Doug Polk and Daniel Negreanu are exhibiting a high degree of gamesmanship as their heads-up grudge match hits the home stretch.
Last Monday, the first session after Negreanu booked a win of about $390,000, the largest of the challenge, Polk came out of the gates with a new, much more passive strategy. He was frequently limping in when he was on the button, a play that was very rarely used for most of the challenge.
Polk hinted at the change by tweeting “Big strategy change incoming today…… Here we go” just before the two got cards in the air.
The strategy didn’t work out well for Polk’s bottom line that session, as Negreanu won $46,854 over 438 hands, but it did raise questions about what was prompting Polk to drastically alter his game plan while still holding, at the time, a $612,000 lead.
“I was thinking ‘Why is he doing this?’ And then I thought about the pressure he is under and realizing that it has become significant,” said Negreanu in his post-game interview on the GGPoker YouTube channel. “Because he doesn’t just have money on this match in play. He’s got a big side bet on the line. It’s clear to me that there is fear and concern over now losing that lead.”
Before the challenge started, the poker world rushed to bet on the outcome. Most bets had Negreanu at a 4:1 dog and Polk publicly accepted a wager from Phil Hellmuth and is rumored to have another large bet on himself with Bill Perkins.
Polk didn’t mention the side bets in a post-game interview of his own on his own YouTube channel. He did admit, however, to trying to lower the variance. He compared it to having a big lead late in a football game.
“It decreases the standard deviation,” said Polk. “, I’m pretty sure. If you play smaller pots, there is less variance. We are trying to lower the variance. The issue is let’s say we lose 10 buy-ins over the next 3k hands. We are playing prevent defense.”
In some regards, it’s a counter-strategy to the way that Negreanu played in the previous match. Negreanu admitted to playing a hyper-aggressive style to try and increase the variance and win big pots. With just several thousand hands remaining in the 25,000-hand challenge, it acts as both a hedge against inflated variance and forces Negreanu to adjust to a strategy he likely wasn’t prepared for.
Whether he was prepared for it or not, Negreanu said that the strategy just can’t be profitable in the long run.
“I feel for him,” said the six-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner. “Honestly, I do. I can’t imagine he enjoys playing the way that he did today because he can’t win. There is no world where this strategy that he employed is going to be +EV [expected value]. He is going to be losing EV to me. The question is how much he loses.”
Negreanu Counters Limping With Tanking
Ultimately, the GGPoker Ambassador didn’t have a counter-attack for the limping. In order to give himself the best chance of developing one, he implemented a change of his own in their following session Wednesday afternoon.
For the first 15 minutes or so of Wednesday’s session, Negreanu used nearly the entirety of his time bank on every street of every hand. Polk immediately took to social media and voiced his displeasure on the move.
Completely pathetic showing from @RealKidPoker today
Tanking 20 seconds to open, tanking 20 seconds to check flop, tanking every single decision in an effort to slow the game down to nothing.
Total piece of shit move.
— Doug Polk (@DougPolkVids) January 27, 2021
“He made a strategic adjustment that he thought was in his best interest,” said Negreanu after the session. “I have no problem with that. I did the exact same thing.”
For Negreanu, tanking served several purposes. The fewer hands they play in each session, the more time it gives Negreanu to study and figure out the right way to combat the limps. But it also balances his timing tells in the process. Before the match started, there was controversy over whether preflop charts should be allowed.
Eventually, both agreed that they should be allowed. Until now, Negreanu said there was no need to use them. Against the limps, however, he has to look up what needs to be done.
“There are times where I’m still looking for the hand and what I’m supposed to do and my whole time bank is gone,” said Negreanu. “For me to balance that because I’m doing it against the 2.4x and the limp, I have sheets for both. So, I don’t want to act quickly when I have a no-brainer hand and act slowly when I have to look for it.”
Polk was so enraged at Negreanu’s tanking that they decided to have high-stakes legend Phil Galfond, who just won a heads-up challenge of his own, arbitrate on the situation. Before the match started, both Polk and Negreanu agreed to have Galfond rule on any disagreements.
Both players sat out while they got Galfond on the phone to hear both sides. He decided that Negreanu should act quickly on the button since he was not facing a new strategy when there was no action. He would be allowed to use up his time bank when he was in the big blind, however.
The two played for a short while before Polk abandoned the limp strategy and went back to his normal, aggressive play on the button. Once the limping was abandoned, Negreanu began acting faster. It appears that this will be the norm from here on out.
Polk ended up winning $136,239 over 560 hands in a drama-filled session and followed that up with another victory on Friday for $34,855 over 1,384. Heading into Monday’s match, Polk is up $736,804 through 21,306.
No Rematch In The Cards
The Southern California native argued on Twitter that Negreanu’s actions were against the rules of WSOP.com, the site where the match is taking place. He screenshotted a portion of the terms of service which stated that “Maintaining a reasonable pace of play is the responsibility of all players. Players should aim to play at the same pace as other players at the table.”
He also argued that his limping from the session before was not only in the rules but a play that will earn money over the long run.
“[Today I learned] people don’t know limping increases your winrate in HUNL,” tweeted Polk after.
Based on Polk’s rhetoric, Negreanu doesn’t buy the winrate argument.
“If you actually thought that was the higher EV play… You came in on Day 1 saying you were trying to win the maximum. You wouldn’t say ‘Nah, I can’t be bothered to do it,’” said Negreanu. “You would’ve just done it.”
After last Friday’s session, Polk made it clear that once the challenge is over, he’ll head back into retirement. There won’t be a rematch.
“I’m way too burned out from all of the study/prep/play and don’t enjoy the game,” tweeted Polk after his six-figure win last Friday. “I also want to have some flexibility to not be in Nevada for the next 4-5 months.”
The two are scheduled to play three more sessions this week. With just 3,694 hands remaining in the challenge, and Negreanu needing longer sessions to play deep-stacked poker to give himself the best chance at pulling out a win, there’s a high likelihood these are the last three sessions of the challenge.