Two of the biggest names in poker clashed in a series of heads-up matches for High Stakes Duel, an original series on the PokerGO streaming service. The first showdown pitted 15-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth against the all-time money leader at the WSOP: Antonio Esfandiari. The two living legends have more than $50 million in combined tournament earnings between them.
The series features a unique format where a pair of players each post a $50,000 buy-in to play an initial match for $100,000. The loser in each round has the right to challenge the winner to a rematch for double the stakes, with the opportunity then passing to any other potential challenger willing to step in at the new stakes if the loser of the first round declines to challenge.
The format would see the stakes double for each round, which would result in a final match for $12.8 million if any player ever makes it to the eighth round of this challenge. A victorious player from round 1 can not cash out their winnings until they’ve won three straight matches prior to round 6, or two in a row from the fifth round on. If no challengers step up to face a winner from a previous match within 30 days, the winner can also then cash out with their total earnings to date.
Hellmuth came out on top against Esfandiari in round 1 back in late July. Before the cards were even in the air for that match, Esfandiari told host Nick Schulman that he would definitely challenge were he to lose. “100 percent. I’ll never quit him. No matter how much. No matter what the stake. I’ll never quit him.”
True to his word, Esfandiari immediately challenged Hellmuth. The two weren’t able to play again until late September. Hellmuth once again emerged victorious despite Esfandiari getting out in front during their battle. Hellmuth took the lead against ‘The Magician’ in a wild hand that ended with Esfandiari shoving all-in on a river with eight high after multiple bets went on on each of the previous streets.
The hand began with Esfandiari holding just over a 2:1 lead. He raised to 1,100 from the button with 85. Hellmuth called 600 more from the big blind with A3 and the flop came down JJ4. Hellmuth checked and Esfandiari bet 600 in position. Hellmuth check-raised to 1,800 and Esfandiari called. The 7 on the turn saw Hellmuth bet 3,200 with his ace-high. Esfandiari raised as a bluff with the gutshot straight draw he picked up on fourth street, making it 11,300 to go. Hellmuth three-bet to 29,000, and Esfandiari decided to make the call.
Hellmuth checked in the dark and the A completed the board. Esfandiari announced that he was all-in, putting Hellmuth at risk for his last 34,825. Hellmuth made the call to reverse their chip positions and was able to close out the match from there.
Esfandiari quickly exercised his option to challenge, setting up a third clash with Hellmuth for Oct. 21 with $400,000 on the line. Hellmuth announced before play began that he would be cashing out his winnings if he were able to come out on top, having met the criteria to do so by winning three consecutive rounds.
The two traded the lead a bit in the early going, but a flush-over-flush cooler gave Hellmuth a 3:1 lead that turned out to be decisive. Hellmuth limped in from the button with J9 and Esfandiari checked his big blind holding 82. The QJ4 flop gave both players flush draws. Esfandiari check-raised Hellmuth’s 1,300 bet to 4,300. Hellmuth then three-bet to 10,000. Esfandiari called and the A hit the turn, giving both players a flush. Esfandiari bet 16,200 and Hellmuth made the call with the second nuts. The 10 on the end saw Esfandiari cut out a 33,800 bet. Hellmuth raised to 73,800. Esfandiari made the call, only to see he had run into a superior flush. Hellmuth’s stack grew to 297,000 while Esfandiari slipped to 103,000.
The final hand of this matchup saw Esfandiari limp in from the button for 3,000 with A3. Hellmuth raised to 13,000 from the big blind with A10 and Esfandiari moved all-in for 129,000. Hellmuth made the call and the board ran out AK9J8. Hellmuth’s kicker played to earn him the pot and the victory in the match for $400,000.
With Hellmuth deciding to bank his winnings, the next High Stakes Duel will begin with two new players battling it out for $100,000 in the first round. The identity of those two players has yet to be announced.