Tom Dwan and Doug Polk, two polarizing pros with some history away from the felt, were randomly drawn to face each other in the first round of the 32-player, $25,000 WPT Heads-Up Poker Championship presented by Poker King. Play begins June 18 with eight of the 16 first-round games (eight more on June 19), and there are some interesting match-ups to watch.
The event is similar to the former NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship, except this one will be played online and with half the competitors. From 2005 to 2013 (minus 2012), NBC hosted a 64-player, heads-up tournament that brought out some of the biggest names in the game. Players who won the invite-only event include Phil Hellmuth (2005), Annie Duke (2010), Erik Seidel (2011), and Mike Matusow (2013).
The World Poker Tour is hosting a similar online event, with 32 players, including a mix of pros, celebrities, and vloggers.
Thomas Keeling, Polk’s video editor, used Random.org to generate the 16 first-round matchups. Polk and Joey Ingram revealed the matchups on Polk’s YouTube channel on Monday afternoon. The first names drawn were high-roller star Dan Smith against Steve Aoki, one of the world’s top DJs and record producers.
While this match-up might seem like a slam dunk victory for Smith, he can’t get too cocky. As Polk acknowledged during the bracket draw, Aoki is an avid poker player who’s appeared on Poker After Dark on PokerGO.
The format is sit-n-go style, which means the blinds will increase every seven hands (not timed), and players will start with approximately 140 big blinds, per Keeling, who assisted in determining the structure.
“Every seven hands?” a shocked Doug Polk asked. “Sorry, did you say seven?”
The structure will force a quick match. Polk estimated the average game will last only about 50-60 hands.
A matchup many have been waiting for
The second matchup drawn pits Jean-Robert Bellande, a long-time high roller, against up-and-coming high roller Lynn Gi, who appeared on multiple episodes of High Stakes Poker with Bellande in 2020. The winner of that match will face the winner of Aoki/Smith. All second-round matches are scheduled for June 20 on the Poker King poker site.
But the biggest draw of this star-studded tournament is Polk vs. Dwan, two of the most popular players of all time. Polk is considered one of the best heads-up players in history. He defeated Daniel Negreanu in a 25,000-hand heads-up challenge by $1.2 million earlier this year.
Polk and Dwan have never faced each other heads-up, and only briefly competed against each other in a High Stakes Poker Season 8 episode. But there’s some history between them, as Polk previously challenged Dwan to a $5 million, heads-up match in 2017 on his YouTube channel. Earlier that year, he made another video accusing the former Full Tilt Poker pro of being involved in a seven-figure sports betting scam.
Polk hasn’t held back over the years on his thoughts about Dwan refusing to finish the 2010 “Durrrr Challenge” against Dan “Jungleman” Cates, a friend of Polk’s. He’s referred to Dwan as a “scammer” many times, and did so again during his Monday tournament draw live stream. Dwan hasn’t publicly ripped on Polk, or even spent much time discussing his future heads-up opponent.
Other intriguing matchups
Polk vs. Dwan will receive the most attention of the WPT Heads-Up Poker Championship, at least in the first round. Even so, there are quite a few other first-round battles that should be interesting to follow, starting with poker vlogger Brad Owen against Daniel Dvoress (June 19), who has been one of the top high rollers the past year.
Owen isn’t accustomed to playing at these stakes, nor is he an experienced heads-up player. He’ll have his work cut out for him against a difficult opponent. Phil Ivey, a Poker King ambassador, will face Manig Loeser, one of the top German high-stakes pros in the game. That match will also take place on June 19.
On June 18, Canadian star Sam Greenwood will face Kevin Rabichow, whom Polk refers to as “maybe the best player in this tournament.” That’s an unfortunate draw for both players, considering they’re each among the top pros in the field.
You can watch the live stream of every match on the World Poker Tour Twitch channel. The finale of the $800,000 guaranteed heads-up tournament is set for June 22 at 11 am PT.