Starts on Top
“I don’t want to see bad things happen to my buddy.”
Negreanu started like a train, hitting some lovely early hands to ease into a healthy lead. Kid Poker won with pocket aces and a rivered flush to start to dominate the duel. He then made a lot with king-nine, which hit a king against Hellmuth’s pocket jacks. Negreanu was happy to play to the pantomime of the game and had clearly brought props, sliding a box of tissues across the felt to Hellmuth. The Poker Brat threw them across the PokerGO set.
“I knew you would get lucky,” he snarled. “But I still thought I would win.”
Hellmuth would have no idea how prescient those words would be. Another loss would come first, however, as pocket nines also failed for Hellmuth, Negreanu’s six-four hitting two fours on the flop for trips that tripped up Hellmuth. Of the 100,000 chips in play, Canadian poker legend Negreanu had 93,000. The Poker Brat blew his top.
“You might win this f*cking match,” Hellmuth said, leaving the table for a moment. “But I’ll tell you what, I hate the way you f*cking played. You played so f*cking bad, it’s crazy.”
Negreanu was gleeful, and brought out what would turn out to be a final prop… a white towel!
“Should I do it?” he taunted his rival. “Because Rocky didn’t do it when Creed was getting crushed and Creed died. And I don’t want to see bad things happen to my buddy.”
Setting aside the bad karma Negreanu attracted for letting Rocky III spoilers enter a live broadcast, the stage was set. Hellmuth would either be crushed quickly like Creed, or he would bounce off the canvas. Down to just 3,000 chips, it was now or never.
Hellmuth Comeback Stuns Negreanu
“You just gave me all my chips back from the last six pots.”
Hellmuth was against the ropes, but no-one knows better than the Poker Brat exactly how to bounce back. The comeback would include a cooler or two, but it began with some genuine magic. The 15-time WSOP bracelet winner rolled back the years with a hero call against a Negreanu bluff that would have all but ended the duel and then a stunning bluff of his own. Holding just nine-high, Hellmuth instigated a fold from Negreanu – who had pocket queens – when a flop produced a king and ace.
If Hellmuth was on fire, Negreanu’s own flame was petering out. A gutshot hitting against Negreanu’s worse flush draw put Hellmuth on 20,000 chips, a quarter of Negreanu’s stack, but a playable pile.
Eight levels and four hours in, the tide began to truly turn for the first time in the contest. Two pair against top pair gave Hellmuth double his previous stack and the stacks were even just minutes later as the Poker Brat found a flush on the river, which Negreanu declared that he missed.
“They can steal small, steal small, steal small, whoops, this time I have it, and you just gave me all my chips back from the last six pots.” Hellmuth told Nick Schulman after the match and so it was proving. Negreanu won more pots, but at the stage when it mattered, not as many chips. The momentum had swung brutally in Hellmuth’s favour and Negreanu was down to just 10,000 chips, fortunate to find two quick doubles to get back into contention.
The Poker Brat Closes Out the Win
“Daniel probably won 55% of the pots, but I won the match.”
Negreanu couldn’t rally after doubling back into the game, however and down to just seven big blinds, he was all-in and at risk with six-seven against Hellmuth’s pocket nines. Incredibly, the flop brought a straight flush draw, but The Poker Brat survived turn and river to prevail and go 4-0 in High Stakes Duel.
Negreanu challenged him to a rematch for $200,000 straight after the final card dropped.
“I would rematch Phil for eternity,” he said pre-match, and he meant it. “There is no possible way I would say no to a rematch with Phil Hellmuth.”
“Daniel probably won 55% of the pots, but I won the match,” Hellmuth conceded after his latest victory. “I’m a counterpuncher. Whatever the opponent is doing, I start saying, ‘Wow, I don’t like that, I can take advantage of that’.”
There’s no doubt that in Round 1 of High Stakes Duel II, Phil Hellmuth did exactly that. Phil Hellmuth has his name engraved on the High Stakes Duel Championship Belt and will be difficult to beat when the two men reconvene at an as-yet-unannounced date.
“They thought I was afraid to play Antonio heads-up, and I smacked him,” Hellmuth said. “I’m not afraid of anything.”
The Poker Brat is certainly not afraid of taking on Kid Poker for $200,000. If you’re a PokerGO subscriber, then you can watch Round 1 of the High Stakes Duel II: Hellmuth vs. Negreanu right here.
We can’t wait for the bell to ring again for these two great fighters.
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Pictures featured courtesy of PokerGO, home of the Phil Hellmuth vs. Daniel Negreanu High Stakes Duel.