Hellmuth Defeats Wright to Keep HSD Streak Alive
Phil Hellmuth has had quite the string of wins in PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel. Another just last week, the latest person to challenge Hellmuth fell at the hands of the Poker Brat – even receiving a complimentary Hellmuthian blowup along the way.
PokerGO may want to change the name of the series to Hellmuth Stakes Duel or Hellmuth Serves Defeat. (Author’s note: Give me some time. I know I can do better.)
Hellmuth does remain undefeated in the series, starting with his three wins over Antonio Esfandiari and then three victories over Daniel Negreanu. And now, by defeating Nick Wright in one session, Hellmuth is still the person to beat, the reigning champion in this series.
Wright: A Different Competitor
The first heads-up High Stakes Duel pitted Hellmuth against Antonio Esfandiari. The two had taken verbal jabs at each other regularly for nearly two decades with regard to heads-up poker skills. It all started with a fun heads-up match in a home game all those years ago when Esfandiari beat Hellmuth. From there, it developed into years of heated verbal exchanges about it.
When they took seats across from each other at the PokerGO Studio late in 2020, each put in $50K, and Hellmuth won. Esfandiari wanted another chance and put up $100K to do it. After Hellmuth won again, Esfandiari tried to save it by paying $200K to play once more. Hellmuth won again. And that was that.
Daniel Negreanu wanted a shot next. He had just lost $1.2M to Doug Polk but claimed to have learned a lot from the experience. He put up $50K to challenge Hellmuth and lost. Negreanu quickly threw in $100K for another shot, and he lost again. He, too, anted up $200K to try to break the streak, but Hellmuth defeated Negreanu for a third and final time.
Next up was Nick Wright.
An online high-stakes poker pro? A newcomer with a bit of overconfidence? No. Nick Wright is a sports broadcaster. Still in his mid-30s, Wright studied broadcast journalism in college and began working at Fox Sports in 2016. He went from behind-the-scenes work to guest hosting on television and then full-time hosting. He currently hosts First Things First on Fox Sports 1.
Wright’s interest in poker has been mostly casual in nature. He played on some episodes of Poker After Dark that will debut at a later date. And he wanted to challenge Hellmuth to a heads-up duel.
A Unique Strategy
Wright chose to announce his challenge and reasons for it on PokerGO’s No Gamble No Future. His acknowledged that Hellmuth is a great player and beat other great players like Esfandiari and Negreanu. However, Wright believed that he had a better chance to win because he was under no illusion that he was a better player than Hellmuth. That meant he didn’t panic himself into crazy strategies to try to beat the pro.
“I know Phil’s better than me, and that’s why I’m going to beat him,” Wright said.
He also noted that he could study hours upon hours of footage of Hellmuth playing poker, but there is no public footage of Wright at the tables.
Speaking on behalf of the poker world, Jeff Platt and Brent Hanks noted that a new audience may tune in to the show, exposing poker – specifically heads-up poker – to a set of viewers with long-term potential. The overlap between poker and sports has often been front and center at the tables.
As Wright arrived in Las Vegas to prepare for and play the session, he talked about a bit of a different strategy that included some small ball, trapping and limping.
More Than Five Hours of Action
Hellmuth started the action with his signature branding and talking about his sponsors. He and Wright both talked a bit of sports and played some small pots to get things going. Wright took some small pots but did jump out into an initial lead, but Hellmuth called a Wright bluff and took those chips back.
Nearly an hour into play, Wright and pocket fives got involved with Hellmuth and his A-8 on a board of 8-J-5-9-4. Hellmuth had yet to figure out Wright’s playing style, and the latter threw in some table talk to increase the confusion factor. Hellmuth called, and Wright took the 10,900-chip pot. He continued to play an aggressive game. After 74 hands – more than 1.5 hours into play, Wright had 63% of the chips in play.
Hellmuth did come back to bring the stacks closer to even, but Wright’s unconventional plays and table talk continued to bother Hellmuth. And then, just before the two-hour mark, Wright woke up with queens. He bet preflop, and Hellmuth called with 7-5 of diamonds. The flop of 2-Q-8 brought two checks, but the turn of another queen brought a bluff bet from Hellmuth and raise from Wright with the quads. Hellmuth raised again, and Wright tanked before calling. A three on the river brought another bet from Hellmuth, and Wright raised. Hellmuth folded, and Wright scooped the 46,700-chip pot.
That produced Hellmuth rant that included a lot of cursing, and a lot of berating himself. He parlayed that into taking some small pots, but Wright took that big lead back soon after. Hellmuth did take the lead before the three-hour mark, though, and took more of a lead by the first break.
Nearly four hours into the game, Hellmuth had 85K chips, and Wright was down to just 15K…and then down to 10K. Wright pushed with pocket fives against the Q-J of Hellmuth. Wright flopped a full house that gave him the double-up.
Wright fluctuated for the next 30 minutes but lost most of that double-up gain. He did find another double with pocket tens over pocket sevens, which brought another mini-rant from Hellmuth. He then got very irritated with Wright, becoming a bit condescending with his comments. Wright took it well, though, and seemed to talk Hellmuth down.
The final hand started with both players holding clubs – Hellmuth limping with 8-5 and Wright checking with 7-6. The flop of A-K-5 brought two clubs, and Hellmuth bet it. Wright called. The 10 of clubs on the turn prompted Hellmuth to bet, and Wright called. The 8 of diamonds on the river prompted Hellmuth to bet, and Wright responded by moving all-in. Hellmuth called.
Wright seemed stunned by the flush over flush. In the post-game interview, he indicated that he wasn’t sure if he would go for a rematch. He still seemed stunned, though he said he had a great time playing.
Great match @getnickwright! I’ll see you at the televised tables again soon, on Poker After Dark, only on the @PokerGo App. I enjoyed our dinner after the match (at Carbone @AriaLV), and enjoyed meeting your wife: she is awesome… https://t.co/e7HHidtG0u
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) July 31, 2021