Following the successful and exciting SuperStar Showdowns on PokerStars, the first ever PokerStars Limit Hold'em Challenge was contested on Saturday afternoon between one of the poker world's best-known players and a relative unknown... at least for the time being.
On one side of the table was a player in little need of introduction -- Team PokerStars Pro Daniel "KidPoker" Negreanu. Among Negreanu's many accomplishments are four World Series of Poker bracelets, the last two of which were in limit hold'em events.
Meanwhile we knew considerably less of KidPoker's challenger, a player referred to by Negreanu over Twitter as "a young German genius." Beyond that endorsement -- and a reputation as a LHE specialist -- all we had to go on was a username that could be read as questioning the humanity of his opponents: rUaBot.
Negreanu has long professed both a love for limit games, especially hold'em. And rUaBot, too, shares an appreciation for the game and its many intricacies.
"Fixed limit is more strategic than no-limit," rUaBot told PokerStars' Brad Willis before the match. "There is much more space for general strategic adaptations than in no-limit," he added.
In addition to challenging Negreanu, rUaBot challenged traditional ideas about LHE, too, when talking to Willis, such as the idea voiced by Poker Hall of Famer Crandall Addington long ago that "limit poker is a science, but no-limit is an art."
"Setting up your standard game is pure math," conceded rUaBot. "But exploiting your opponent's patterns is an art... and always will be!"
For Saturday's inaugural Limit Hold'em Challenge, Negreanu and rUaBot were scheduled to play 1,250 hands of heads-up, fixed-limit hold'em across two tables. The stakes were $200/$400, and each player would begin with $75,000 bankrolls. The challenge would end if one managed to grab all $75K from the other.
Before starting, players spent a little time sorting out their buy-ins -- $8,000, with auto-rebuy boxes clicked -- and after wishing each other good luck hands were in the air.
rUaBot grabbed the early advantage over the first 50 hands, despite Negreanu claiming a $4K pot in a hand in which he rivered two pair with 8♣2♣ and got extra value on the river when rUaBot check-raised with king-high.
After 58 hands, rUaBot was in front with a $6,500 profit, but Negreanu soon stormed back and by the 103-hand mark was leading himself by $1,100.
An interesting hand then arose in which rUaBot opened with a raise and Negreanu called, then Negreanu check-raised a 5♠2♣4♣ flop, with rUaBot calling. The turn brought the J♣, KidPoker bet, rUaBot raised, and Negreanu called. Both then checked the 3♦ river, at which point Negreanu showed 5♦3♣ for two pair. But rUaBot had A♥3♥ for a flopped straight, and he claimed the $3,200 pot.
The pair remained close, and after 167 hands Negreanu was up by only up $300. rUaBot then began to move back out in front. Along the way he picked up A♣K♣ and he and Negreanu capped the betting preflop. rUaBot then check-raised a king-high flop and got calls on both the turn and river to pick up a $4,000 pot. A little later rUaBot turned a Broadway straight with A♣T♦ to grab another $3,200 pot.
The rush was on. After 185 hands, rUaBot was up $5,400. Twenty hands later, he'd increased his lead to $9,400, then by the 227-hand mark he was up $14,600. Negreanu closed in a little after that, and after nearly 250 hands rUaBot was up $11,800.
Both players began to get a little more aggressive, with the average pot size going up. Negreanu grabbed a $4K pot on Table 1 after rivering a four-card nut flush. Then over on Table 2 KidPoker took a $5,200 pot -- the biggest of the match thus far -- in a hand that saw heavy-betting start to finish as the board came 8♥Q♠3♣7♣4♥. On the river, Negreanu check-called with J♣8♣ for eights, better than rUaBot's 9♣6♠. Take a look:
rUaBot held steady, though, and continued to maintain the advantage. Through 289 hands he was up $10,500, then through 317 he led by $11,300.
Then came a blistering sequence in which rUaBot won 11 of 12 hands on Table 1 while winning 10 straight on Table 2, and the run would continue over the next few dozen hands. Take a look at how rUaBot's lead swiftly grew...
-- after 353 hands, rUaBot up $17,900
-- after 367 hands, rUaBot up $29,200
-- after 382 hands, rUaBot up $36,700
-- after 407 hands, rUaBot up $44,200
Just over 400 hands in, and rUaBot had already clawed away more than half of Negreanu's $75K challenge bankroll, one bet at a time!
Things leveled off a bit over the next stretch of hands, and by the time they reached the 501-hand mark Negreanu had chipped back to cut the deficit to exactly $35,000.
The battle continued, with Negreanu whittling slowly at rUaBot's big lead, then seeing his opponent push back.
A hand arose in which rUaBot raised his button and KidPoker called. Both checked the 6♣5♠2♥ flop, then rUaBot check-called the 7♠ turn. The river was the J♥ and when Negreanu checked, rUaBot bet and Negreanu called. rUaBot showed J♠3♥ for a rivered pair of jacks and Negreanu mucked.
"That is starting to get really annoying LOL," typed Negreanu, noting how the river jack was representative of how the match had been trending of late. Still, KidPoker managed to net enough bets to continue to close the gap, and at the 553-hand mark rUaBot's lead had shrunk under $30K to $29,700.
The pair took a short break, then after resuming it was rUaBot once more extending his lead further. One hand saw the pair building a huge pot by the river with Negreanu the aggressor through the turn, by which point the board read Q♠3♥6♦9♥4♥. On fifth street Negreanu bet again, and when rUaBot raised Negreanu typed "really" before calling.
rUaBot showed Q♥2♥ for a rivered flush, and Negreanu mucked.
That one was followed soon thereafter by a hand in which rUaBot rivered two pair with J♦3♣ for another $3,200 pot. Negreanu shared his incredulity in the chatbox.
KidPoker: no way
KidPoker: in a word "creepy"
They reached the 605-hand mark, and rUaBot's lead was back up to $46,800. The next 75 hands were roughly even, then another push by rUaBot saw his lead move up to $52,900 after 698 hands.
Things continued to go rUaBot's way. After one hand on Table 2 that saw a board run out T♠7♦8♦3♥5♥ and rUaBot turn over 6♣4♠ for a rivered straight, Negreanu again had to respond.
KidPoker: one day you need to teach me how to keep doing that lol
KidPoker: any 5 then Bink!
rUaBot: if i just knew
By the 713-hand mark, rUaBot was up $58,200, starting to close in on the last of that $75K bankroll. "OMG dude this is too much!!! haha" typed Negreanu after another good river for rUaBot -- this one bringing a four-flush -- gave his challenger another pot.
A hand followed in which KidPoker raised from the button and rUaBot called, then the pair capped the 8♣7♣T♠ flop. The turn was the 6♥ and when rUaBot led, Negreanu raised and rUaBot just called. The river was the T♦, pairing the board, and this time rUaBot check-called KidPoker. Negreanu showed 6♣3♣ -- tens and sixes, and a flush draw that didn't get there -- while rUaBot had 9♠7♦ for the straight.
At 748 hands, rUaBot had momentum and a big lead of $58,900.
With Negreanu's bankroll depleted, he fell down below $1,000 on Table 2, and soon was all in before the flop with J♦3♥ against rUaBot's T♦6♣. A jack turned and Negreanu's hand held, then he'd win another all-in after committing his last chips on a 6♠A♣A♥Q♥ board with J♥7♥ against rUaBot's pocket jacks, then a heart arrived on the river to save KidPoker.
Still, Negreanu only had $2,200 after that one, and a few hands later he was once more down to just a couple of big bets. He'd double again with A♥J♣ against rUaBot's 7♥5♠, but soon saw his last chips on the table wiped out when his 9♣4♣ couldn't catch versus rUaBot's 3♣3♠, meaning Negreanu was out of chips on Table 2.
After about 810 hands, rUaBot was up $62,400. The match was momentarily paused in order to divide KidPoker's remaining bankroll of $12,600 -- $6,300, or just under 16 big bets -- on each table.
rUaBot would soon grind Negreanu down to just $2,100 on Table 2. Then came a hand in which they capped before the flop. rUaBot check-raised the J♠K♣2♣ flop, then Negreanu called bets on the 9♣ turn and 7♦ river. rUaBot showed T♣5♣ for a flush, and Negreanu mucked.
Down to $100 on Table 2, though with $8,900 on Table 1, the match was paused again to balance Negreanu's stacks, and they continued anew.
Once again Negreanu saw his stack dwindle on Table 2. He'd survive a couple of all-in situations, but was finally felted in a hand in which his A♠4♦ couldn't hold against rUaBot's K♦8♦:
After 925 intense hands of heads-up LHE, Negreanu was down to his last $5,500 on Table 1.
Nearly a dozen hands later Negreanu sat with just $2,000 when rUaBot raised from the button. KidPoker responded with a three-bet, and rUaBot called.
The flop came single-suited -- 2♥9♥J♥. Negreanu bet the $200 and rUaBot called. The turn was the 9♣, and again rUaBot called Negreanu's bet, this time $400.
The river was the 2♣ and KidPoker bet one more time -- exactly half his remaining stack -- and when rUaBot raised Negreanu made the call. KidPoker had 3♣3♦ for nines and treys, but rUaBot had J♠T♦ for a better two pair, and the match was over.
It took just over four hours and 937 hands altogether for rUaBot to claim $75,000 from Negreanu. The pair chatted a bit afterwards, with rUaBot acknowledging the cards had certainly run his way.
rUaBot: sorry for the sick run
KidPoker: its ok just glad its over!
KidPoker: have never in my life played 2 tables HU LH and I never will again
rUaBot: big thanks for playing here
KidPoker: good night
We'll see what the future holds as far as the Limit Hold'em Challenge goes. In any event, congratulations to rUaBot for claiming the first one, along with a handsome $75,000 payday. A good night indeed!
Players from Belgium can also participate in their own version of the Holdem Challenge. For more information, please visit the PokerStars Holdem Challenge website.