The Weekly Round-up – 28 June 2021:

Phil Hellmuth wins High Stakes Duel II Round 3. Image courtesy of PokerGO.com

The Tip Top Fox brings you the top poker and gambling industry stories of the week; Hellmuth Sweeps Negreanu 3-0 In High Stakes Duel; Ivey Enters NFT Market; Wynn Millions Smashes $10M Guarantee

Hellmuth Sweeps Negreanu 3-0 In High Stakes Duel

The third and final round of PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel II between Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu played out to a thrilling conclusion on Thursday, 24 June, with “The Poker Brat” defeating “Kid Poker” for the third consecutive time to collect the $400,000 prize pool.

The win marks Hellmuth’s sixth consecutive victory in the High Stakes Duel format, having previously beaten Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari in a best of three. Victory over Negreanu brings Hellmuth’s High Stakes Duel winnings up to $700,000.

“There’s just something weird about heads-up where I think a lot of the guys are just pure math guys and think they’ve figured it out. And they have figured it out on the internet, but they haven’t figured it out in the real world,” Hellmuth told PokerGO interviewers after the match.

“There is some stuff that I’ve been working on for a long time. I will discuss heads-up No-Limit Hold’em strategy with zero people. I don’t talk about it with anybody because I think there are a few things I do that everybody thinks are wrong that I’ll just continue to do.”

Phil Hellmuth

High Stakes Duel Format

The High Stakes Duel format is certainly an interesting one. Designed exclusively for televised coverage, the first round sees each player buy in for $50,000 with the winner advancing to Round 2. The loser has the option to challenge for a rematch. If they decline, the challenger seat is open for 30 days.

The stakes double with each round, resulting in a potential total prize pool of $12.8M should the match go the full eight rounds distance. In order for a player to walk away victorious, they must win 3 straight matches before Round 6 or two in a row from Round 5 onward. 

Despite being designed for TV, it’s no shallow-stacked shove fest, with players starting 500 big blinds deep. However, there is a 30-second shot clock format to keep the pace of the game moving.

“I love this format,” said Hellmuth. “Daniel and I played 300 hands and then 300 hands; we’re playing a massive amount of hands. That’s a huge amount of skill in the real world. Online it passes quickly, but when you’re focused on every single hand, and you’re playing 300 hands, that’s a lot of hands.”

With Hellmuth sweeping both of his previous opponents, High Stakes Duel has yet to progress past Round 3. However, that could well change in the next installment.

“I’ll take on another great opponent [in High Stakes Duel III], and it could be Tom Dwan, it could be Phil Ivey, it could be one of the younger guys as there are some great young players out there right now. So I’m going to play another great player, and I just have to win that first match, and that’s it,” said Hellmuth.

Hellmuth’s next opponent has already been announced, with Fox Sports 1 Host and keen amateur player Nick Wright slated to take on “The Poker Brat” on 28 July.

Hellmuth The Underdog

Hellmuth has won 29 out of his last 30 televised heads-up matches. By contrast Negreanu has had recent high profile heads-up losses against Doug Polk – where he lost $1.2M over the space of 3 months and 25,000 hands – and back-to-back defeats against Hellmuth in the first two rounds of High Stakes Duel II.

Despite this is was Negreanu who came into the match as a -145 favorite according to online poker betting site PokerShares.

“It’s frustrating, period, because the line has me at a -150 favorite, and I bet on that line,” said Negreanu when asked about his pre-match preparations. “I think I’m going to win way more than six out of ten of them, but I’m 0-2, so what do I know.”

However, after the grueling six-hour, 266-hand match it was Hellmuth who once again emerged victorious. With Hellmuth having the option to cash out the $400,000 prize pool, or keep the challenger seat open for Round 4, Hellmuth happily decided to lock up his winnings and was presented with his second High Stakes Duel Championship Belt.

“Where’s the window, baby? I know Mori [Eskandani – show producer] is not happy to hear that, but I would like to go to the cash-out window,” a jubilant Hellmuth stated immediately after his victory.

“This was the match I played my best poker,” Hellmuth told PokerGO interviewers after the match. “He [Negreanu] started with an amazing card rush and got me down before I went for the crazy bluff with the eight-three of clubs. I just went nuts. I thought he couldn’t call me, and I was right.”

Negreanu’s Losing Streak

For Negreanu, despite sitting in third on the All-Time Money List with live tournament winnings of over $42.2 million, this marks a heads-up losing streak that dates back to May 2015.

