“This guy is a raging madman,” commentator Nick Schulman said of Los Angeles’ self-appointed King of Poker’s newest bad boy Nikhil Arcot as he downed his many glasses of Pinot Noir during a rowdy seven hours in the PokerGO studio.
Nick ‘Airball’, as Arcot became famous, brought his signature sweet-talk and brashness to the proceedings from the get-go, but as the wine took hold, his schtick disintegrated into bravado and stupidity. It was noteworthy that his provocateurs and cheerleaders Doug Polk and Lin Jie eventually stopped agitating him as it became clear he was off the rails, dancing and yelling and belching.
Poker for the “Love is Blind” Generation
It was a glorious circus and a sinister horror show, a compelling watch that revealed the worst in poker. It was not just madness but the cause of madness in others. It was poker for the “love is blind” generation except for the audience who wanted to gouge out their eyes.
Needless to say, poker is a competitive endeavor and with competition comes rivalry and with rivalry sometimes you have real animosity between the players. Poker players are a diverse group, coming from all walks of life with a wide variety of world viewpoints, so, from the outside, there is probably more conflict than you might find in other communities as well.
Right now, we seem to be more polarized than ever with controversy and controversies among members of the community receiving more attention than actually playing the game we all love. This meat is dominating poker Twitter, sometimes spilling over to the felt.
Whether it’s real beef or processed beef, shows like Hustler’s ‘Max-Pain Monday’ leaned into the professional wrestling model, featuring pre-match verbal altercations to spice up the felt end action. However, the concern is that while conflict is certainly key to stabilizing drama, it can also turn many people off.
There are a lot of people who are afraid of the obnoxious handbag.
my colleague VegasSlotsOnline news Contributor Dara O’Kerney is tired of justifying “clicks.” In the next episode of “Chip Race” He says “This kind of behavior might encourage people to watch poker but I don’t think it makes many people want to play it. I know from personal experience of coaching students that there are a lot of people who are afraid of carrying the hateful handbag. Worryingly, this group is trending very hard.” towards demographics that are already under-represented, such as females.”
Negreanu beef cost millions
Historically, one of poker’s biggest meats has been between two of gaming’s biggest content creators, veteran Daniel Negreanu and single-minded visionary Doug Polk. In July 2020, Negreanu finally had enough of Polk’s relentless taunting and accepted the challenge to play heads-up with him. Seven months later, Polk learned an important lesson about price trolling while backing the truck to the tune of $1.2 million.
Negreanu may have lost quite a bit of money, but while facing Polk, he learned a lot about the modern game. He was eager to show off those new skills by reigniting an old rivalry with Phil Hellmuth. ‘The Poker Brat’ and a rejuvenated Negreanu committed to putting his fish on the hook for a high-stakes double.
The buildup included much ranting as Negreanu relentlessly criticized his rival’s belief in “white magic” and questioned his record against tougher opposition. “In the major league roller arena, he can’t win,” Negriano said, adding, “He may have been a goat in his era, but that era is long gone.” Negreanu also bragged about the extra side action he was doing in the match.
Hellmuth won 3:0 for a combined win of $350,000
In response, Hellmuth was cordial, respectful, and complimentary to Negreanu and when the matches finally took place between March and June 2021, Hellmuth won 3:0 for a combined win of $350,000. “Where’s the window, baby?” Almost said Phil Hellmuth, after finishing his High Stakes Dual II whitewash.
a Global Show of Grudge Matches
Other famous poker disputes include those between Polk and Charlie Carrel, Polk and Fernando ‘JNandez’, Habegger, and most recently, Polk and Matt Berkey. There is also a lot of friction between Berkey and Nik Airball, Berkey and Ji, Berkey and Eric Persson. It is against this backdrop that the high stakes live poker lineup has been prepared by PokerGO Programming Director Brett Hanks.
On April 17, Shulman took to Twitter to spread the news:
Described as the world’s fair of grudge matches, PokerGO had a hunch about how things might turn out:
On Thursday night, Jean-Robert Bellandy, Rob Young, and Jennifer Tilly sat alongside the potentially explosive quintet of Polk, Pearson, Guy, Berky, and Nick Erpool. It was a powder box, but some expected players to adopt, in person, a more civilized tone. These thoughts were quickly thrown away when Berky and Nick Airpool clashed during the first orbit.
Airball vs. Berky
Nik Airball is an investment banker and regular at Hustler Casino Live cash. He rose to prominence in the past year for his brash, explosive behavior, and more recently, thanks to an appearance on Doug Polk’s podcast in which he called Berky a prankster.
“When you run a training site and you can’t beat the games, you’re a fraud. You’re selling bullshit.”
That’s just what it is, you con artist.”
It was pseudo-thinking from Nik Airball whose sense of entitlement seemed to spill over into the idea that poker players should drop whatever they were doing and travel to Los Angeles to play when he croaked. The whole incident caused the clout to chase but in the end, Berky took the bait, albeit on his own modified terms.
