Negreanu Continues to Fight on in the High Stakes Feud

It’s a well-documented fact that Daniel Negreanu is a huge fan of the Rocky franchise. Like most people, he finds the series dramatic, entertaining and inspirational. And often draws parallels between Rocky Balboa, the boxer, and himself, the poker player. Well, if this were the movies, ‘Kid Poker’ would be on the ropes, taking big shots, and in all kinds of trouble in the late rounds. Halfway through his High Stakes Feud with arch rival Doug Polk, the Canadian is bleeding profusely, down $770,000 through 12,500 hands, and looking to pick himself up off the mat.

Attention poker fans, the match lives on.

The 46-year-old Canadian has answered the bell and come out swinging for the second half, as the pair returned to action this week on the virtual felt. It was a short session Monday, not quite 500 hands, but Negreanu did post a modest score of $27,000 to reduce his overall deficit to $743,000.

“It’s not about the money for me, it’s not that many buy-ins, it’s only a lot of money because we’re playing high stakes,” he said, still confident he can prove victorious.

One of the agreed to stipulations of this heads-up tilt, before a card was even dealt, was that the losing player at the midway point had the option to call it a day and quit. Many spectators believed the Toronto native would exercise that option before the damage was irreparable, but Negreanu has a different outlook on things.

Just like Rocky, who had all the intestinal fortitude Hollywood could muster, Negreanu is down, but not out. He’s been thriving on poker’s mean streets for 25-years now. He has been around the block a time or two. Fully understanding that a few big punches can change the entire complexion of the match in his favour.

“Number one, can I win? That’s the key point. Am I too far behind to where what’s the point? When you look at the match, the standard fluctuation’s, 19 buy-ins are just not as much as I thought it was originally. More than half the deficit, 10 buy-ins, is all-in EV (Expected Value), and I feel like I’ve been very unlucky. He got way the best of it in cooler situations and big spots.”

Uphill & the Underdog

Negreanu and Polk have a long history on and off the felt. The two have been publicly feuding for years, with Polk, a 32-year-old from Pasadena, California, the aggressor. An extremely popular personality on YouTube, Polk has used his platform to ridicule the Canadian time and again on topics ranging from poker to politics. Negreanu, tired of the criticism, finally relented and agreed to battle his nemesis over the course of 25,000 hands, with a $40,000 buy-in and blinds at $200/$400. The rules also state players must automatically reload, or top up, should their stack drop below the $40,000 mark.

Negreanu is Canada’s best ever card shark, if not the world’s, and his prowess at the table is legendary. With an eerie knack for knowing what his opponents are holding, their exact two cards, he has won six titles at the World Series of Poker, has twice been named WSOP ‘Player of the Year’ (2004, 2013), and is a member of the Poker Hall of Fame, the class of 2014. Since poker is about money, it should also be noted he has won more than $42 million lifetime, and sits third on the all-time money list. He’s a crusher.

Doug and Daniel

With that said, some pundits believe Negreanu got ‘suckered’ into a match he has no chance of winning. Polk, a three-time bracelet winner himself, is a heads-up specialist and, at one time, under the screen name ‘WCGRider’, was considered to be the best of the best. Why? He couldn’t find a game anymore. Nobody would play him; he was that good.

From the outset of the High Stakes Feud, Polk was listed by all the betting sites as anywhere from a 4-to-1 to a 6-to-1 favourite. Those odds have since increased.

“I’m obviously the underdog, but if I can even just win the second half, I can feel good about my performance,” Negreanu said after Monday night’s action.

Rocky & Apollo

Did you know Negreanu’s dogs, often featured in his YouTube videos and social media posts, are named Rocky and Apollo? Don’t count this guy out. He’s a fighter, and has been around the block a time or two. He plays at a world-elite level, his credentials are solid, and he’s not sitting down unprepared. Negreanu has a whole team of experts behind him, chef, fitness trainer, and poker coaches included. And is fully equipped to handle the swings, or ebbs and flows, on offer in the game of poker.

Remember that 15th round flurry from Rocky Balboa in the first movie? He found a second wind, picked up the pace, and eventually broke Apollo Creed’s ribs as the closing bell sounded. ‘Kid Poker’ is hoping for a similar resurgence down the stretch.

“The long-term goal is little check points, to see if you’re on track or not, whether it’s weight loss or poker. I always believe in setting a big goal, and then breaking it down into smaller ones within it. So, I looked at the situation, down about 19 buy-ins at the halfway point, and realized that if we play 25 more sessions, and we win one buy-in per session, we win. Obviously, it’s not going to go exactly like that, but that’s the thought.”

Happy New Year?

Win more, and lose less. It would be a great New Year’s resolution for any poker player, wouldn’t it? By booking a small win on their first session back from the holiday break, Negreanu is veering in the right direction. Although, it could have been a much more substantial win had it not been for some ill-timed trickery. At one point, Negreanu attempted to run a three-barrel bluff with the 8, 7 of diamonds and only eight-high. Polk picked him off with a pair of kings for a pot worth close to $80,000, or two-buy-ins.

“It was definitely a roller coaster,” he said afterwards in his post-match interview on GG Poker’s YouTube channel, perhaps regretful in retrospect. “I mean I had nothing, it was the bottom of my range, and I think it was a bad hand to bluff with, but I don’t feel it was a slam dunk call either. I thought, ‘you can’t win if you check, kid.’ Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Daniel Vs Doug

As the hand played out, and when the chips were eventually sent Polk’s way at its conclusion, the live chat on YouTube erupted, the fervent scroll making it almost impossible to read, too fast to decipher a single comment in real time. The gist and general tone of it was critical, tough, like, ‘why did he do that?’ Sometimes, you just have too.

“A lot of people think I’m just sitting on my hands, but I’m in there. I’m battling. Sometimes I throw curveballs, and that one, he hit out of the park.”

The Holiday’s & Hockey

Unlike after past, losing sessions, Negreanu didn’t seem upset or tilted during his conversation with commentators Jeff Platt and Brent Hanks when play halted for the evening. On the contrary, he seemed calm and cool, and answered their questions with composure, all the while gently petting one of his dogs, perched on his lap. Not sure if that was Rocky or Apollo.

Daniel in Post-Match Interview

Did he put in any extensive study over the holidays?

“To be honest, not as much as I should have. Hockey is back. And I’m in this intense (fantasy) hockey league, and have been with the same guys since 1996. So I’ve been studying goalie combos not poker combos. I did play in a high stake’s private tournament, with a lot of big recognizable names, and I won that. So, I’ve started off the new year one-for-one, and that felt good.”

Negreanu has always said that if he felt the match was close or winnable, he would continue. Back squarely in the middle the ring now, the Rocky of poker has reduced Polk’s lead. And he’s still throwing haymakers.

“I’m hoping for some ‘run good’ in. 2021,” he said.

Keep in mind, millions have been wagered on this match. So, those backing the Canadian are thrilled the cards are still flying. They still have a chance. That includes Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow and Phil Hellmuth, who have both bet big their pal prevails.

The pugilism continues.

Editor’s Note: The two played yesterday, their second session of the New Year. Negreanu booked a win of $96,000 to further reduce his deficit.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio, and has interviewed a number of the world’s top poker players including Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer and Barbara Enright. A former, long-time radio and television broadcaster, Derrick has always had a passion for all things gambling (and darts too). He has even played at the World Series of Poker and other cash games all around the world.

To see more of Derrick is up to on a day-to-day basis, go follow him on Twitter @HighRollerRadio

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