Negreanu and Hellmuth Debate Skill of Younger Poker Players

Daniel Negreanu Phil Hellmuth - Holz Sontheimer Skill Level

Daniel Negreanu finished 8th on the 2017 WSOP Player of the Year Leaderboard, so the idea he’s fallen behind can only be taken so far.

After the two Hall of Fame poker players busted out of the $100,000 Poker Masters finale, Daniel Negrenu and Phil Hellmuth Jr. got into a Twitter debate about the skill level of millennial card players.

The dispute involved the quality of younger players like Fedor Holz and Steffen Sontheimer. By the end of the exchange, Phil Hellmuth challenged Daniel Negreanu to name some of the players who were better than him.

Six minutes later, Negreanu produced a list of 40 current professional card players whose skill level was better than Hellmuth’s. The two continued their social media war until fans and other players added to the discussion, most of them coming down on the side of Negreanu.

2017 Poker Masters Event

The set-up for the debate was the $100,000 Poker Masters tournament, which took place September 18 to September 20 at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The main event was Event #5 on the schedule, which included events from September 13 until the end of the $100k event on the twentieth.

Eventually, Steffen Sontheimer of Germany finished 1st, winning $1.5 million. Christian Christner of Germany finished 2nd, while Fedor Holz of Germany finished 3rd. Sontheimer also won the Purple Jacket as the event’s best players, after ending with two 1st place, one 4th place, and one 5th place finish in the five Poker Masters events.

Daniel Negreanu: “They Are Unreal”

In the main event of the Poker Masters, Daniel Negreanu busted out in 13th place. Shortly after, Phil Hellmuth busted out in 11th place. Negreanu’s demise in the tournament prompted him to tweet, “Playing against the worlds best #PokerMasters I have a lot to learn, but I’m a quick learner. Watching @RunGo0seRun (Sontheimer) is a lesson in itself.”

Shortly after, Negreanu added, “I’m not embarrassed to say I don’t think I’m as good as these guys. They are unreal. In order to improve you have to humble yourself & learn.”

Phil Hellmuth: “One of Us Is Delusional”

The admission by a first-ballot member of the Poker Hall of Fame that he was not as good as Sontheimer triggered a response from Phil Hellmuth. The Poker Brat, who owns a record 14 WSOP bracelets, took exception to the idea that younger card players were more skilled then he is.

Phil Hellmuth replied, “I am always the #1 seed in no limit Hold’em tourneys DNegs (Negreanu), best ROI in history kid. And yes, I agree: one of us is delusional.”

Then Hellmuth added, “And one other thing @realkidpoker (Negreanu), you told me in 2009 (and 2011) that the kids were better than you & me at NLHold’em: you were 100% wrong.”

Discussion of Sontheimer and Holz

To this assertion, Daniel Negreanu implied that the Poker Brat’s arrogance does him a disservice, because it keeps him from realizing he has something to learn from the younger generation. Negreanu tweeted, “I don’t think you are being realistic Phil but I’m not surprised. Your disrespect for this generation only hurts your own growth.”

Interestingly, the discussion turned from Steffen Sontheimer’s skills to a dissection of the 2017 Poker Masters’s runner-up for the Purple Jacket, Fedor Holz, who finished 3rd in the main event. Though Sontheimer had the better week of poker, many believe the 24-year old Fedor Holz is the best professional card player of his generation — or at least has the tools to be.

Hellmuth Points to WSOP, EPT, WPT

Phil Hellmuth referred to Fedor Holz’s reluctance to enter the big “open” tournaments, where hundreds or even thousands of amateur players enter the field. Many professionals see a field of amateurs as less of a test of one’s quality as a player, because one the sheer number of casual players are likely to get lucky and win the tournament. Fedor Holz sees beating a few top-level players as more of a test than beating a field of less-talented gamblers.

Hellmuth does not see it that way. In reply to Negreanu, the 53-year old winner of the 1989 World Series of Poker Main Event tweeted, “Fedor may become the greatest someday, but he won’t get there winning 20-40 player high rollers. He needs wins in: #WSOP #EPT and #WPT.”

Fedor Holz: World Poker Index #5

Fedor Holz has played in the last several WSOP. Holz has 1 WSOP bracelet for his 1st place finish in the 2016 $111,111 High Roller for One-Drop Hold’em event, for which he won $4.9 million. Fedor Holz has 3 WSOP final tables and 10 WSOP money finishes on his record, along with 3 money finishes each of the World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour.

The German native currently has over $23,000,000 in live poker winnings, though that does not take into account his prodigious online poker career. Fedor Holz is the #5 player on the Global Poker Index, while Pocketfives ranked the young German as the best online MTT player in 2014 and 2015.

Who Is Right: Negreanu or Hellmuth?

Negreanu and Hellmuth each made their points. Fedor Holz has an impressive career for a 24-year old, but greatness stands the test of time, so Holz will need to achieve at a high rate over the next 10 to 15 to be considered the best of all time.

At the same time, Phil Hellmuth missed Daniel Negreanu’s point. Negreanu was not arguing who was the greatest of all time, but who the best poker players were right now, in the present. With the achievements over the past 2 to 3 years — or the achievements of the past week — it is hard to argue older players might not have something to learn from Steffen Sontheimer or Fedor Holz. At this moment, those players have the magic formula, it would seem.

Passing of the Torch: A Sports tradition

It is a classic argument. In whatever sport or competitive game, the old masters do not want to pass the torch to the younger generation. Part of the intrigue — even part of the tradition — is to see the established players fight off challenges from young lions. The legends of the game never want to give way to the younger generation, though it is inevitable. The interplay between the two, that cross-section of time when the two generations compete against each other, is often how fans and media members determine who was the greatest — in hindsight.

One of the reasons fans continue to follow organized poker tournaments is the ability to chart the progress of their favorites (or least favorites). All competition is more compelling when you have a rooting interest. Fedoz Holz is among that small number of players on the top of the poker world right now. Whether he stays there includes countless factors: dedication, health, lifestyle choices, the level of competition, evolution of poker, and rules changes are only some of them.

Negreanu’s List of 40 Top Poker Players

No one can predict who will be the best, or whether Holz or Sontheimer will be the best. There might be a 16-year old on a computer in Peoria right now who will put them all to shame. There might be a 10-year old girl in China who is the greatest poker genius the world has ever seen. India might be the next global poker powerhouse — not Germany. The trends are emerging, but new trends will come after them. Keep watching to see what happens.

But that is for the future. For those who want to see Daniel Negreanu’s list of 40 poker players he thinks are better than himself right now, here is the list.

It is easy to paint Phil Hellmuth Jr. as the jerk in the exchange. At the same time, most Hall of Famers in their sport would take exception if they were given a list of 40 young players who were better than them. Not everyone took Negreanu’s side. For instance, Doyle Brunson, who knows something about competing with the younger generation, took Hellmuth’s side. For their part, Scott Seiver, Erik Seidel, and Doug Polk came down on Negreanu’s side.