by Haley Hintze
The upcoming $200/$400 heads-up match between prominent poker pros Doug Polk and Daniel Negreanu promises to be one of the most watched events of the poker year, whenever it gets underway.
Whether it serves as the culmination of the long-running online feud or is just another flashpoint along a heated trail, it’s already drawing plenty of interest.
While some detractors insist the match probably won’t come off at all, the betting chalk is that it will, even if watchers and fans have to experience more petulant outbursts from Negreanu along the way.
But it’s worth looking back to see how the feud between the pair began and grew over time, leading to an online showdown of cards in addition to words.
Flashback to August of 2014.
Negreanu, having been criticized for a key play in the 2014 “One Drop” event where he finished runner-up to Daniel Colman, brushed aside criticisms from other players and stated that those other players simply couldn’t understand his “quite standard” play. One commenter, cash game pro Daniel Merrilees, went back and forth with Negreanu about his cash-game skills. Eventually, Merrilees asked, “Ok fair enough – I applaud your confidence. Do you think you could jump right in now and play a stars 25/50 6max game and win?”
Negreanu hadn’t played many cash games online in four years, and almost no 6-max at higher stakes. Yet he still replied, “I believe it would take two weeks of work and I would be a winner.” Numerous players including Colman and Polk challenged that assertion, noting how radically 6-max NL had changed over that four-year stretch. An undeterred Negreanu doubled down, posting:
I couldn’t be any more serious. 2 weeks. 5 hours playing, 4 hours studying numbers daily. Would bet a million.
Polk, perhaps the preeminent online cash game player in the game at the time (albeit in heads-up games), thought Negreanu’s claim was ludicrous. Polk responded on Twitter, posting:
I respect what you have done in your career, but it’s naive to think that you can just log onto PokerStars and beat $25/$50.
Though some negotiations between Negreanu and other players about a million-dollar 6-max challenge may have occurred, the challenge never came off. Yet in its wake, the seeds of the feud between Negreanu and Polk were planted.
It’s not as if the growing feud needed a constant source of fuel, yet Negreanu’s occasionally off-the-rails braggadocio and Polk’s growing social-media skills made for an attention-grabbing combination. Smaller flareups aside, the true cementing of the pair’s relationship began when Negreanu entered PokerStars’ industry-shaking SuperNova Elite (SNE) controversy.
Negreanu was PokerStars’ highest compensated spokesplayer for several years, and he also promised to represent players’ interests as he worked with PokerStars. Yet when Stars unfairly stripped already-earned benefits from hundreds of its most dedicated grinders in late 2015, Negreanu chose to defend his paymasters on social media with a poorly thought-out quote.
“There’s a lot of games where the rake is really high, and it keeps pros away,” Negreanu wrote early in 2016. “But overall, for the game, it’s actually better because pros aren’t playing.” That the online-poker world had become top-heavy and needed adjusting was true, but PokerStars’ methods, while perhaps legal, were unjust and drew massive protests.
Editor’s note: Daniel Negreanu’s anti-pro comments were cut together by SrslySirius in this banger of a song, posted on Doug’s channel.
It was crushing to hundred of SNE and other elite Stars players to see this supposed “player’s voice” ignore their well-grounded claims. In an interview that October, Negreanu again attempted to explain his defense of Stars’ move, but fared little better. Eventually, all of Negreanu’s statements were condensed by the poker world into a never-exactly-stated “More rake is better” quote attributed to Negreanu.
Amind all this, one of Negreanu’s personal blind spots soon led to another Polk / DNegs confrontation. This time, in May of 2016, Stars pro Jason Mercier was in the middle. Viewers of Polk’s poker streams noticed that Polk had flagged Mercier as a “bad reg” and that led to heated exchanges between Mercier and Polk, who without mincing words, wrote, “I think you are a nice guy. I just think you ran massively over ev in your career and don’t have respect for your poker game.”
