Five Furious Poker Feuds
Like all competitive sports and games, poker has its rivalries. The Tip Top Fox looks at five of the biggest poker feuds throughout history
Like most competitive endeavors, poker generates rivalries. Most sports boast famous rivalries, with intense football derbies, and epic boxing clashes such as Mohammed Ali vs Joe Frasier. Some rivalries, however, turn into feuds.
Poker is no different, with rivalries dating back to the games’ early history. That trend still continues in the modern game, with Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk recently settling one of the more highly-publicized poker feuds by playing out a heads-up cash confrontation. The two played 25,000 hands of heads-up NLHE at $200/$400 to put an end to a feud that dated back to 2014.
In the end, it was Polk who emerged the victor, up over $1.2M after the end of the grudge match. The two gave each other grudging respect afterward. They even had some nice things to say about each other in the post-match interviews they gave.
Not all poker rivalries have ended on such friendly terms, however. Read on as the Tip Top Fox explores some of the more infamous poker feuds.
Wild Bill Hickok vs Jack McCall
One of the most famous poker feuds by far dates back to the days of the Old West, and even has a hand named after it so well known is the story. It is, of course, the story of James Butler Hickok, better known as Wild Bill, and dates back to 1876.
Hickok was already a legendary gambler of some repute prior to his death in 1876. This stemmed from his involvement in one of the Wild West’s first-ever quick draw duels. This took place in 1875 where he shot and killed Springfield gambler Davis Tutt over an unpaid poker debt.
It was Hickok’s death at the hands of poker rival Jack McCall that is the game’s most famous feud, however. Hickok was seated with his back to the door and playing poker in the Nuttal & Mann’s #10 Saloon in Deadwood when McCall walked up behind him, pointed a .45-caliber revolver at the back of the head, shouted “Take that!” and pulled the trigger.
The Dead Man’s Hand
Hickok – holding two black aces and two black eights which subsequently became known as the ‘dead man’s hand’ – was killed instantly.
There is a great deal of speculation over the start of the feud between Hickok and McCall.
At his first trial – where he was acquitted – McCall claimed he killed Hickok in revenge for the murder of his brother, whom Hickok killed when working as a sheriff in Abilene, Kansas.
However, after McCall’s hanging following his second trial in 1877 it was determined that McCall had, in fact, never even had a brother.
Some believe McCall may have been hired to kill Hickok. Others believe the real reason for the murder stemmed back to Hickok buying a drunken McCall breakfast after cleaning him out the previous day at the poker tables.
Hickok reportedly gave McCall some money after the latter went broke, telling him not to play again until he could cover his losses. While McCall accepted the money, he also took insult, which resulted in Hickok’s murder the following day.
Whatever the reason, the killing only served to enhance Hickok’s legend and aces and eights are still known as the dead man’s hand to this day.
Jeff Lisandro vs Prahlad Friedman
Looking to pick a fight on poker’s biggest stage? Easy, just call someone a liar and a thief. Back during the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event, fiery Italian-Australian Jeff Lisandro and online legend Prahlad Friedman nearly came to blows at the table in another of the more well-known poker feuds.
Friedman – one of the original online poker prodigies long before Tom “Durrrr” Dwan and Viktor “Isildur1” Blom became household names – accused Lisandro of failing to post a 5,000-chip ante. When Lisandro, a six-time WSOP bracelet winner and legendary Australian Poker Hall of Fame inductee, disputed this Friedman effectively called the Aussie a liar and a thief.
During the now-infamous hand, dubbed ‘Ante-gate’, Friedman accused Lisandro of trying to rob Dustin Holmes of a 5,000-chip ante. He also said he didn’t believe Lisandro, stating “I don’t trust you, sir.”
The argument escalated pretty quickly after that. The conversation became so heated the floor got involved, with Lisandro threatening “I’ll take your head off, buddy!” when Friedman continued to push it.
A subsequent replay showed Lisandro posting the ante in question. While Friedman later tried to apologise, Lisandro refused to talk to him.
Friedman would later go on to finish 20th in the tournament for $494,797, his highest finish in the Main Event. Lisandro managed to last a little longer, eventually busting in 17th for $659,730 – his highest finish in the Main Event.
Sam Grizzle vs Phil Hellmuth
While it’s fair to say Phil Hellmuth has had a lot of confrontations at the poker tables, mostly due to his ‘poker brat’ persona, his most infamous of poker feuds was with grizzled poker veteran Sam Grizzle.
While Grizzle sadly passed away after a stroke at the poker tables back in October 2020, he was considered one of the old school pros. A larger-than-life character, one who most established Vegas poker pros had a story about.
One of the more well-known of the Grizzle stories, however, involved Grizzle and Hellmuth becoming involved in a dispute at the poker tables in the late 90s. It ended up in a fistfight in the parking lot of Binion’s.
The rivalry between Hellmuth and Grizzle was on display in the televised coverage of the 2003 WSOP Main Event. During coverage on ESPN Grizzle beat Hellmuth in a hand and proceeded to needle the “Poker Brat” after the fact.
An Epic Rivalry
Their epic rivalry was then highlighted by ESPN presenter Norman Chad, who went on to regale viewers with the back history between the two.
“Just a couple of years ago, in this very casino downstairs, they got in a dispute at a table,” said Chad. “They took it outside just like they would in the movies, and Sam decked Phil. You gotta like Sam’s chances in a fistfight, even though Phil’s a lot bigger.”
Hellmuth gave his take on it during a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) interview back in 2015.
