Lee Davy asks ten poker players, ten questions on the efficacy of grudge matches, including opinion on Dwan vs. Cates, Hall vs. Dentale, and Kassouf vs. Matuson.
You don’t need to take a Robert McKee class on storytelling to know that in Star Wars Luke Skywalker is going to rub lightsabers with Darth Vader.
Your understanding drags your emotions through the movie until limbs are hacked off and family secrets spilt. Skywalker is the underdog, but with the right mentors, he can defeat the asthmatic bad guy. You have to believe the underdog can do it. Otherwise, there is not enough friction to keep you interested. Star Wars is the epitome of the Classic Grudge Match.
Do We Care About ‘Grudge Matches’ in Poker?
Recently, more by fluke than WWE style engineering, we have three cases that have allowed writers like me to dream about plotting Star Wars like tales.
Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan vs. Daniel ‘jungleman’ Cates might be back on. In March, Cate Hall takes on Mike Dentale. And William Kassouf squares off against Stacy Matuson in the next few days.
I think the introduction of Grudge Matches is perfect for poker but does the poker community agree? I reached out to ten of poker’s finest to find out, and this is what they had to say?
Do you care about the Tom Dwan vs. Daniel Cates match?
The results were split evenly down the middle.
“It feels like yesterday’s news,” said Grosvenor Sponsored Pro Jeff Kimber.”
“I am intrigued to see what Dwan’s playing style would be like in 2017,” said partypoker Ambassador Patrick Leonard,
“It was an official bet, so I think Tom should finish it.” Said Jason Koon, “It won’t end well for him, though, Jungle is still one of the best HUNL players on the planet.”
“It’s high-profile enough, and the participants are among the best in their category.” Said Jesper Hougaard. “I probably wouldn’t rail, but I’d follow the updates, and I’d like to see it finished. Even after all this time.”
“I would like to see it done since this was the first big one where Dwan put his neck out a little too far. I don’t think it will ever be played out, but if it did, I would follow it.” Said Andreas Hoivold.
“It’s the biggest farce when it comes to betting,” said PokerStars Ambassador Lex Veldhuis. “You can’t challenge the world and then not come through, especially when you’re losing.”
“When Dwan came up with this challenges to encourage some action for himself, it was kind of interesting, but it’s not something that you care that much about and will follow intensely.” Said, Tamer Kamel.
“I care to the point that they are two highly skilled players playing for super high stakes so getting the opportunity to rail and learn is something I can only see as a positive for me on the personal level.” Said Dermot Blain.
So although it’s yesterday’s news, the panel believes the match still has a gloss because both are great players.
Do you care about the Cate Hall vs. Mike Dentale match?
60% of our panel didn’t care, mainly because of a lack of investment in the story. Some of the group didn’t even know who Cate Hall or Mike Dentale was. What I like about this match is they have until March to build up an emotional investment to turn the heads of those that couldn’t care less.
“I’ve barely heard of her, and I have never heard of him.” Said Jeff Kimber.
“I hadn’t even heard of the match, “said Kamel. “I feel like a lot of average players who are on social media just want to boost their numbers and say controversial things. The word ‘self-centred’ springs to mind.”
“I care from an entertainment point of view,” said Blain. “I think there is genuine hatred between these two so that should add some spice to the match.”
The Cate Hall vs. Mike Dentale match-up works for me because it’s organic. They both hate each other, it’s a gender battle, and I think Poker Night in America (PNIA) were smart to pounce on this one. But how well does a good old-fashioned gender battle go down when a poker room helps engineer the grudge match?
Do you care about the Stacy Matuson vs. Will Kassouf match?
Once again our panel was equally divided with 50% thinking it works, and 50% thinking either it doesn’t or they didn’t care.
“Who wouldn’t like to see someone kicking Kassouf’s butt,” said Hoivold.
“Based on what I’ve seen on ESPN I wouldn’t mind seeing him get wrecked a little.” Said Lex Veldhuis.
“Will is in his ’15 minutes’ so it works.” Said Grosvenor Poker sponsored pro, Joe Beevers.
“It is interesting to watch this match because the backstory is intriguing and the masses have been discussing these two for a while now,” said Kamel. “I have heard “9 high like a boss” more than a handful of times since the summer.”
Do you think these ‘grudge matches’ are good for poker?
60% of the panel agreed that ‘grudge matches’ are good for poker, 20% believe they suck, and 20% couldn’t make their mind up.
