Despite facing what many would consider an insurmountable chip lead early on in the heads-up match, Phil Hellmuth completed an epic comeback to win his first high-stakes heads-up match against Daniel Negreanu Wednesday evening in Las Vegas.
The 15-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner won $100,000 after staring at a more than 9:1 chip deficit halfway through the match, which was aired as part of the High Stakes Duel series on PokerGO.
At the end of the six-hour match, when Hellmuth’s 9-9 faded Negreanu’s open-ended straight flush draw, Negreanu said that he would take the option to play Hellmuth again. Per the rules of series, the losing player has the option to challenge the winner for double the stakes. The winner can’t decline a rematch until he has won three straight matches prior to round 6 or two consecutive matches after round 5.
“Good match, buddy,” Negreanu said to Hellmuth after the final card was dealt. “There will be a rematch. You can guarantee that.”
The second match will have a $100,000 buy-in, in contrast to Wednesday’s $50,000 entry fee. During Hellmuth’s first go-around on the series against Antonio Esfandiari, he won the first three matches and profited $350,000.
Negreanu dominated the early portion of the match. Without any hands of significance going to showdown, he opened up a 2:1 lead in the blink of an eye. The GGPoker Ambassador and six-time WSOP bracelet winner extended it to 3:1 about an hour into the match.
The Canadian pro had a prime opportunity to put Hellmuth away when Hellmuth limped in on the button with 99 and Negreanu raised to 1,500 out of the big blind with 64. Hellmuth three-bet to 3,700 and Negeranu called.
The flop was 443 and Negreanu checked. Hellmuth bet 4,000 and Negreanu called. Both players checked the 8 turn card and the 5 came on the river. With 15,400 in the pot and just 12,000 left in Hellmuth’s stack, Negreanu bet 5,000 and Hellmuth called. Negreanu tabled his trip fours and dragged the pot.
Hellmuth was down to just 7,000 of the 100,000 in play and bled off another few thousand chips, leaving himself with just 5% of the chips in play, while Negreanu held the other 95%. But instead of opting to go for it all with trips, Negreanu gave Hellmuth the opportunity to mount a comeback.
It was an opportunity Hellmuth took full advantage of.
Hellmuth picked off a bluff to get back to 10,000, bluffed Negreanu off pocket queens on an ace-high flop, and then scored a double up with Qc6c against 10c5c on a 4c3d2c flop to get back into the match. Just 30 minutes after he was down to almost nothing, Hellmuth was back up to about 40 big blinds and cut Negreanu’s lead back to a 3:1 advantage.
From there, everything started going Hellmuth’s way. He rivered middle two pair against Negreanu’s top pair and the match was almost even. About four and a half hours into the match, Hellmuth rivered a flush against Negreanu’s top pair to take the chip lead for the first time.
Negreanu never recovered and eventually was in the same hole Hellmuth dug out of a few hours earlier.
Hellmuth limped in on the button and Negreanu shoved his last 15 big blinds into the middle with 76. Hellmuth snap-called with 99. There was a huge sweat for Negreanu on a J85 flop, but the K on the turn and the 8 on river failed to improve his open-ended straight flush draw and sent the match to Hellmuth.
The reason for the match stems from controversy sparked by Hellmuth’s comments in the aftermath of Negreanu’s loss to Doug Polk a few months ago. Over 25,000 hands of $200-$400 heads-up no-limit hold’em on WSOP.com, Negreanu ended up losing a seven-figure sum.
“I was disappointed in the way that Daniel played,” said Hellmuth in February.
He went on to say that he thought Negreanu should’ve stuck to the strategy that he used to win for more than two decades, instead of switching to a more game theory optimal approach to the game.
Negreanu heard the comments and took the opportunity to challenge Hellmuth to a match of their own, eventually agreeing to battle on High Stakes Duel.
On Twitter, the two went back-and-forth over the perceived talent level of their opponent. The banter culminated in a Negreanu offering a $400,000 bet that Hellmuth wouldn’t be a winner in the $25,000 buy-in tournaments at the Aria over a 50-tournament sample. That bet will likely start this summer and finish in early 2022.