“Sam Grizzle!?! Sam has always been one of the funniest guys in the poker world: huge personality! One day he asked me to save him a seat in a game while he went to eat. After 90 minutes, I made the casino stop taking his $9 every 30 minutes, cause so much time had passed, AND then he shows up and the game is full, DOH! So he wants to fight me…I say, well you better do it this week while my back is out, and suddenly I’m in my first and only fistfight I’ve ever had in the poker world! We both land punches, but next day not a mark on either of us (BEST FIGHT EVER cause no one was hurt).”Phil Hellmuth
Daniel Negreanu vs Annie Duke
The outspoken Daniel Negreanu is probably one of the world’s most famous poker players. As previously mentioned Negreanu had a notable rivalry with Doug Polk for a number of years.
While Negreanu is a bit more relaxed than Hellmuth at the tables, the Canadian is also not shy about voicing his opinions, becoming embroiled in some feisty disputes over the years.
By far the most well known of these is his dislike of former poker professional and sister to Full Tilt’s Howard Lederer – Annie Duke.
This is one of the more well-known poker feuds, dating back to the early 2000s and mostly played out online. It all began when the two met at the cash games at the Mirage and the Bellagio in Las Vegas back in the late 90s.
The two did not hit it off. Duke referred to Negreanu as “cup boy” due to his habit of having a styrofoam cup of water at the table next to him as he played. The bad feelings appeared to be mutual. Negreanu referred to Duke as “Annie Puke” – a name he claimed the dealers at the Mirage branded her with, such was her unpopularity at the tables.
Most of the dirty laundry was aired via the rec.gambling.poker website in around 2002 and 2003, where Negreanu was an active member. At first the Canadian merely alluded to a mean regular player in the Mirage and Bellagio cash games. It was only when Kid Poker started referring to this individual as “she” that people realized Negreanu was talking about Duke.
Duke’s brother Howard Lederer was also an active member of the same online forum. Lederer called Negreanu out for his posts, writing an open letter where he called Negreanu mean and vindictive.
Negreanu and Lederer then proceeded to exchange heated words, before agreeing to disagree and not speak to each other again. That did not end the feud, however. Negreanu posted a list of the reasons he disliked Duke so much, on the rec.gambling.poker website in 2003.
Duke was largely silent on the matter, though she did respond by calling Negreanu a bully in her 2005 autobiography. The two played in numerous tournaments from 2005-2010 with the feud simmering in the background. They largely avoided any major confrontations until Negreanu referred to Duke as a “fucking cunt” in an interview with Poker Player magazine in 2010.
While Negreanu later backtracked and claimed he thought he was talking off the record, he never actually apologized. It’s fair to say the two probably aren’t on each other’s Christmas card list.
Doug Polk vs Luke Schwartz
No story about poker feuds would be complete without mentioning the occasionally outspoken – and now semi-retired – high stakes poker specialist Doug “WCGRider” Polk. A man never shy about speaking his mind, Polk has had plenty of poker feuds with a variety of players, most recently calling out Phil Hellmuth on Twitter.
However, Polk’s most entertaining feud by far came against another player also well-known for throwing shade – brash Londoner Luke “__FullFlush1__” Schwartz. The two have never actually met in person, but judging by the zingers they threw, that’s probably a good thing.
Schwartz appeared on Joey Ingram’s podcast back in March of 2017 where he accused “this clown [Polk]” of trying to ruin his name by claiming Viktor “Isildur1” Blom was playing on Schwartz’ account when the two played a $400/$800 8-game, where Polk lost $60,000. Schwartz however, did admit to losing over $100,000 to Polk when the two had played heads-up previously.
Clearly there was no love lost. The duo even become embroiled in a little Twitter spat over the game in question in 2016:
Schwartz then went on to accuse Polk’s “pigeon friend” and fellow Upswing Poker coach Jake “JLlama” Abdalla of “either ghosting him or telling him what to do” during the match.
Some of the more entertaining unproven claims Schwartz’ made included Ben “Ben86” Tollerene making Polk cry on a night out, and that Polk hadn’t won at poker for two years. Schwartz, however, claimed to regularly “beast” online high stakes cash games.
“A man who starts coaching on the Internet is a man who can’t win anymore,” Schwartz stated during his rant to Ingram. He also branded Polk’s Upswing Poker coaching site “a scam” and offered to play him heads-up in Las Vegas.
Schwartz doubled down on his claims in a May 2017 interview with PokerNews during the PokerStars Montecarlo EPT.
Polk responded to Schwartz’s accusations in another Joey Ingram YouTube video. In it, Polk refers to a printout hanging it on the wall behind him of his rivals’ PokerStars graph depicting Schwartz’s $800K downswing on the site.
Polk reacts good-naturedly to Schwartz’s jibes, only taking issue with the fact the Londoner was disparaging his coaching site. Polk was also keen to point out Schwartz quit the $400/$800 8-game the last time they played after losing $100K.
The fact that Polk subsequently took down the prestigious $111,111 High Roller for One Drop for over $3.6M in June left Schwartz with a little egg on his face. Obviously, Polk couldn’t resist a parting jab in his PokerNews interview:
“I was a little surprised to see Luke not here for the One Drop or the $300k [Super High Roller Bowl]. You have to wonder what happened. You would think if you were beasting everything that would be a pretty good spot for you… But it’s cool, he’s [Schwartz] is doing his thing. I saw him playing some small stakes online, I’ve been there… Luke and I battled in the past. I beat him for a bunch of money and then he quit me. I publicly attacked him, kind of. Now, a year and a half later he’s coming out of the shadows to get some attention… We both remember, I crushed you and you quit.”Doug Polk