As poker player David Lapin is keen to point out, Negreanu has not won a poker tournament on US soil since his World Series of Poker bracelet win in 2008.

However, Negreanu remained confident about his game when asked about how a loss might affect his poker legacy in the pre-match interview.

“I think it’s [Negreanu’s legacy] already tarnished no matter what happens. Even if I dominate Phil again like I did in the first match and win, people are going to look at it like ‘Well, it’s still 2-1 Phil,’ even though I would be ahead by $50,000, people are still going to say, ‘Well, he beat you.’”

“The truth is that there is a rematch available that he [Hellmuth] won’t take because he doesn’t like to gamble that high, which is fine. I think in the public’s eye, they look at something like this, and they don’t realize how much luck is involved, and they are like, ‘He won, so he must have played better,’ where it’s like in hockey a little bit where one team gets to dominate the other like how Vegas was dominated in game four, and somehow won the game.”

How It Played Out

With both players starting 500 big blinds deep, the action started off slowly with Negreanu chipping away at Hellmuth in a series of small pots for the majority of the first two levels.

The first big pot came near the close of the second level with Negreanu opening on the button with pocket twos. Proving that he came to play, Hellmuth chose to three-bet out of position with 8♣3♣ and the two got into a raising war. Negreanu four-bet before calling a sizable Hellmuth five-bet and leading out on a T6♠J♣ flop.

Hellmuth called – with eight-high – and then led out after picking up a backdoor flush draw when the 6♣ paired the turn. Negreanu grudgingly folded, and Hellmuth took the chip lead.

Negreanu returned to playing small ball, winning a series of small pots to reclaim the chip lead before another big clash between the two saw Hellmuth again chose to get creative with a suited hand out of position.

After Negreanu raised the button with pocket nines, Hellmuth three-bet with Q♣3♣ and flopped trip threes. A sneaky check saw Negreanu fire out a bet and quickly call Hellmuth’s check-raise. Another Hellmuth check saw Negreanu fire a second barrel, bringing a second check-raise from Hellmuth, although this time it was for all his chips.

While it took him three time extensions, Negreanu eventually called and with no nine on the river gave Hellmuth a four-to-one chip lead.

A Rough Diamond

The next big pot came around two hours later. Negreanu had whittled Hellmuth’s chip lead down to three-to-one before the two were both dealt pocket kings – Hellmuth receiving the two black kings and Negreanu getting the red ones.

All the chips went in pre-flop, Hellmuth shoving from the button over the top of a Negreanu three-bet. The monochrome flop came down all diamonds, with Negreanu spiking the fourth diamond on the river to seize the lead in the match.

However, Hellmuth bounced back quickly and had once again pulled into the chip lead by the time the next big all-in came around. Hellmuth raised the button with ace-queen and a six-to-one chip lead with Negreanu choosing to roll the dice with king-three.

While Hellmuth flopped his queen, Negreanu turned his king to bring himself back into contention and return the stacks to close to even.

A Cooler To Clinch It

When the final hand came, it proved to be a bit of a cooler for Negreanu with both players flopping a straight draw in a limped pot. Both players needed an eight for the straight, with Negreanu holding five-six suited and Hellmuth six-ten suited, and it duly came in on the turn, which is when all the chips went in.

“Oh my god I don’t know what else I could do differently there,” an unhappy Negreanu stated when the two revealed their hole cards.

“You played great Daniel,” Hellmuth responded. “I think you’re one of the all-time greats. That’s the truth.”

With no help for Negreanu on the river, the two shook hands and Hellmuth took down his second High Stakes Duel opponent in a row.

Those wanting to watch all the action as it happened can view the first 30-minutes of the match for free on PokerGO’s YouTube Account. To watch the whole match and any subsequent rematches, sign-up for $99.99 for a year’s PokerGO subscription.


Ivey Enters NFT Market

Phil Ivey has become the latest high-profile poker player to get into the non-fungible token market, partnering up with blockchain-based platform Ethernity Chain and creative UK-based design and production studio Impossible Brief to release his own officially licensed NFT collection.

“While poker has long been integrated into digital settings online, it has yet to make a splash in the emerging crypto-digital future that the Ethernity Chain community is defining. With Phil Ivey being the icon that he is, we hope that poker will lead by Phil’s example by choosing to embrace the future of collectibles.”

Ethernity Chain press release

A community-oriented platform that produces limited edition authenticated NFTs and trading cards, Ethernity Chain utilizes the Ethereum cryptocurrency. Its aim, according to its website, is to build the biggest A-NFT library, reward its creators and raise funds for charitable causes.

Impossible Brief is a multi-disciplinary design and production studio based in London specializing in graphic design, branding, music videos, and motion graphics. The company has already teamed up with NFL star Patrick Mahomes and baseball’s Fernando Tatis Jr. to create a collection of NFTs, with Ivey marking their first foray into the world of poker.

The Ivey “Royal Flush” NTF Collection

Ethernity Chain is releasing five Phil Ivey-themed NFTs, with the collection entitled “The Royal Flush” and each NFT representing one of the five cards comprising a royal flush – 10, Jack, Queen, King,and the Ace.

The NFTs can be purchased online using the Ethernity Chain cryptocurrency with collectors able to purchase four out of the five NFTs (10, J, Q, K) and then bid for the Ace via online auction.

Ethernity Chain Collectors can Collect All 5 Phil Ivey editions (10, J, Q, K and win the Ace) to achieve a “Royal Flush.”

By achieving the Royal Flush collectors get the opportunity to participate in a charity poker game featuring Phil Ivey.

This will be a highly curated, real-life game aboard a luxury yacht in Miami this coming autumn/winter 2021. The event is subject to the Terms and Conditions below.*

How to achieve the “Royal Flush” and get your spot at the table:

  1. Buy the Ten, Jack, Queen, & King NFTs and hold them in your Wallet
  2. Win one of 8 Aces up for auction.
  3. Winning Auction Bidders of the 8 Aces who also hold the whole hand (Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace) then collect a “Royal Flush” and shall be eligible to make the game in Miami.

Image courtesy of Ethernity Chain website

NFTs Explained

Employing similar blockchain technology to cryptocurrencies, NFTs are making waves in the digital world at present. Essentially NFTs are transforming digital works of art, music, and other collectibles into one-of-a-kind, verifiable assets which are then traded online.

While popular online cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum utilise blockchain technology, they are fungible assets so can be replaced or exchanged with another asset of the same value – a bit like trading dollar bills with someone.

However, while NFTs are linked to the blockchain, they are unique digital tokens effectively verifying authenticity and ownership. It’s better to think of them as a rare collectible coin or like some kind of digital Pokémon trading card.

NFTs And Poker

NFTs are already proving popular in the world of competitive sports, with the NBA releasing their own set of online digital collectibles in the form of  NBA Top Shots.

As reported back in April, the World Poker Tour launched its own digital NFT marketplace – the WPT marketplace – in partnership with video delivery network Theta Labs. This follows a similar format to the NBA Top Shots and encapsulates key “moments” in the popular poker tours’ history, following a tier system with Base, Rare and Legendary-themed digital poker card packs.

Ivey is not the first poker player to embrace NFTs either, with Antanas “Tony G” Guoga launching his own brand of NFTs back in March with digital blockchain company Lympo.

Some NFTs trade for seven-figure sums. Some, like the NBA Top Shots, can vary in price from $99 all the way up to $999 for the limited legendary editions. While it remains to be seen whether poker-themed NFTs will command anywhere near the same price or level of interest, there is a lot of crossover between poker and the crypto market. 

With poker boasting a slew of popular poker tours like the World Series of Poker (WSOP), iconic TV shows such as High Stakes Poker, and legendary players such as Ivey, there’s certainly space for expansion when it comes to poker-themed NFTs so watch this space.


Wynn Millions Smashes $10M Guarantee

Running 25 June to 2 July at the Wynn Las Vegas, the $10,000 Wynn Millions $10M GTD has attracted a sizeable 1,328-strong field, smashing the $10M guarantee and generating a prize pool of $12,483,200.

The top two places will both receive prizes of over $1M, with the eventual winner walking away with a sizable $2,018,866 top prize.

The tournament attracted some of the game’s top professionals with the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Bryn Kenney, Alex Foxen, Kristen Bicknell, Jason Koon, Vanessa Kade, and Erik Seidel just a few of the notables to make deep runs.

With the tournament concluding on 2 July, the eventual winner is yet to be determined, but if the numbers of the Wynn Millions are anything to go by, then the upcoming World Series of Poker Main Event looks set to attract a potentially record-breaking field when it kicks off on 3 November.

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