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Phil Hellmuth Sweeps Daniel Negreanu In Three Straight Matches To Win High Stakes Duel II

by Steve Schult |  Published: Jul 28, 2021


With yet another win in June, Phil Hellmuth has quieted the haters by sweeping Daniel Negreanu, earning victories in three consecutive heads-up matches to be crowned the champion of High Stakes Duel II.

Per the format of the PokerGO series, the buy-in doubled with every passing match. Following a Hellmuth win in April in a $50,000 buy-in match, the 15-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner then won a second $100,000 rematch.

The final showdown in June featured a buy-in of $200,000, giving Negreanu a chance to recoup his losses. After a long, see-saw battle between the two poker legends, however, Hellmuth came out on top.

His three straight victories netted him a tidy profit of $350,000, mimicking his series sweep in the first edition of High Stakes Duel against Antonio Esfandiari in 2020. The two sweeps give Hellmuth a six-match winning streak and $700,000 in total profit.

“Where’s the window, baby?” Hellmuth said after his third match with the six-time WSOP bracelet winner. “I know Mori [Eskandari] is not happy to hear that, but I would like to go to the cash out window.”

Hellmuth had the option to let his winnings ride and allow a challenger to play a $400,000 buy-in match in a potential round 4, but he decided to play it safe, call it quits, and collect his money. Every High Stakes Duel series must go a minimum of three matches.

In Hellmuth’s first match, Negreanu jumped out to a huge lead early, forcing Hellmuth to mount a sizable comeback to win the round. It looked like Hellmuth was going to need another improbable come-from-behind victory in the third battle as Negreanu got out in front with a nearly identical start to their first go-around. But unlike the first match, Hellmuth amped up the aggression before he got too short on chips.

The match turned when he five-bet 8Club Suit 3Club Suit preflop against Negreanu’s pocket deuces. Hellmuth floated the jack-high flop with nothing but eight high and led the turn when he picked up a flush draw. Negreanu mucked his hand after using several time extensions and Hellmuth officially took over the chip lead.

Negreanu won a few pots to regain a small lead, but Hellmuth struck again in a big way when he three-bet QHeart Suit 3Heart Suit and flopped trips on a 3Club Suit 3Spade Suit 2Spade Suit board against Negreanu’s pocket nines. Hellmuth check-called the flop and then check-raised all in on the 5Club Suit turn. Negreanu thought for quite a while before calling. Hellmuth’s trips held up, giving him a nearly 5:1 chip advantage.

A short time later, both players picked up pocket kings preflop. All the chips got into the middle, with Negreanu tabling KDiamond Suit KHeart Suit and Hellmuth showing KClub Suit KSpade Suit. The hand was supposed to result in a chopped pot nearly 96% of the time, according to the Card Player Poker Odds Calculator, but an all-diamond flop gave Negreanu a freeroll, which he drilled when the 8Diamond Suit came on the river. Just like that, stacks were about even.

Negreanu may have expected Hellmuth to blow up following the beat, telling media before the match that, “when [Hellmuth] goes on monkey tilt, he starts three-betting with trash. It’s ingrained in him, he’s just a tilter at the core.”

Despite the terrible luck, the Poker Brat was undeterred. Over the next couple of hours, there were no major showdowns, but he managed to win the majority of the pots. With the blinds getting bigger, those pots added up and Hellmuth opened a nearly 2:1 chip lead.

But once again, Negreanu found a key double-up. Hellmuth raised on the button and Negreanu moved all in for about 20 big blinds. Hellmuth called with A-Q and was in the lead against Negreanu’s K-3. The flop was queen-high, leaving Negreanu drawing very thin, but a king came on the turn to put him back in the match, facing a much smaller deficit.

Eventually, a cold deck finally went Hellmuth’s way, and he finished off the Poker Hall of Famer. Negreanu limped in on the button with 6Spade Suit 5Spade Suit and Hellmuth checked his option with 10Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit.

The flop was 9Diamond Suit 7Spade Suit 2Diamond Suit and Hellmuth check-called a bet from Negreanu. The turn was the 8Heart Suit, giving both players a straight, but Hellmuth’s was bigger. All the money went in the middle and Negreanu was drawing dead to a chop. He didn’t hit on the river to stay alive and Hellmuth collected his money, along with his second consecutive High Stakes Duel belt.

“Good game,” said Negreanu after the river card was dealt. “You played great. You deserve it.”

“I think you’re one of the all-time greats,” responded Hellmuth. “I really mean that.”
The exchange was a definitive change in tone from the drama that sparked the heads-up match in the first place. Following Negreanu’s $1.2 million heads-up challenge loss to Doug Polk, Hellmuth criticized Negreanu’s approach.

“I was disappointed in the way he played,” said Hellmuth last February.

The critique drew irritation from Negreanu, who responded on Twitter with some shots at Hellmuth’s poker strategy and challenged him to a heads-up grudge match of their own. Negreanu was the betting favorite, with the line set at -150. Most of the poker world seemed to agree he had the advantage before play started, given his recent study in the format for the match with Polk.

When asked about the grief he gets from other members of the poker community, Hellmuth explained that he’s been dealing with it for a long time.

“I think there are always going to be haters, and I remember all these tournaments I’ve won over the last ten years. It’s a crazy number. I just keep getting down there. And if I don’t do anything for two years, then everybody is like, ‘The game has passed Phil by,’ and then I win a bracelet, and they say, ‘Phil is the greatest of all time.’ So there is a lot of current bullshit going on, and people judge people by the current stuff. I’m frustrated that I beat the biggest and most important tournaments around the world for 32 years, and now their knock is that ‘he doesn’t play enough high rollers, he’s not good, he’s not as great as the young players.’ Well, I just can’t wait to step into that ring in July for the PokerGO Cup, and I can play some tournaments with those guys, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Hellmuth pointed to his unique reading ability as the reason for his undefeated stretch on High Stakes Duel.

“There’s just something weird about heads-up where I think a lot of the guys are just pure math guys and think they’ve figured it out. And they have figured it out on the internet, but they haven’t figured it out in the real world. There is some stuff that I’ve been working on for a long time. I will discuss heads-up no-limit hold’em strategy with zero people. I don’t talk about it with anybody because I think there are a few things I do that everybody thinks that are wrong that I’ll just continue to do.”

“I think this strategy that I have right now is the best maybe I’ll ever play,” he continued. “I’m playing a strategy that is heavily dependent on reading your opponent. They can do whatever they want. If they’re playing online, they can hide. If they’re playing in the real world, they can put stuff over their face, but even then, I’m going to figure some stuff out. White magic, I call it.” ♠

*Photos courtesy of PokerGO