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Heads-Up For ROFLs

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Dec 02, 2020


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Gavin GriffinI have to admit, I’m not much of a prop bettor. Not only do I not do it that often, I’m also probably a lifetime loser in the few times I’ve done it.

The most prolific time for my prop bets was during my World Series of Poker summers when sharing a house with friends. We would keep a spreadsheet tracking who owed money to whom, and what it was for. I won money playing pool and answering Jeopardy! questions, but lost it all back on a bet that one of my roommates could do 100 burpees in a set amount of time.

I guess, to be honest, I’ve never been much of a gambler either. I don’t try and beat the house, and I don’t like losing money on things that I don’t have direct control over. I tried one time to get into sports betting, but despite my projected win probability models, I had a losing summer betting baseball and packed it in.

I’ve also never really been a fan of playing heads-up poker (unless it’s at the end of a tournament!) I’ll do it in good situations at the end of the night when someone is just begging to give their money away, but those opportunities don’t come up that often. I can even remember playing one person heads up that I knew was better than me, but that’s only because he offered me 10 percent back if I lost and a 10 percent bonus if I won the freezeout. That was a hard offer to pass up.

I’m sharing all this as background because even though I’ve personally avoided these heads-up prop bet matches, I am actually interested in the series of heads-up matches that have been taking place in the poker world lately.

I cheered along with Phil Galfond as he came back from a roughly seven-figure deficit in his pot-limit Omaha match to beat online phenom VeniVidi1993 who, unfortunately for him, did not Vici. He’s now in the middle of a match with Chance Kornuth, and has more scheduled later this year and next.

I was also amazed, along with Galfond himself, when Phil Hellmuth defeated Antonio Esfandiari three straight times on PokerGo’s High-Stakes Poker Duel, beating him out of a total of $350,000.

Those matches were all well and good, but they’re bloodless. They lack the style and machismo of an old fashioned, internet forum, anger-induced, heads-up for rolls challenge. Galfond offered odds on a side bet and decided to take on all comers. Hellmuth and Esfandiari were brought in for a TV show. There was no conflict in either of those, no hatred.

The match I’m really looking forward to is between Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk. Ever since Negreanu said the following in a video, Polk has been all over him.

“If the rake is ‘too high’ [Negreanu uses air quotes] for good players, what you’re left with is bad players who are going to lose. But they’re losing less per 100 hands than they would be if the pros were playing with them. There’s a lot of games where that’s true, where the rake is really high and it keeps pros away because they’re like, ‘Well, we can’t beat this.’ But overall for the game, it’s actually better because the pros aren’t playing.”

Polk shot back at Negreanu’s take on his popular YouTube channel, mocking the six-time WSOP bracelet winner by pushing the now-infamous tagline of “more rake is better.” In fact, he went so far as to sell shirts on his site with the slogan printed on them. He eventually wore the shirt at the same table as Negreanu in the Super High Roller Bowl, and even plastered it on a billboard outside of The Rio in Las Vegas during the 2018 summer series.

Negreanu took issue with Polk’s trolling and repeatedly clarified that he doesn’t think more rake is better for the game, temporarily allowing the beef to fade away for a while. But of course, 2020 has been a special year. Negreanu himself had a few brushes with internet infamy while streaming his play during the online WSOP, going viral for a handful of profanity-laced tirades.

Although Polk claimed he had been retired from poker for almost a year, the online heads-up specialist couldn’t resist throwing fuel on the fire, issuing a challenge to Negreanu. After some back-and-forth haranguing and tense negotiations, they’re getting set to play this thing. They’ll be playing $200-$400 no-limit for 12,500 hands at which time, the person who is losing can choose to extend the match for another 12,500 hands.

Since I have three kids who are home 100 percent of the time, I won’t be able to watch every hand of this challenge, but I will definitely be checking in because of the backstory and history between these two. I’m looking forward to seeing some excellent trolling, hopefully some good poker, and of course the pain experienced by whomever winds up losing. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG