- »Doug Polk Wins the High Stakes Feud
Doug Polk Wins the High Stakes Feud
It was only one hand of 25,000 total, but for Daniel Negreanu, it’s indicative of how the High Stakes Feud played out. He and his opponent, arch rival Doug Polk, were both dealt one of poker’s top ten hands, ace-king. Negreanu had A, K, with the king of spades, Polk had A, K, with the ace of spades, and they got all the money in before the flop. It happens all the time. Players turn over the same hand, they chop the pot, and then move on to the next. But not here, not this time. When three spades promptly rolled off the deck, on a flop of J, 4, 8, the odds shifted overwhelmingly in Polk’s favour. And, you guessed it, another spade hit the turn, the 7, and the $80,000 pot was shipped the American’s way.
“I needed to run above expectation to win the match, and that didn’t happen,” the Canadian admitted Wednesday, at the conclusion of one of the most talked about heads-up matches in poker history.
After three months of intense action, spanning 36 sessions and 25,000 hands, the High Stakes Feud is over, and Doug Polk is your clear winner. The 32-year-old of Pasadena, California, known for his fierce competitiveness and aggression, dominated ‘Kid Poker’ throughout the challenge and, in the end, pocketed a whopping $1.2 million.
“I’ll start by saying congratulations to Doug, he’s obviously a great player. It was a fun challenge, there were ebbs and flows.And he’s the big winner, and deservedly so. He played well, there’s no question about that,” Negreanu said afterwards.
Lady Luck is American?
One of the themes during the entirety of the challenge was Negreanu’s claim that Polk was benefiting from a better distribution of cards. In effect, he was suggesting Polk was luckier in all the big spots, won all the crucial all-ins, and simply ‘ran’ better.
“I’m going to put some videos together in full, with no comments from me, because I really want people to see what happened. I’m sure he ran a few bluffs in spots where I snap folded because his bluffs were the best hand. He bluffed with jack-high, I had six-high. He bluffed with a pair of fours, I had jack-high. I’m just going to have to show you, with no commentary, and just let the hands play out. I have to make sure that I’m not crazy. It was tough to deal with.”
You don’t have to search long for the evidence, either. At one point during the pair’s final session, Negreanu had built a substantial lead, and was up $180,000 before the cards turned. Employing a barrage of big bets and well-timed bluffs, Polk stormed back to finish the day $256,000 ahead, a massive swing of some 400k. Nosebleed stakes, and not for the faint of heart.
Negreanu, a 46-year-old Toronto native who now resides in Las Vegas, is Canada’s greatest poker player ever. Maybe the worlds. He has been around the block a time or two in his career. A six-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, the only two-time winner of the WSOP’s ‘Player of the Year’ award. Which he almost won a third time. He’s a guy who’s won a staggering $42 million lifetime, he’s seen it all. The likes of this, though? No!
“I’m definitely proud of my ability to keep it together through all this,” he said, seemingly resigned to his fate and the outcome, claiming it’s the “worst run he’s ever been on” in his 23 years of poker.
Luck v Skill
While admitting Polk was the “better player”, Negreanu was quick to add he doesn’t feel the difference in their levels of heads-up play is as substantial as everyone thinks. Throughout his post-match interview on GG Poker’s YouTube channel, with commentators Jeff Platt, Brent Hanks and Veronica Brill, the Canadian was watching his words carefully. Cautious not to come off as a whiner or sore loser. Could you blame him if he did? He’s out more than a million bucks. Negreanu didn’t want to offend his opponent because, as he put it, “he’s a little too sensitive.”
The cards are no longer being dealt, but the back-handed jabs are.
Billionaire businessman and poker player Bill Perkins, who was heavily invested in the challenge with a $2.5 million side-bet on Negreanu, which he lost, was also lamenting the luck factor while providing colour commentary on Joe Ingram’s YouTube channel.
“I mean, after seeing Doug’s hole cards, he is the luckiest f— alive. I mean ever, in the history of poker. I don’t understand it. Trips, sets galore, flushes, I hate to see it.”
To be fair, Negreanu was very quick to compliment Polk on his work ethic, something he takes pride in himself.
“Like I said, he’s a great player. Every Monday, he came back prepared and seemed to make adjustments. He did a good job on that. I thought he improved as the match went on, he got better and sharper.”
One of those adjustments made by Polk was the conduit for some late match controversy. Essentially, the American stopped raising from the button, or the dealer’s position, and began limping in. Negreanu countered by using his entire shot clock on each and every decision, even the non-essential and easy ones, a ploy that angered Polk so much an arbitrator had to be called in. Was Polk sitting on his lead? Negreanu believed so, and let it be down by prolonging the session and literally wasting Polk’s time.
“I hope he can laugh about it now, the 20 minutes I sat there and stalled, as a result of him tightening up and limping his way to the finish line (laughing). That’s no way to go, right? Watching him go on tilt was not worth the price of admission, but it was certainly funny to watch him go off.”
It should be noted, there were very few hiccups throughout the course of the challenge and, for the most part, the pair battled in a respectful and sportsmanlike fashion. Arch rivals heading in, you might say they are ‘best of frenemies’ right now. It seems they have even agreed to do a podcast together at some point to discuss and analyze the key hands. While Negreanu says they “didn’t have any issues personally,” he did end the late-night Q&A by waxing philosophical one more time on the topic of luck and good fortune, a mindful reflection for both he and his foe.
“Typically, it’s an insult when you suggest your opponent got lucky. Part of luck is ego, like ‘holy shit, I didn’t deserve this,’ because you have this idea of entitlement. There’s ego in being the guy who lost and then bitches about luck, but there’s also ego on the other side. If you win and feel the need to defend how lucky you got, there’s ego in that as well. It’s fair to say, neither of us are going to win a humility contest. If this were a battle of humility, we’d both be stuck a million.”
“That’s a wrap,” Polk blurted out in the opening few seconds his post-match interview with Jamie Kerstetter and Nick Schulman, over on his personal YouTube channel. “I am feeling pretty solid guys. Wow. We finished it today.”
The smile on his face was wide, and beaming from ear-to-ear, as he lifted his tank top, to provide his fans a clear view of the shirt. It was adorned with both his company’s logo, Upswing Poker, and also the saying “more luck is better” as well. In true troll-like fashion, Polk was poking fun at one of his original and long-standing beefs with Negreanu, the pros and cons of excessive rake in poker, or the amount of money the casino or online poker operator takes out of each pot.
While representing PokerStars years ago, Negreanu had defended the site’s rake increase, prompting Polk to fire back on social media. His attacks on Twitter and YouTube were relentless. He even took out billboards above the entrance of the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino, home of the World Series of Poker, to mock him. The billboards, neatly positioned for all to see, sarcastically read “more rake is better.” Their public squabble lasted for years, until recently when Negreanu finally accepted Polk’s challenge to play one-on-one.
“Bravo dude,” said Schulman, who despite being a three-time WSOP bracelet winner himself was left in awe with Polk’s performance.
“Thank-you, I appreciate that,” Polk replied. “I spent a great deal of time preparing, and it helped me out tremendously. I was able to execute at a such a high level over such a long period.
Extremely happy, and obviously relieved, but what about tears?
“Tears of sadness,” he quipped, again with a broad grin, a joke to suggest there wouldn’t be anymore ‘easy money’ coming his way. The gravy train had stopped rolling.
Retired from poker just six months ago, and having to effectively start from scratch, Polk enlisted the help of others, including an extensive team that can be broken down into three components:
- A coaching staff to develop strategy, framework and simulations.
- Statisticians to monitor his opponent’s pre-flop ranges and betting tendencies.
- Upswing Poker members to diligently watching, recording and tracking every single hand of the challenge.
“They are amazing, and honestly the brightest guys in poker I’ve ever met,” he said. “I am just so impressed with them, how smart they are, and how they approach the game. My instincts in all spots are to over call and over bluff. They had me constantly working on my game, and folding more. They were great resources, did a phenomenal job, and were tireless, putting in countless hours.”
With expressions of gratitude, Polk was sure to thank everyone on his team. While listening to him speak, and describe in detail each faction of his entourage, it’s quite evident he was at his best and playing optimally. He was prepared for all situations, and ready for all-out war. All the help, by the way, was allowed as part of the match rules. This is what players at this elite level do. They’re not afraid to recognize their own weaknesses and ask others for guidance on filling the leaks. In fact, Negreanu did the same. Remember, this feud was about big money and high stakes poker at its finest. Serious business.
In his early thirties now, the Californian has every right to be confident. He rose to fame by specializing in heads-up poker online. He became the best in the world under the screen name ‘WCGRider’ when nobody would play him anymore. And he has gone on to capture three WSOP titles. He’s parlayed that success into one of the best poker training sites on the market in Upswing Poker, and one of the most popular poker YouTube channels in the world in Doug Polk Poker.
And, let’s not forget his newfound riches. To say life is good for Polk right now is an understatement.
“In my opinion, I’m one of the top ten players in the world. I think a lot of the guys people look up to are way over hyped, not as good as you think they are. The real killers are lurking in the shadows. I worked very hard every day to ensure he had the lowest possible chance of winning. It’s always been a tried-and-true method for me, I just believe in myself and work as hard as I can. The reality is, I came in here very confident I would win.”
It’s true Polk has been vicious at times to his rivals, but the past is the past, right? As he sat there overjoyed with the final tally, Polk took time to critique and assess his opponent’s play, and was quick to indicate that most of Negreanu’s stats were pretty good. His biggest weakness? Aggression, or lack thereof.
“I don’t think he had enough continuation bets or enough raises in his arsenal. He didn’t check raise me much, not enough anyway, and his sizes were too small. That allowed me to bet for value more often. He was really impressive in many areas, though. I didn’t think he would play this well. By the end, he was sharp with sizes, strategies and frequencies. He was hard to bluff. He started to understand the concepts, and I think he’s a solid heads-up player. If you’re not a high stakes heads-up pro, he’s going to beat you. He did pull some ridiculous bluffs, but his tendencies are more conservative. He tends to be someone who might be more willing to go for a light call rather than a light bluff. That didn’t allow him to win enough pots over the course of the challenge to give him any chance of winning. Daniel needed to be more willing to fire aggressively. I give him a lot of credit. He put in the hours and time, in a very public arena with nowhere to hide, and should be really proud of how he played, even though he ended up losing a lot of money.”
Don’t worry, ‘Kid Poker’ can afford it.