Can heads-up cash make a comeback?

Landon Tice
Landon Tice

Heads-up poker is dead, long live heads-up poker.

Once considered the toughest and purest form of poker, and certainly a big hit with the railbirds, heads-up cash is a format that has pretty much died online. It died because getting tough regulars to play each other without an edge was too big an ask, which dried the games up.

It does seem to be enjoying a renaissance right now, at the very least as a publicity machine. Phil Galfond has won three out of three Galfond Challenges and Polk vs Negreanu was a lot better than most people expected. Now Landon Tice and Bill Perkins have announced a new challenge that might ignite even more interest in heads-up cash.

Tice is ‘paying’ Perkins 9BB/100 in their 20,000 hand No Limit match at $200/$400. What that essentially means is that Tice is giving Perkins a $720,000 head start and he believes he can still beat him. If, for example, Tice beats him by 10BB/100 he would profit $80,000 overall before rake is factored. The suggestion is that Tice believes he will beat Perkins by a much bigger margin.

Closing the skill gap

Bill Perkins
Bill Perkins

A superior player ‘paying’ somebody to play them is not a new thing in poker, but it is in the context of high profile, live streamed, matches that are used as content and/or marketing. I actually think this idea of handicapping matches could catch on.

When the match was announced PokerShares had Landon Tice as a 7/10 favourite with Perkins as a 5/4 underdog. When you consider the likely huge gap in skill between the two, these are very close odds which suggest they picked the right handicap.

You could get close to 5/1 on Daniel Negreanu against Doug Polk and the skill gap there is narrower. Negreanu is a professional player and Perkins is a recreational player, after all. The skill gap is much wider with Perkins and Tice, but they have found a bet where they both like their chances.

If the match is entertaining and in particular if Perkins does well, this could be a real shot in the arm for heads-up cash. It could encourage regs to play against regs and also bring recreational players out of hiding, when they previously did not enjoy being the victims of ‘bum hunting’.

Will ego get in the way?

Polk Negreanu
Can high profile heads-up matches reignite the format?

Before I get too excited and declare this is how you get heads-up cash back and thriving, there is a likely hurdle. The problem with such a bet is that it means one player has to admit they are the weaker player. Heads-up cash in particular is rife with ego and machismo, and a lot of players simply will not want to admit they need to be paid to play.

But if the poker world can exercise a bit of humility, or indeed if a skilled player can trick another one into thinking they should pay them a forfeit, this could really make heads-up cash an interesting spectacle again.

I bet Daniel Negreanu wished he had discussed being paid a few BBs/100 before he started his match with Doug Polk.

WIll heads-up cash make a comeback online? Let us know in the comments:

Barry Carter

Barry Carter

Barry Carter is the editor of and the co-author of The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2, Poker Satellite Strategy and PKO Poker Strategy

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