Phil Hellmuth wins again
Last night, Phil Hellmuth emerged victorious once again in a heads-up encounter, par for the course for the self-styled “apex predator” of the poker world. His victim once again was Daniel Negreanu, who got bluffed and then drawn out on in the two crucial hands of the High Stakes Duel encounter.
Negreanu has consistently criticized Phil Hellmuth’s poker abilities, calling out his record versus elite players. “On the major league high roller circuit, he cannot win,” said Negreanu, adding: “He may have been a GOAT of his era, but that era is long gone.”
I just want to keep winning.”
Despite his 15 WSOP bracelets, Hellmuth still struggles for the recognition he craves. “It just blows my mind, but I just never quite get that respect,” he told PokerGO. “And that’s OK with me. I just want to keep winning.” And win he did.
Negreanu was a -161 favorite to win the match with PokerShares.com, with Hellmuth inserted as the +142 underdog. Odds be damned as “The Poker Brat” locked up another famous victory. When the match was over, Norman Chad was quickest on the draw with a hilarious needle.
Funny as Chad’s comment was, it actually belies a far worse record, as Negreanu has failed to close for eight long years.
Negreanu’s early career was peppered with victories
In 2013, Daniel Negreanu was flying high atop the poker world. In April, he won the 405-runner Main Event of the WSOP Asia-Pacific for over AU$1m (US$780,000), defeating Daniel Martin heads-up. In October that year, he won the €25,000 ($30,117) high-roller event at the WSOP Europe, the last man standing from an elite field of 80. He defeated Nicolau Villa-Lobos heads-up for his sixth bracelet.
Negreanu’s previous WSOP wins came between 1998 and 2008. In fact, his first-ever WSOP cash was a win when he took down the 229-runner $2000 Pot Limit Hold ‘em event. Following that result, he won the 135-runner $2000 SHOE event in May 2003, the 287-runner $2000 Limit Hold ‘em event in May 2004, and the 480-runner $2000 Limit Hold ‘em event in June 2008.
he has failed to register a win on US soil since his WSOP triumph in 2008
In May 2015, “Kid Poker” won Season 2 of The Pokerstars Shark Cage, a 36-player shoot-out invitational TV game organized by his then sponsors. But apart from that, he has failed to register a victory since the WSOP-E high-roller title. In fact, he has failed to register a win on US soil since his WSOP triumph in 2008.
String of defeats includes 2019 WSOP POY
It is not fair to say that Negreanu has not been posting results since 2013. He has been ratcheting up cashes, finishing in the money 95 times and making the final table 37 times. He famously goes for the WSOP POY title each year, grinding the Series harder than anyone. In 2004 and 2013, he won that title. In 2019, he thought he did until a points recount revealed that he actually finished third behind Rob Campbell and Shaun Deeb.
Embarrassingly for Negreanu, he had already booked himself on almost every poker podcast. What was supposed to be a winner’s lap of honor became a loser’s tour as he insisted over and over again that he had not been tracking his points closely despite vlogging every day of the series.
What was supposed to be a winner’s lap of honor became a loser’s tour
It was a cruel and ignominious defeat for Negreanu, who had been given a fleeting taste of victory for the first time in years. He must have felt like his losing streak had finally come to an end when, in fact, there would be no reprieve.
A series of losses between 2013 and 2019
Quantitative studies of winning and losing streaks have failed to find any evidence that ‘streaks’ actually exist, except as a matter of random chance. Similar to coincidences, streaks are a human thing, a narrative device when looking back on singular events. A team or player with low ability is more likely to lose frequently, while a team or player with high ability is more likely to win.
That, however, comes as little consolation to those teams or players who keep losing.
In the 2002/2003 Season, Sunderland lost 15 straight Premier League games. In 1889, the Louisville Colonels lost 26 straight games in Major League Baseball. In 2015, the Philadelphia 76ers lost 28 straight NBA games. Earlier this year, the Buffalo Sabres lost 18 NHL games in a row. Negreanu’s losing streak between 2013 and 2019 is right up there with some of the biggest outliers in sport.
June 2014, WSOP Big One For One Drop: Negreanu lost heads-up to Dan Colman
April 17, 2017, Bellagio Mixed Highroller: Negreanu lost heads-up to Ben Lamb
April 18, 2017, Bellagio Mixed Highroller: Negreanu lost heads-up to Daniel Alaei
June 4, 2017, WSOP Omaha Hi Lo: Negreanu lost heads-up to Abe Mosseri
December 1, 2017, WPT Super Highroller: Negreanu lost heads-up to Dan Smith
December 21, 2017, Poker After Dark, Holidays with Hellmuth Event #3: Negreanu lost heads-up to Phil Hellmuth
May 27, 2018, Super Highroller Bowl: Negreanu lost heads-up to Justin Bonomo
June 17, 2019, WSOP 7-Card Stud: Negreanu lost heads-up to John Hennigan
July 11, 2019, WSOP Highroller: Negreanu lost heads-up to Keith Tilston
In that period, Negreanu also had eight third-place finishes on his resume. Incredibly, that meant that over the course of 18 three-handed encounters, Negreanu had won zero. Amazingly, that’s not where the pain would end for the man who had also just lost his lucrative Pokerstars contract after 12 years.
Negreanu humbled by Polk
In the summer of 2020, despite ten consecutive losses heads-up, Negreanu accepted a challenge from a specialist in that format, Doug Polk. They agreed to play 25,000 hands of $200/$400 No Limit Hold ‘em. Play began on November 4 and ended February 3. With very few bumps in the road, it was pretty much one-way traffic for Polk who won a total of 30 buy-ins and $1.2m.
It was a steep and expensive learning curve for Negreanu whose game improved substantially throughout the match but was never good enough to give Polk a real sweat. On his appearance on The Lock-In, Polk acknowledged Negreanu’s effort and how the realization of his inferiority must have hit home.
He said: “When you prepare for something, and you spend the time trying to learn, and then you show up and play, and you’re doing your best, and you’re giving it your all, but you can’t win, I think that that is humbling.”
Hellmuth comeback piled on misery for DNegs
Since adding the Polk/DNegs Grudge match to his litany of failures, Negreanu threw down the gauntlet to long-time rival Phil Hellmuth. Hellmuth’s heads-up record is eerily consistent in the modern era, despite relentless criticism from the game’s elite.
On March 31, after weeks of smack talk and hype, the High Stakes Duel II took place in the PokerGO studio. At one point, it must have seemed like Negreanu had finally got the monkey off his back. With 97,000 of the 100,000 chips in play, he was on the brink of his first heads-up victory in almost eight years, and his first in the US in almost thirteen.
But, alas, it wasn’t to be. Hellmuth mounted a tremendous comeback, sealing the deal after a six-hour marathon. A re-match was immediately requested and granted. When the two titans of poker returned to the PokerGO studio on May 5 for a $200,000 duel, double the stakes of their first encounter, again Hellmuth dispatched Negreanu.
a third and probably final match with $400,000 on the line
Negreanu will play Hellmuth in a third and probably final match with $400,000 on the line at a date and time that is yet to be decided. If Hellmuth wins that contest, as per the rules of High Stakes Duel, he can cash out his winnings. He previously cashed out $400,000 versus Antonio Esfandiari, $350,000 of which was “The Magician”’s.
If Negreanu wins, he claws back his losses plus $50,000, saves himself the indignity of a 3:0 drubbing, and – perhaps most importantly – puts an end to the most astonishing losing streak in poker history.