Poker

Have we reached peak heads-up yet?


WIth the recent wave of heads-up grudge matches, is it a sign the audience yearns for online heads-up cash to make a comeback?

Wiktor Malinowski

It’s a funny time in poker. If you wanted to play a bit of heads-up cash you would be hard pressed to find a table online. The game all but died out and some sites don’t even offer it, because the tough regulars would not play against each other.

It seems the only way to get a heads-up cash game going today is to make a very public challenge, agree a set number of hands, book a lot of side bets and have it play out in front of thousands of railbirds.

I am, of course, talking about the sudden influx of high profile heads-up challenges taking place or recently concluding in the pokersphere. We’ve had three Galfond Challenges (and counting), Polk vs Negreanu, soon to be Negreanu vs Hellmuth, Landon Tice vs Bill Perkins with a handicap, and this week Fedor Holz vs Wiktor Malinowski.

As I have written previously, perhaps the main reason wehave seen a resurgence is because the players have made side bets or handicaps that have made an otherwise unprofitable format (for them) more paletable.

For the dollars or the likes?

Landon Tice
Landon Tice

A lot of these matches, other than Polk vs Negreanu, feel a little staged, it looks like manufactured animosity between Holz and Malinowski so GGPoker can host the match, and likewise PokerGO can stream Hellmuth vs Negreanu. Although KidPoker was quick to point out to me their match was genuinely organic.

Staged or not, I think a lot of the participants are motivated by attention. We live in an age where all of us obsess over our Instagram likes and Twitter retweets. A heads-up challenge is good for the brand for a lot of poker players. At least Phil Galfond was transparent when he started his Galfond Challenges stating marketing was his number one motivator.

Are they entertaining enough to fill the hole left by live poker streams this last year? I’m not so sure. Heads-up online cash is often quite a boring format to watch over a large sample unless you are a very keen student of the game. Hellmuth vs Negreanu has the potential to be quite fun, they are two of the most popular live poker players to watch after all.

Ultimately though, I think the main entertainment comes from the drama between sessions. I think more people watched the Negreanu and Polk post-match interviews than stayed for a whole session. The banter on Twitter between the players is probably the most entertaining spectacle of all.

Could online heads-up come back?

HU
Could HU cash come back?

To go back to my opening point about the weird dichotomy of us all watching a format few people play online. I think one thing this does point to is that there might be an opportunity for an operator to offer ‘heads-up challenge’ type games. Maybe Stars or GG could offer a private game facility where two players can commit to a certain number of hands against each other and/or a side bet/handicap like in the Tice vs Perkins match.

The biggest problem heads-up poker had online was the regulars refusing to play each other. If an operator can find a way to reduce a professionals edge and get the players to commit to a certain amount of volume, it could revitalise the format. 

If you haven’t guessed, heads-up poker is not for me as a viewer, but it is good to see pros playing against each other instead of sitting out. If it continues to be a spectacle for the railbirds, then maybe it’s time for operators to offer the market a way for the fans to play heads-up again?

What would get you wanting to play heads-up cash? Let us know in the comments:





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