“They work if promoted properly. There has to be a dynamic that interests people.” Said Allen Kessler.
Jason Koon makes an excellent point that most of these players don’t even play heads-up.
“They are entertaining but don’t make a lot of sense to me. Most of these people aren’t heads-up players. A person’s poker aptitude isn’t judged by a game they have little experience of.”
“They create hype and just like in combat sports, everyone can relate to a grudge match.” Said Jesper Hougaard.
Lex Veldhuis has a similar opinion:
“In the GTO environment and everyone being as nice as possible to each other when playing HU online, we could use some street poker mentality.”
Joe Beevers believes it works from a sporting/marketing angle but doesn’t like the idea of the grudge match being used to resolve a personal vendetta.
“In the early 2000s Barny, Ross, Ram and I did promotional heads up challenges. We beat France, Ireland and Australia! We created media and interest both printed and on TV, and we played the Poker Ashes with Shane Warne and Ian Botham versus Australia too. So done in the right way yes they are good for poker.
“If the grudge matches are nasty and more sinister where players are horrible and say horrible things to each other then I would say no.”
Tamer Kamel takes a similar line to Beevers:
“If the match has history and gets the masses interested then yeah, of course, it’s good for poker. If it’s two online pros that just don’t like each other then who cares?”
Dermot Blain thinks it’s a good way of creating the ‘characters’ that poker needs.
“People complain about the lack of characters in poker. The Hall vs. Dentale match should hopefully provide some high-end poker and a good storyline.”
Do you think ‘skill-based’ heads-up matches are good for poker?
Our panel liked the idea of heads-up grudge matches based on skill, with only one dissenting voice.
“They are only interesting if they are over a sample where variance won’t be a significant factor, and no amateur wants to rail two unknowns playing heads up online over multiple tables.” Said Patrick Leonard.
Allen Kessler thinks they only work if the play is deep enough for the viewers to get value. Jason Koon believes they can be both entertaining and educational. And Jesper Hougaard reminds us that Rail Heaven on Full Tilt Poker proved that there is a market.
What is the best way to prove who the better player is?
One of the problems with grudge matches is the skill level of the player emerges over the long run, and any player can get lucky in the short term. I asked the panel what they thought was the best way to determine the ‘better’ player?
Jeff Kimber believes the only way to learn who is the best is to ask respected players.
“When you first start playing poker, it’s important to be the best, but you soon realise not only does it not matter, it can be a costly business always wanting to take on the best players. The only real way of knowing who is better is by asking respected players.”
Joe Beevers believes most of the time it’s the people with the money who are better.
“The long run in poker is lifetimes. I don’t really care who is the better player, and a heads up match proves little in this regard. We know who is good and who isn’t and the better people are the ones with the money.”
Tamer Kamel believes a new direction is in order:
“Why does it matter who is best? Surely, just play the best you can, try to win and enjoy yourself. I feel like people need grudge matches to justify to the world and themselves they are good. Some self-confidence and self-belief lessons seem necessary in my opinion.”
Dermot Blain agrees.
“Nobody does well or makes a lot of money from proving they are the “better player?” There will always be a significant luck factor attached to poker results, so it’s very hard to prove 100%. I think it’s better to consider improving your game and improving as a person. I do not really see it as a “thing” for me it’s silly, pointless and egotistical in most cases.”
Patrick Leonard thinks the Dwan Challenge was in the right ballpark.
“20-25,000 hands of online heads up.” Said Leonard.
Jason Koon believes it’s important to measure players in the right games.
“Playing HU for rolls when you are both MTT players is no different to them playing monopoly.” Said Koon.
Do you think online poker rooms and land-based poker rooms should fabricate these types of matches to draw in recreational players?
Vince McMahon won’t be sending his storytellers to the poker world anytime soon. 70% of the panel thought it was a bad idea to fabricate storylines, and instead, wanted to see high-profile heads-up competitions.
“Having an invitational HU comp may well stir some interest with an all-star line up like the old NBC tournament used to.” Said Jeff Kimber.
Lex Veldhuis believes you lose the juice if you orchestrate the match:
“The thing that makes it interesting is that there is a real argument underneath. Or an open challenge. Someone who is saying I’m better than ‘xyz’, and then someone getting riled up and trying to prove them wrong. If you start orchestrating this, there is nothing cool about it.”
