Apex Predator Phil Hellmuth Looking to Extend His Heads-Up Winning Streak on High Stakes Duel

  • Phil Hellmuth will square off against Daniel Negreanu on Wednesday on High Stakes Duel
  • Hellmuth claimed to be the apex predator of the poker world in a viral video
  • Negreanu questioned Hellmuth’s high stakes credentials
  • Hellmuth came back from 3,000 to 97,000 versus Negreanu in their first match
Phil Hellmuth on High Stakes Duel
Phil Hellmuth is gunning for his fifth straight victory – and second against Daniel Negreanu – on High Stakes Duel Wednesday night. [Image: PokerGO.com]

Fighting Talk from The Poker Brat and Kid Poker  

This coming Wednesday night, Phil Hellmuth will face off against Daniel Negreanu in Round 2 of High Stakes Duel, the fifth installment of PokerGo’s heads-up poker show. “The Poker Brat” has been featured on every episode so far, emerging as a 3-0 victor over Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari and as the winner of his single match so far versus “The Kid Poker.”

he may have been a GOAT of his era, but that era is long gone”

There was a lot of brash talk ahead of the first match between arguably the two most famous poker players of all time. Negreanu derided the 15-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, saying that he is “decent in low and mid-stakes tournaments, but on the major league high roller circuit, he cannot win,” adding: “he may have been a GOAT of his era, but that era is long gone.”

For the most part, Hellmuth kept his responses to Negreanu polite and respectful but in the pre-match “weigh-in,” he created a moment of poker comedy gold when he leapt to his feet, recounted some of his less solver-approved plays and claimed them to be “apex-predator shit, bro” to a bemused Nick Schulman and a bewildered Daniel Negreanu. 

Hellmuth is sharky

In the ocean, there is one apex predator. For 450 million years, sharks have evolved into killing machines. In fact, all fish species that are prey to the shark have had their behavior, their speed, their camouflage and their defense mechanisms molded by the shark.

On the poker table, it is less clear who sits atop the food chain. Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese were probably those guys for a time. Then there was Stu Ungar. Then Johnny Chan. Then along came a brash upstart from Madison, Wisconsin who claimed to be the best there ever was. The eldest of five, this hyper-competitive, bad loser talked the talk, but to be fair, he walked the walk. 

became the youngest player to win the Main Event of the WSOP

In 1989, the 24-year-old Hellmuth became the youngest player to win the Main Event of the WSOP, defeating Chan heads-up, who was himself attempting to go back-to back-to back. From there, he would win 14 more WSOP bracelets. In 2005, Hellmuth won the first National Heads-Up Poker Championship, defeating Men Nguyen, Huck Seed, Antonio Esfandiari and Chris Ferguson on his way to the title. Throughout his career, his record heads-up is spookily good.

A walking contradiction

Do these great achievements mean that Hellmuth is the King Kong alpha dog he claims to be? In an interview for “The Chip Race,” he memorably discusses his record and his legacy: 

Without a doubt, he is in the GOAT conversation but in poker, it’s just not possible to be definitive. Even by the narrow definition of live tournament Hold’em, a sub-sub-category of the game, variance obscures everything. And therein lies the rub and the tragedy for a man who so badly wants to be seen as the greatest. 

Hellmuth is a complicated man and, in so many ways, a walking contradiction. He’s calculated but he’s also a tilter. He’s vain but insecure. He’s an introvert who loves the limelight. He’s obnoxious but likeable. Tortured by an inferiority complex (which masquerades publicly as a superiority complex), haunted by feelings of inadequacy and driven by an insatiable desire to be recognized, Hellmuth is stark naked id, laid bare for our admiration and amusement.

Hellmuth’s wife Katherine Sanborn, a psychiatrist, knows how to ground her husband. She understands his psychology but so too does Negreanu, who knew what he was doing when he took aim at Hellmuth’s credentials. In the run-up to their first High Stakes Duel, Negreanu figured that there was a way to poke the beast and simultaneously create some hype for their encounter.  

Can comeback kid Hellmuth win again?

The High Stakes Duel is a glorified heads-up Sit ‘n’ Go with escalating blinds and a 500bb starting stack. In the early part of their encounter back in March, it was clear that Negreanu had the upper-hand, his understanding of deep-stacked ranges and sizing giving him a significant edge over Hellmuth. Negreanu, of course, paid for expensive heads-up lessons just a few months ago versus Doug Polk.

In fact, the contest looked to be over when Negreanu had 97,000 of the 100,000 chips in play but Hellmuth somehow pulled it back, completing an unfathomable “white magic” comeback after six hours of play.  After all the apex predator talk, Hellmuth emerged the carnivore incarnate, at least in the context of this matchup. Will he stick it to his critics and defy the odds once again on Wednesday night? 

The High Stakes Duel II, Round 2 will take place in the PokerGO Studio in Las Vegas and will air on tape delay on the PokerGO app – a paid subscription is required to watch.

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