This Phil Hellmuth vs Daniel Negreanu thing all started because Hellmuth said he didn’t like DNegs’ play during his heads up feud match against Doug Polk. But without having watched the match himself, having instead received information from Mike Matusow. Negreanu challenged and (TL;DR version) said Hellmuth would be a major loser heads up in the long-term. And that he would even be a losing player against the best players at the Rio - for this they have separate side action. Hellmuth says he hasn’t lost a heads up match in a long time, and the two agreed to play one another in this format at the PokerGO studio.
So in Hellmuth vs Negreanu, who won? Or rather - who’s winning so far?
Hellmuth vs Negreanu update:
Hellmuth won part 1 of High Stakes Duel for $100,000 after a long 6-hour marathon, but Daniel quickly re-challenged for double that amount. In part 2 of Negreanu vs Hellmuth live, we saw Phil take it home again. Part 3 of Negreanu vs Hellmuth live is coming up on PokerGo if you’re wondering when and how to watch.
Play Heads Up Poker Here:
These hands are also covered by Daniel Negreanu & Jonathan Little in their YouTube channels, here's a readable version.
Negreanu talked of how he’s better at implementing GTO strategy and adjusting to profit on what he thought would be Hellmuth’s mistakes. He did also say however that Hellmuth is good at exploitative play. On that note, here are some of the noteworthy hands from this High Stakes Duel round.
This is another straight vs straight, except this time no one folds. Negreanu with 6 8 raises 2.5bb, Phil holding A8three-bets to 10bb which is a good raise size. But 6 8 is going to be calling here a lot, especially in position - so Negreanu does just that.
Flop comes K65, giving Negreanu middle pair and a flush draw and Hellmuth just Ace-high. Hellmuth bets 1,500 into 3,000 - this is fine - but you typically want to be polarizing your bets as a three-bettor. So not half-pot, but either somewhere in the range of 25-30% pot or bigger like ⅔ pot. DNegs needs some good hands to call half pot with here - which he does have, but raising would be a good idea too, because it helps you gain control of the hand.
The 9 on the turn connects with more hands that the button player has than you do, so it is generally a check, especially that deep stacked. Phil could have 7-8 in that spot but you wouldn’t normally three-bet that, and he could sometimes have a set of 9s. In fact, that card does better for Negreanu’s range than Phil’s, and clearly so since it now gives him an added gutshot straight draw. Phil bets another ⅓ pot with a bluff, but Daniel has plenty of equity here to continue and calls.
River is the 7 which gives both Negreanu and Hellmuth a straight. Phil bets once again and you would be incentivized to raise this if this were a cash game, but in a tournament you’re a bit more careful since you’re on limited stack size. You also don’t need to raise here because Phil is only ever calling with an 8 here and occasionally those hands may include a 10, but it’s rare. You can call and split the pot here.
Test Heads Up Poker Bet Sizes Here:
Negreanu raises 2.5bb pre-flop, which is fine at this stage of the game while heads up. In tournament play, as the stacks get more shallow, that’s when you want to start lowering your raise sizes pre-flop.
So Hellmuth then 3-bets 7x, which theoretically isn’t the best move, because you’re about 100bb deep. If your opponent has already put in 2.5bb heads up and you raise to 7bb at that stage of the game, it’s unlikely you’re going to get them to fold anything that’s not rubbish. You should actually be calling in this spot more to balance your calling range and not become exploitable by only defending with a narrow range of hands. Negreanu calls to take a flop against Hellmuth, which comes 44J.
Hellmuth bets half pot again on the flop, which isn’t bad but again, the optimal would be less or more than half pot. At this point, Negreanu can easily call. Because he has to defend against a decent amount of three-bets on the flop, especially in position. Besides, K9 could be the best hand here heads up, plus, he’s got backdoor flushes and straight doors.
The turn card is the 9which gives Negreanu a pair and Phil checks. When you turn a pair here and bet like Daniel does, you may be denying some equity. You’re going to get called by pocket tens, Jx type of hands, and maybe a few Ace-high hands.