Berkey offered to play Airball at the Bellagio at $200/$400 every day for a month. Polk then offered himself as a substitute, to which Berkey replied:
“We’re going to be rolling out the red carpet for you to come play the full episode Washed Out by Stranger Man. Nobody hasn’t and won’t stay away from you in episode games. Stay in your lane.”
Talk of the fight continued and after many barbs were circulated on the podcast and on Twitter, the fighters finally decided on a “death match”. They also mutually agreed on an arbitrator for future disputes.
Run it once Founder Phil Galfond was asked to act as the unenviable referee in the grudge match. One of his first mediations was a potential deal breaker for Berky who refused to allow Nick Erpal to put his friend Eshaan Bhalla on the rails. Galfond shared on Twitter how the negotiations were going:
After this issue was resolved, Galfond posted that the pair agreed to a 100-hour match at $200 / $400 – $400 with a minimum of $100,000. They played three sessions a week at 6.5 hours each. Any player can quit if they drop by $1 million and there will be a $10,000 fine for a missed session or for quitting early. The match started on April 2 but not before the pair went toe-to-toe for a weird weigh-in of some sort:
Since then, there have been many controversies over Nick Erbal’s scandalous take of breaking and Berky’s scandalous take of hands in the confrontation. However, overall, Galfond seems to be keeping the match on track. Halfway through, Berkey’s price rose to $306,800 as the two fighters took their rivalry to a different location and wider audience.
Early shots fired at High Stakes Poker
PokerGO aired seven hours of poker pantomimes, but it only took a few minutes to watch Berkey and Nik Airball clash. The former set his trap, limping blind against blind with pocket ace only to fall into that trap himself when the latter washed up in the river. A $100,000 stack shipped to Nik Airball but not fast enough to satisfy him:
Although keen to get in on all the banter going on, Polk who was helping Nick Erbal with a grudge match, was somewhat constrained when it came to Berky. Polk insisted he had nothing against him personally, but his problems arose from the way Berky negatively mischaracterized aspects of his new card club “The Lodge”.
For his part, Berky has mostly covered Polk and the constant chatter from Nick Erbal and G.I. He was approached a lot at poker, though on his Twitter Spaces after the session he made it very clear that his issues with Polk were personal, saying, “I really despise him.”
Drinks flow, pots grow
As night fell, the drinks were flowing and the pots growing. The deck provided some coolers as Tilly lost a few coolers but then took a large cooler off Berkeley. Young and Pearson would later take large companies from Polk. Bellandy bled all night until he got lucky with the Pocket Sixes versus Nick Erbal’s Pocket Aces in the final orbit.
Doug realized he might be on the wrong side of history
While chips were certainly flying, it’s fair to say that the real story that emerged was the decadence of Nick Erbal who was loud and obnoxious, enraging his opponents at every turn. As it got messier, it looked as though Doug might have realized he might be on the wrong side of history:
The session ended on a somewhat bizarre note as Nik Airball lost an unnecessarily large bet to the ever-elegant Tilly but not before wasting a full eight minutes backtracking on whether to ask for another $87,000 with a warm high draw. All around, it was not clear if he had misread his hand or if he was truly thinking in a frenzy moment. In any case, the watch was called by the obviously unimpressed Polk and a line was finally drawn under this tempestuous affair.
A few weeks ago, Vanessa Cuddy said, “Twitter has been such a bad show this week” and when I saw it I thought “evergreen tweet.” The level of rhetoric has evolved into something like schoolyard exchanges between people who should know better and it’s not clear if this episode of High Stakes Poker is either an extension of that or a stab at that boil.
The next morning, Polk expressed the dilemma facing streamers because there is no denying that there are people who enjoyed the stream and people who were shocked by the stream but turned it off regardless:
In this clip from “The Chip Race,” O’Kearney goes on to say, “I do my best to dispel the notion that whoever plays straight is an idiot but is swimming against the tide of all this supposed content.”
In my view, there is probably room for all kinds of poker streams, including this show, but it was disappointing to see a respected show like High Stakes Poker making its mark by embracing the values of “The Jerry Springer Show”. Sad to think that PokerGO thought they needed to pick up the professional wrestling model to compete with the likes of Hustler Live.
In WWE wrestling, the storylines are scripted and the wrestlers are actors. In this sense, they follow the script and get paid for their performance. However, in live poker, players risk their money and sometimes other people’s money while also playing the game within the game. The objective of this secondary game is to achieve poker notoriety which can also bring additional revenue streams but is also desired by many in its own right.
Everyone who participates in the popular poker game today has something to sell
It cannot be ignored that everyone who participates in the popular poker game today has something to sell. It also cannot be ignored that the live broadcast producers also have a product to sell. The issue is whether these goals align with or conflict with the broader goal of selling poker to a wider audience.
For better or for worse, this episode of High Stakes Poker brought eyeballs to poker. The question remains whether she’s going to put bums on the cash gaming benches or if she’s just portrayed us as a bunch of hot-headed high schoolers and fame-hungry reality TV stars with whom no one wants to spend their leisure time.