Poker stars Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Hellmuth have been battling each other for years. And while Hellmuth is one of the most accomplished players in poker history, he's had trouble taking down Esfandiari, who is one of poker's top money earners. In July, Hellmuth defeated Esfandiari in the first match of High Stakes Duel, a new series on PokerGO where players face each other in a heads-up match with a potential total prize pool of $12.8 million. Esfandiari may have lost, but he's not out of the tournament as he is allowed to battle Hellmuth again. Round 2 of Esfandiari vs. Hellmuth will happen soon and both are looking forward to the rematch.
"It's pretty cool that the loser has an automatic right to battle at least two more times," Esfandiari said exclusively to PopCulture.com. "Usually when you play poker in any kind of a match or a tournament, once someone wins it's over. But now, even though I lost, I still have two chances to redeem myself."
"It’s interesting because we can challenge each other, other people can challenge us as well," Hellmuth added. "This concept of also having the people that are staking you in the room with you is kind of cool."
In the first match, each player put up $50,000 — and the stakes will double each round. Esfandiari, who has won three bracelets at the World Series of Poker and two World Poker Tour Championships, knows why he lost to Hellmuth in the first battle.
"I have to give him more credit," he said. "I underestimated my opponent [in two spots] which is what caused me to lose the match. Next time, there's no way he's going to get away with what he did. He’s just going to have to show it to me." Hellmuth, who is known as the "Poker Brat," has won a record 15 World Series of Poker Bracelets and has won his share of heads up battles including the multiple NBC Heads Up Championships which ended in 2013. However, Hellmuth knows he can't go into the rematch feeling himself too much.
"If I go into that match feeling really cocky against him, then I’m in trouble," Hellmuth said. "I have to go in there with an open mind and be ready to play my best. He’s a great player and I know this."
While the date of the rematch has not been yet announced, fans can watch the first battle on PokerGO's YouTube channel. And for those who aren't fans of poker, Esfandiari and Hellmuth believe those people will get a kick out of them watching them battle for a lot of money.
"They get to watch Phil Helmuth play," Esfandiari said. "It's a nice treat for everyone that's new to poker to see the all-time legend himself play. Phil and I are really good friends off the felt, but on the felt it's war like you can't imagine. Watching us play, you probably get a sense of that. I think we’re pretty fun to watch."
"There's a lot of entertainment," Hellmuth added. "He and I are playing high-stakes poker against each other. It’s going to be extraordinarily entertaining to watch... This is the poker they watched on ESPN in the early days where there’s personalities and still the greatest players. I think that it's compelling television."