What’s interesting is that Hellmuth elects to call which is an error because with just A-8 offsuit he’s only got three outs on the river. So he’s not hoping to take it down, unless he hits that miracle card. Your opponent who just called all your barrels and then bet on the turn is not going to check it down on the river. Your opponent either has a made hand with at least one pair - maybe two, or has a decent amount of equity - that is, they have a lot of possibilities to make or improve a hand on the river.
The river is 10, which isn’t the best card for Daniel, because Phil has a lot of K-10 and KQ type of hands. So when Phil Hellmuth checks, Daniel Negreanu checks behind and wins the pot.
What is Poker Equity?
Equity in poker is the share of the pot that is yours based on the odds (%) that you’ll win the hand at a point in play. Or in other words, the percentage of the time that you should be winning that poker hand based on your current chances. An easy way to determine this is by counting your outs - how many cards can give you the winning hand on the turn or river. Before the turn, you multiply by 4 and that’s your percentage of winning, whereas before the river, you multiply by 2.
Practice Playing High Cards Heads Up:
So again Phil Hellmuth vs Negreanu - the former at close to 40bb deep and Negreanu has 4:1 of the chips at this point. Phil limps in with 99 and Daniel raises to 3bb with 46. Phil then re-raises another 4bb, but Daniel has already put in 3bb so he’s getting a good price to call. If Phil had raised to 6bb and the stacks are getting shorter, then that would be a good spot to fold, but not this time.
Suited connectors are fine here because you can always see a flop and see if you make a hand. If you’re heads up, a made hand will get you there a lot of the time. If you do go broke with this kind of hand, it will be because of a cooler. Like losing a flush to a higher flush, or making two pairs and losing against a set.
The flop comes 434, which gives Negreanu trips and he checks, then Phil Hellmuth bets more than pot size. There are some arguments for check-raising all in here and trying to finish your opponent off when they are that short-stacked. However, this isn’t always the optimal play here because you may also be missing out on value. Phil’s range that limps then raises includes a lot of high pairs and AK/AQ type of hands. Ax hands are drawing dead against you when you’ve flopped trips. So you want to be extracting value, and not making that player fold with too big a raise. Also, with an overpair, your opponent is likely to bet the turn and river so you don’t have to.
The turn is 8which should slow you down if you’ve got a set because the hearts just got there. Meaning there’s a possibility your opponent just made a flush. And if not, they would also be scared by that card and are unlikely to bet it. So it’s good to check here, as Daniel did and Phil checks behind.
The 5 river card connects some straights like A2 and 67, so there are now both straight and heart flush possibilities. At this point, the flopped trips aren’t ranking very high in the range of possible hands. There are in fact many hands that beat it. However, someone who bets the flop and checks the turn is more likely to have an ace-high hand than a pocket pair (which Phil has with his 9s).
So even if you think you have your opponent beat, on a scary board like this with so many possible hands, you need to find a way to get them to call. Especially when their stack is the size of the pot. Negreanu goes for a ⅓ pot sized bet which will get some Ace-high calls and all the overcards to call.
Practice Playing Suited Connectors / One-gappers Heads Up:
- A third of the way into the match
- Hellmuth is sitting on 55b, whereas Negreanu has 68 blinds.
- Negreanu with J7 vs Hellmuth with K7
- Board runout is K10639
Negreanu in the small blind with J7defends and min raises, and Hellmuth of course calls with K7 as it’s a good price for him. This kind of raise is one you should make most of the time in this position with this kind of hand heads up. Flop comes K106 - Hellmuth checks and Negreanu c-bets less than ⅓ pot.
From Hellmuth’s point of view, he’s got top pair, weak kicker against a LAG-type player who assumes his opponent only check-raises strong hands. If Hellmuth wants to get paid off by weaker hands, he shouldn’t be check-raising the best hand on such a dry board. He should only be check-raising junky hands on this board like Q8 offsuit or 78 - which don’t have much showdown value so you want your opponent to fold.
Hellmuth’s only play here is to call and hang on to the river. Unless it runs off a potential straight combo like Ace and Queen on the turn and river.