That led to Negreanu jumping in and writing, “Doug, I don’t know if they give out a ‘tool of the year’ award yet but you are in contention!” By this time, most people had forgotten that Polk would be perfectly entitled to tag his online opponents in any way he desired, and Negreanu showed his willingness to attack others on behalf of friends, a trait he had just received widespread criticism for after defending close pal Erick Lindgren’s reneging on numerous and significant gambling-related debts.
Between the continuing “More rake is better” controversy and other matters causing flames between the two — including an episode where GSN demanded Polk remove poker videos that included some old “High Stakes Poker” footage — Negreanu and Polk stayed on each other’s nerves, often in escalating ways.
Then, in 2018, players and poker fans arriving at Las Vegas’s Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino for the World Series of Poker were greeted by a prominent billboard advertising a “MoreRakeIsBetter.com” web site. The poker world quickly learned that it was a Negreanu-targeting barb purchased by Polk as a way of further exposing Negreanu’s alleged hypocrisy in how he spoke on PokerStars’ behalf in the still-simmering SNE mess.
Polk also made it more personal by wearing t-shirts emblazoned “More Rake is Better” when he squared off against Negreanu at a couple of high-profile tables that summer, including at the Super High Roller Bowl at the nearby Aria. The two got into it in a handful of exchanges, which remain viewable online.
2019 was a relatively quiet year for the feud, but 2020 has been… well… just like the rest of 2020.
This time, Negreanu drew more attention to himself in the ugliest of ways, launching a vile attack against a troll who made rude comments about Negreanu and his new wife on the stream. While the troll’s actions were horrible, Negreanu, as he frequently does, forgot that he is both a paid representative of a prominent site (GGPoker, now) and a prominent rep of the game at large. Instead of simply muting or booting the troll, Negreanu let loose a violent stream of invective that quickly got his stream suspended from Twitch.
Again failing to recognize the error of his ways, Negreanu soon issued a half-hearted non-apology, then published a second NSFW-language video attacking veteran ESPN poker commentator Norman Chad, who’d chastised DNegs over his prior outburst. Amid all this Polk had plenty of new fuel for videos about Negreanu, whose faithful following may finally be tiring of Kid Poker’s perpetual bad antics.
Polk again issued a heads-up challenge, even though Doug himself plays far, far less poker than he used to.
I officially challenge Dnegs to a HUNL battle. I am hoping to leave with both his money, and my teeth still in my mouth. https://t.co/yE4ibc8Ydl
— Doug Polk (@DougPolkVids) July 28, 2020
This time, in a shocking move to many, Negreanu accepted the challenge, tweeting this, among plenty of other takes:
“For many years now this man has made a living off of trashing me on a regular basis, well past an unhealthy obsession, regurgitating the same attack lines over and over. Not because he truly believes I’m an evil monster, but purely for personal gain disguised as standing for some noble cause.” He added, “Attack me endlessly, bully me, mock me, in the hopes of getting me to agree to a high stakes poker match. If that’s the case, well played. You have your wish.”
Negreanu also began making the case for himself as the underdog in the matchup, whenever it occurs, though that likely won’t be after the GGPoker portion of the summer’s 2020 WSOP Online series is completed in mid-September. And since the terms of the challenge have yet to be established, it’s unclear whether Negreanu will be much of an underdog at all. Polk did offer to play half of another game type of Negreanu’s choosing, but Negreanu seems dead set on keeping his underdog status.
I am willing to settle for half nl and half a game of his choice. Also willing to settle from 4 down to 2 tables.
I dont want a "Best of 7" match or whatever that is supposed to mean. I want a bunch of volume in against a weak opponent so I am just going to win. https://t.co/hyvfTl79LA
— Doug Polk (@DougPolkVids) July 29, 2020
Meanwhile, the bad blood seems to be continuing at least a bit behind the scenes. Polk has reported via social media that Negreanu hasn’t responded yet to inquiries about the terms of the challenge. Negreanu, also responding publicly, suggested several things for Polk to do in the meantime, including “Twiddle your thumbs.”
Both players, though, have plenty to gain in terms of visibility by going forward with the challenge (and both are attention hounds and know that to be true). So this matchup is a go, despite the naysayers’ predictions. Fans will just have to wait a few more weeks for the next developments.