I’m not a big fan of the heads-up duels that have again seem to become a flavor du jour in the poker world of late. It’s actually the second time around for heads-up duels to receive a ton of attention; the first wave occurred a few years, then ended abruptly when the infamous Durrrr Challenge cratered. In the last year or so, they’ve again emerged into prominence, although most of them are simply plays for attention (or business ploys) by the people involved.
Take Daniel Negreanu versus Doug Polk, for example, a duel featuring two of the hugest egos in the game. I tried to feign interest in it at one point, but, yucch. I admit I rooted for Polk, just because Negreanu (as many industry insiders know) is so awful, but it wasn’t anything I cared about.
The heads-up duels between Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth held even less interest for me. Here, both players are part owners of PokerGO, which had the broadcast rights to the duel, so it was clear that this wasn’t so much a real duel as it was a means to try to generate subscriptions for PokerGO’s content and service. I couldn’t even tell you what the stakes were in the duel; it seemed meaningless, and cynic that I am, you’d have a hard time convincing me that the two were even playing for the stakes as announced. It was all about creating content for the service that they both partly own.
But then, along came this heads-up duel between Landon Tice and Bill Perkins. Tice is one of the latest wunderkinds, at age 22, to run well and become an almost-overnight superstar in the poker world, while Perkins, a very wealthy man, is something of a poker dilettante, entering into occasional high-stakes tourneys and cash games, but also having a full life out of poker.
The two were slated to play 20,000 hands of $200/$400 no-limit hold’em, but the catch here is that it was a handicapped affair: Tice gave Perkins a nine big-blind (9 BBs) every 100 hands. This meant that Tice was spotting Perkins $3,600 per 100 hands, or $36/hand.
Could you beat even a semi-serious player heads-up while giving him that much of an edge? Well, it turned out that Tice couldn’t, and less than a quarter of the way into the challenge, he and his backers pulled the plug on the whole deal, surrendering the win to Perkins.
Tice took on his defeat heads-on, and you have to give him credit for that:
He followed that up with a deeper take, acknowledging some of his shortcomings as they pertained to the duel. Again, all credit for accepting the loss and all that came with that:
When Tice admitted he’d bit off more than he could chew, he was spot on. Over the first few thousand hands, he was better than Perkins, but only by 3.5 BBs per 100/hands, not the nine BBs he needed just to break even. Nine was always a ridiculous number, as it ignored both of the largest intangibles that would factor into the duel:
Tice may be a great young player, but he might not be quite as good as his recent results indicate. Poker history is full of breakout players who had a great year or two and then receded toward the norm.
Perkins might not be a pro, per se, but he’s certainly competitive, and he didn’t become a rich man by finding ways to lose. If Perkins was really a 9BB dog, then couldn’t he take steps to improve his game, such as elite coaching? Being the mega-multimillionaire that Perkins is, the cost of coaching wasn’t a big factor.
And that’s exactly how it played out. As soon as Tice announced his concession, Perkins was on Twitter to thank his coaches, with which he’d spent much of the past three months:
Again, it was a sucker bet from the start. Tice may indeed crush the future, as Perkins claims, but he’ll have to manage the present a little bit better, too. Not recognizing the intangibles made Tice willing to put himself at the base of an insurmountable hill, and that’s just not how you go about constructing a winning poker career.
I wish them both well and thank them for the object lesson. As for me, it’s time to go back to ignoring these heads-up duels….