On the other hand, Daniel had been raising and then continuation-betting small often up to this point. Which is a good play when your opponent (Hellmuth) is folding often. Or if you can tell they’re being extra-tight and mucking hands which weren’t reasonable. These continuation bets will become more profitable in the long-run. You can even raise bigger pre-flop if you know you’re going to achieve the same check/fold on the flop so you can make even more chips off your opponent.
If the opposite happens, where you notice your heads up opponent is raising and c-betting small a lot, your adjustment should be to get more aggressive preflop. And also you can fold marginal hands to a super aggressive player and not lose as many chips, even when they make premium hands. We saw Hellmuth adopt a passive strategy, limping a lot, even with AK one time - which should have been a raise, unless you’re doing it to balance your range. This passive play only makes sense if you believe your opponent will pay you off poorly.
The turn is a 3 - Hellmuth checks and Negreanu checks behind, probably correctly assuming that Hellmuth has a lot of Ace-high hands or better since he called the flop. These kinds of hands would not fold to a turn bet (which is the only reason Negreanu would bet here). So a check behind is done for pot control.
River is 9, we see Hellmuth checking again, except now Negreanu goes for the river bluff with a big pot-sized bet. This is because it’s the only way he’s going to win the hand. He can get his opponent to fold a 9 or 6, for example on a K106 3 9 board. Because Hellmuth could easily have 9-8, 9-7, and all the 6x cards too.
From Hellmuth’s point of view, this is a super-easy call, not only because this is a very strong hand playing heads up, but also because it’s top pair on this board. You can easily assume you have the best hand with top pair, especially with the line Negreanu has taken. Hellmuth is also getting good pot odds of around 3:1 because he has to put in 7bb to win around 21bb. So if he’s good around 30% (⅓) of the time (which Hellmuth is), then it’s a clear and profitable call. Instead Hellmuth folded and this was a mistake and loss of profits.
Note that if Hellmuth were to bet the river, he could indicate that he has a strong holding and induce a fold. So it’s better to let his opponent do the betting for him and scoop up maximum profit. Alternatively, if Hellmuth had bet the river and Negreanu raised, then he could represent a straight with his J and Hellmuth would have to fold.
Practice Playing Pairs Heads Up Here:
It’s important to have a betting range and a checking range on the flop. On a rainbow flop like this, sometimes it’s ok to check a Qx or Ax hands on a rainbow flop. We don’t advise checking two-pair often, but rarely you may want to do that, along with some c-bet bluffs if you were the pre-flop bettor, so that you can stay balanced.
Phil is checking his small pair, whereas Daniel is checking back with just backdoor possibilities. When the turn is an A and you’re in Daniel’s position, it’s absolutely OK to check-fold, and sometimes float the turn with that gutshot, but definitely not raising. If you feel sure that your opponent doesn’t have a Qx or Ax hand, like Daniel does, you can go exploitative and call with the intention of bluffing the river if your opponent checks, which Phil does.
However, Phil calls Daniel’s river bluff, maybe he had a read, but for ⅓ of his stack, he wasn’t getting a good price to call with bottom-pair. Phil was losing to a lot of hands at this point.
Daniel needs to c-bet the flop because if you check the flop, your opponent can barrel the turn and river and put you in a difficult spot. DNegs elects to check behind for balance, and the turn is the Q . This is a problem card that you can’t really get aggressive with, because a lot of draws get there now. Hellmuth now has the bottom end of a straight draw along with his bottom pair and Negreanu has top pair. So when Hellmuth bets around ⅓ pot, Negreanu’s only real option here is to call (depending on the bet size) because of that wet board texture.
River is a 10 which is bad for everybody because there’s a four-card straight out there. However, in terms of ranges, there’s not a whole lot Negreanu can represent, especially with the line he’s taken. So when you’re faced with a bet in this spot (just like Negreanu because Hellmuth bets) - folding is good.
Negreanu’s c-bet makes sense because he has a ton of equity and he can also feel balanced as he would c-bet even if he had whiffed the flop. The reason is that it compliments Negreanu’s range, who raised out of position, more than Hellmuth’s range, who just limped in position.
