Daniel Negreanu vs. Phil Hellmuth: Which Player has the Edge?

Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth are set to face-off on PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel next week, and the match should be quite intriguing. But who should be expected to win this high-stakes challenge?

Phil Hellmuth Daniel Negreanu

Phil Hellmuth vs. Daniel Negreanu is going to be one of the most intriguing heads-up matches ever. (Image: YouTube/FuryTV)

The answer to that question isn’t so simple, but it appears the bulk of the poker community favors Negreanu over the lesser experienced heads-up player.

“Negreanu has the edge, with the amount of work he’s been putting into his game,” 2016 WSOP bracelet winner Ryan Laplante told CardsChat News. “Hellmuth will be drastically out-classed.”

Greg Raymer, the 2015 WSOP Main Event champion, doesn’t completely agree with Laplante. He argues that Negreanu has the edge if played online, while Hellmuth has a live poker advantage. The heads-up match will take place live at the PokerGO Studio in Las Vegas on March 30. Thus, the former world champion believes, the “Poker Brat” is the best bet.

‘High Stakes Feud’ Format

Hellmuth and Negreanu will (likely) play a series of sit-n-go style matches on High Stakes Duel. They’ll compete for a couple of days prior to the 31st and then PokerGO will air the match next Wednesday. The format is the same as it was when Hellmuth defeated Antonio Esfandiari three straight times last year.

Both players will buy in for $50,000, creating an initial $100,000 prize pool. The losing player then has the option to call it quits or challenge the winner to a rematch. If a rematch is in store, the player who lost in the first game must contribute another $100,000 to the pot.

In the second match, the same rules apply. If a player decides to give up after the last card has fallen, the second match winner will bank the entire $200,000 prize pool. Assuming that doesn’t happen, and that’s a pretty solid bet, the second-round loser will be required to add $200,000 to the prize pool, and $400,000 will be up for grabs in the third match. By round 8, if it reaches that level, they’d be playing for $12.8 million.

At this point, the winning player has the option to take the money and run. Or, both players can agree to continue on and again raise the stakes. In the case of the Hellmuth-Esfandiari battle, Hellmuth decided three straight wins were enough and took a $350,000 profit, along with Esfandiari’s pride.

The format differs greatly from Negreanu’s match against Doug Polk, in which the GGPoker ambassador lost $1.2 million. In that competition, the game was $200/$400 No-Limit Hold’em played online over 25,000 hands. The blinds never increased because they were playing a cash game format. On High Stakes Duel, the format is a sit-n go-with increasing blinds.

Poker Community: Negreanu has an edge

Hellmuth has proven he can win in this format many times. But Laplante argues the experience Negreanu gained against Polk, one of the top heads-up players ever, gives him a huge edge. CardsChat podcast host Robbie Strazynski agrees, even though variance is a major factor in a sit-n-go style match.

“The math says Daniel wins (despite the luck factor in play),” Strazynski says. “Not saying that if Phil wins it’s because he got lucky, obviously. They’re both very skilled.”

Both players are indeed skilled at the game of poker. They have a combined $67 million in lifetime live tournament cashes, 21 WSOP bracelets, and both became members of the Poker Hall of Fame the first time they were eligible (age 40).

Hellmuth and Negreanu are two of the most iconic poker stars in history. Not only do they each have a resume that would make nearly any poker pro envious, they both have a unique ability to bring casual fans to the game. But, they have different philosophies on poker strategy. Negreanu has adapted to the GTO mindset, whereas Hellmuth still believes he can dominate the game by making correct live reads. Or, as he likes to call it, “white magic.”

The two legendary pros have tangled on social media over, as Negreanu claims, Hellmuth’s disrespect for the younger, GTO-minded generation of great players. And that is part of what sparked the heads-up challenge offered by Negreanu.

The other part was Hellmuth’s criticism over Negreanu’s play against Polk. Hellmuth himself has never taken on such a challenge, facing a difficult opponent in a lengthy contest. He does, however, have numerous victories under his belt in a similar format to what he’ll be facing on High Stakes Duel,” starting with his three wins over Esfandiari.

Hellmuth also won the 2005 NBC National Heads-Up Championship, a 64-player tournament featuring many of the best players in the world at the time. In 2013, the event’s final year, he finished runner-up to his buddy Mike Matusow.

In 2017, he competed in a pair of four-player heads-up tournaments on Poker Night in America, winning the first tournament and finishing runner-up in the second. He even defeated Polk in the first round. That event was also similar in structure to the upcoming High Stakes Duel, so he has proven he can win in this format.

Negreanu is more polished heads-up from a fundamental standpoint. Polk said in a recent video on Poker Central’s new podcast, No Gamble No Future that Negreanu has accepted the game theory optimal approach, and no longer relies as heavily on live reads as he did years ago.

According to PokerShares, Negreanu is a -159 favorite ($159 to win $100), while Hellmuth is a +136 dog ($100 to win $136). The poker community, including Polk, seems to think Negreanu has an edge due to the extensive heads-up experience he recently gained. But you can’t ever count Hellmuth out. He may not receive much respect from the younger generation, but 15 WSOP bracelets and $24 million in live tournament cashes, along with a number of heads-up victories to his name, speaks for itself.

Written by
Jon Sofen
Semi-pro poker player with 17 years experience on the felt and more than five years working as professional poker media.

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