Tamer Kamel believes fabricating matches might even have an adverse effect of turning people away from the game:
“Fabricating such matches just draws credibility away from the game and the industry.” Said Kamel.
Would you embellish your character for a brand with the sole purpose of creating more marketing appeal?
There were some interesting answers with 40% both for and against the idea, and 20% willing to give it a try under certain circumstances. As you would expect, for poker players, money was a primary factor.
“Never say never, everyone has their price! Wasn’t there an Australian rugby league player who changed his name to Whiskas! So they had to say the name of the cat food every time he touched the ball?” Said Jeff Kimber.
Jason Koon wouldn’t change his name to a brand of pet food, but he wouldn’t be averse to doing some creative marketing.
“If they paid me enough and I didn’t hate what they were doing, sure!” Said Koon.
Some poker players already believe they are playing the game.
“I am already The Chainsaw, what more do you want?” Said Allen Kessler.
Joe Beevers agrees:
“Isn’t that just human nature and common sense. We are all peacocks to some extent aren’t we?” Said Beevers.
Dermot Blain believes it’s in the job description:
“That’s part of a being a brand ambassador. If you can help attract new blood/grow poker through marketing yourself, then that makes everyone happy right?”
For others, it was a matter of integrity.
“Never,” said Patrick Leonard.
“It’s not my style,” said Andreas Hoivold.
“I could see myself toning down a little here and there out of respect for my sponsors, but I’m not gonna change my character or my views.” Said Lex Veldhuis.
“No, I wouldn’t sell out to be a different person just to increase marketing appeal. Being true to yourself is more admirable than pretending to be what your not.” Said Tamer Kamel.
What match would you pay to see in poker, grudge or skill wise?
Allen Kessler said he would pay to watch Cate Hall vs. Mike Dentale. Jesper Hougaard said he would pay to watch anyone that Miltiadis Kyriakides disliked. And Jason Koon would like to see the return of Rail Heaven.
“I would like to see the old-school heroes like Tom and Ivey trade back and forth to take me back to my college days of sweating Rail Heaven.” Said Koon.
Lex Veldhuis would also like to see more Dwan vs. Ivey:
“There were some big pots on TV, but nothing long-lasting or frequent. They are two of the most aggressive characters that have been on TV, and poker TV shows are nostalgic to me.” Said Veldhuis.
Dermot Blain would like to see Phil Hellmuth facing Doug Polk.
“I would like to see Phil Hellmuth vs. Doug Polk. I think both have pretty big egos. Both have been/are very successful. Both have claimed to be best in the world in their chosen disciplines, and both like the verbals.”
Who is the greatest character in poker and why?
Several players received votes, but there was only three who received multiple.
“Hellmuth is and always will be the best character.” Said Jeff Kimber. “I’ve seen some of his blow ups in person, and they’re great.”
“I’m not going to say ‘greatest’, but there are many greats. Devilfish for the Brits and Phil Hellmuth for the Americans.” Said Joe Beevers.
“Daniel Negreanu.” Said Andreas Hoivold. “The way he talks at the table and the way he treats fans are both world class.”
Lex Veldhuis agrees: “He is outspoken, trustworthy and the best ambassador poker has. He also cares deeply about the game which is nice.”
There were also votes for Fedor Holz, Will Kassouf, and Gus Hansen. But in the end, there was only one winner.
“I think I would have to go with Ivey.” Said Jason Koon. “He’s just a legendary gambler. He’s played the biggest stakes and always had a mysterious larger than life energy.”
“For me, it has to be one of the greatest players ever Phil Ivey.” Said Tamer Kamel. “I played with him a few times and loved his presence, his style of play, his story and in terms of gaining recreational players he was one of the reasons I started to play poker and so many people I know did as well.”
“For me, it would still be Phil Ivey,” said Dermot Blain. “In a world where everyone thinks they are best with a lot of egos floating around, I think for some years it was universally agreed he was the best player in the world and that’s no mean feat.”
So there you have it.
Ten questions, for ten professional poker players on the efficacy of grudge matches in poker.
Now it’s your turn.
Why don’t you share your answers?
Thanks to Grosvenor sponsored pros Jeff Kimber & Joe Beevers, partypoker ambassador Patrick Leonard, and PokerStars Team Pro Lex Veldhuis. Hugs and kisses also go to Allen Kessler, Dermot Blain, Tamer Kamel, Jesper Hougaard, Jason Koon, and Andreas Hoivold.