Phil Hellmuth calls Daniel’s small c-bet because he’s not afraid of a straight or draw when he has a flush draw himself. Negreanu has a ton of equity so he’s betting for value. Turn is 6 which is irrelevant, but a good card to c-bet with and try to get your opponent off a draw or two pair. However, checking this is also fine. Hellmuth has hit bottom pair, but this shouldn’t make him feel overconfident against Negreanu’s range. He does however call Negreanu’s bet.
The river is 3 so Hellmuth’s runner flush just got there. Negreanu has too much at stake already and so bets the river, but Hellmuth re-raises and overbets the pot. This bet is either pure bluff or pure value - what we call polarized bets. Against an aggressive player, this is a difficult spot, but against a tight-passive sort of player, it’s an easy fold because that player is not going to raise on that board texture with less than your bluff catcher king-pair.
Daniel bets quarter-pot and Hellmuth moves all-in for 7x the pot size. This is a massive overbet and is obviously done to protect his two-pair hand from a potential flush draw. On the other hand, he is making it quite obvious that he doesn’t have the nut flush as this kind of bet wouldn’t be ideal.
This is a mistake many beginners also make, betting out of fear and denying yourself some EV. It would be better to just check-call, maybe bet ¾ pot, and add in some smaller raises on the turn and river. From Negreanu’s point of view, he can’t call this raise, even if he thinks he’s good on the flop (which he isn’t). Reason being that even if Hellmuth is doing this with a flush or straight draw, Negreanu would need to dodge a hell of a lot of outs twice on the turn and river.
Negreanu calls Phil’s bet - but we would suggest shoving all-in with a JTo hand and less than 10 blinds to your name. Negreanu peels the flop - K 2 10 , and Phil bluff c-bets, this is fine because it exerts pressure on the short stack, they may just try to cling on to their last few blinds and fold. However, Negreanu is not that type of player - he calls with second pair and both players suddenly find a gutshot straight draw on the turn with the 9 .
Phil barrels again with more than a pot-sized bet, now having picked up equity. He has already put in a decent amount of chips in the pot, so it makes sense he would continue. Meanwhile, Negreanu has 5.5 BB and folds. This is probably a call because from DNegs perspective, his opponent can surely have top pair and a straight draw, however, he’s not drawing dead. He can still catch a straight on the river.
This is a very strong hand heads up and you should be three-betting with it a lot. Especially if you're against a player who is opening with a lot of hands - you'd want to be three-betting more. Hellmuth elects to just call and takes quite a passive route. On the flop, Hellmuth has the second-nut flush draw and checks, allowing Negreanu to make a very small 1BB bet.
With this kind of equity, it's typically better to just flat (call) here because if you do raise and get re-raised, you're probably facing an Ace-high flush draw or made flushes, maybe even a set of Jacks - and you're losing to all of those here. Besides, Hellmuth still has some showdown value here with the King high and may still pick up some equity along the way. In fact he does, because the turn is the 8 and his flush just got there, and both players check. This is a good play, because even if you're ahead, you want to keep your opponent betting into and not get them off a hand like a straight draw or something.
The Q river means Hellmuth has the third-nut flush (behind a straight flush and Ace-high flush) so he can either check-raise or just straight away go for a big raise. Because with a flush on the board, many hands are going to be chopping here. Big bets will either induce a fold from non-diamond hands or a call from a worse hand. You're only really losing to two possible hands, one of them being the A x type hand, which may not check the turn.
Hellmuth checks, perhaps trying to get more information, and Negreanu fires a half pot bet, which indicates that he does have a diamond in his hand and is going for thin value. If Hellmuth re-raises and faces another re-raise by Negreanu, his range gets even narrower and you can be almost certain that he either has a big bluff or the absolute nuts (straight-flush). Hellmuth just calls Negreanu's river bet and wins the pot with his King-high flush versus Negreanu's ten-high flush.
This Negreanu vs Hellmuth High Stakes Duel match started at 100bb deep with 30-minute levels. And you may have noticed that Phil Hellmuth didn’t always adjust to this kind of play by folding many hands. You may be used to playing tight with 40bb or less, but with less players at a table, especially heads up, and even more so in position, you want to be playing more hands. Otherwise, if you’re over-folding, your opponent can take advantage of this, three-bet you more often and print EV.
Top Pair and Ace-high are suddenly good: Also consider that with 6 or 9 other players at a table, more players can have you beat. Whereas heads up, those odds are slimmer. So you can take down a lot of pots with high cards and pairs, because straights, flushes, and full houses are even more rare heads up.
What is Expected Value (EV)?
Expected value—commonly referred to as EV—is the long-term result of your decisions in a particular poker hand and a way to check how well you’re playing considering the variance (ups and downs / luck) of the game. So in other words, your profit in the long-run - which can be either +EV (good choice that makes you money long-term) or -EV (poor choice that loses you money long-term).
We didn’t see a mindblowing amount of aggression in the first round of Negreanu vs Hellmuth live, however there were certainly a lot of exploitative plays. Note that aggression is important in poker in general, but when it comes to heads up poker play, aggression is critical. This makes sense if you think about the amount of hands you get to play. If you buy-in for $200 in a $1/$2 heads up match and fold all the time, you’ll lose your stack quickly, whereas in a full-ring game you have more flexibility.
If you’re limping in hands too much - say 80-90% of the time, you’re giving up on a lot of value when you're heads up. So at certain times, if it’s good enough to call with, it’s good enough to raise with. You can have a limping strategy in your arsenal, just make sure it’s more balanced.
How to Increase Aggression
Aggressive doesn’t mean loose or reckless. Instead, you want to be playing more hands, smarter. For example, suited connectors or one-gappers like 6-8 suited are the kinds of hands you want to call preflop raises with because they’re easy to disguise when you hit. Also you have 38.2% equity compared to AK suited preflop, for example, which has 61.4% equity - so you’re not as far behind as you think. Also, you may want to raise marginal hands like AQ and KQ, but avoid calling with these hands because you may be crushed.
We see many heads-up matches where the small stack climbs back through stealing blinds and hopeful limps/raises by the big stack. If the small stack is pushing with any decent hand, it forces the big stack to tighten up and just play the cards. Thus allowing the small stack to steal and gain back control of the match. We saw a few examples of this during the Daniel Negreanu vs Hellmuth match, it would be interesting to see how or if both players adjust for the next parts of the heads up duel.
Deepstacked Bet Sizes: When you’re playing deep, you shouldn’t bet too big preflop - Most of the time, 2.5bb should be enough. As the stacks get shallower, that’s when your bet sizes should get lower.
Even if you feel that you're ahead with the higher end of a straight or flush draw, you typically want to be flatting or check-calling more. If you raise and get re-raised, you're in a tough spot and may be crushed. However, check-calling allows you to peel more cards and pick up some more equity along the way. And as we said before, a high-card often has showdown value so you can potentially keep calling light all the way to the river.
If you have a made straight or flush by the flop or turn and are pretty sure you're ahead, you don't want to deny yourself value by raising too much or going all in, because there may be some marginal hands that you can get value from. It's better to have your opponent bet into you when you have the nuts, rather than raise and then face a re-raise and feel crushed.
Practice These Heads Up Tips Here:
Negreanu is just off his heads up match with Polk where he lost a million but earned a ton of respect for his improved gameplay in such a short period of time. Most Hellmuth vs Negreanu odds set Negreanu as a favorite at -145, with many poker players betting and backing the man, even after he lost the first two matches of the heads up duel. Others are warning not to underestimate Hellmuth as he may have a few tricks up his sleeve, and betting for hellmuth vs negreanu at +126.
Kid Poker was quick to re-challenge for part 3 to try to break even, so there will be a round 3 coming up soon. Negreanu vs Hellmuth betting options are open with PokerShares offering Negreanu at 1.69 and Hellmuth at 2.26 (as of May 12, 2021).
Hellmuth gets a lot of disrespect from the young’uns in the poker world especially, however, the guy has won a record number of bracelets and you can’t take that away from him. No matter what, he’s been around poker for a very long time and has managed to stay relevant. Negreanu has complimented Hellmuth on winning in WSOP fields and others, crediting these wins to Hellmuth’s exploitative play.