Dong "Donger Kim" Kyu and Nick "TCfromUB" Frame on their unique Heads-Up Challenge

For all that's said about poker not really being a sport, it has a habit of producing some pretty remarkable spectacles. With build up to match a prize fight, a surge of interest online can suddenly provide all the momentum that's needed to put together the stuff of legend, like what's in store on PokerStars: an epic heads-up challenge match with a little something on the side.

That's the plan Dong Kim hatched along with his long time heads-up adversary Nick Frame. The result, a challenge match lasting three weeks played at $25/$50 with $15,000 as a side bet. It may not be the Thriller in Manila or the Rumble in the Jungle, but there will be two players, coming from two different corners of the world, ready to slug it out until there's just one winner.


racks_of_chips_playmoney_12feb15.jpgThese will become virtual for the duration of the challenge

Frankly, the players have done their own promotion, with a little help from the Two Plus Two forum, so we're ruling ourselves out of the "Don King" role. But PokerStars will play another part, hosting this thriller, and providing the rumble to this unique contest, and you can follow the action through to the end of the month on the PokerStars Client.

The Players

Dong "Donger Kim" Kim is a 26-year-old Korean-American. Having formerly lived in places such as Bangkok, Vancouver, Las Vegas and Honolulu, he now lives in Seoul, Korea, which can be tough for a poker player, particularly one with a traditional family background. But while the most common question he's asked back home is "Have you ever played on TV?" the question they should ask instead is "Are you any good?" The answer to the former might well be "no". The answer to the latter is a very definite "yes".

But while there may be no cameras zooming in on him there's something about Heads-up poker that appeals to Kim.

"Heads up no-limit is such a cool game to me but most matches simply happen in anonymity with only a few tracking sites reporting the results," he said. "A HU challenge like this provides some publicity and way for everyone I know to watch me doing what I do best. This is a huge opportunity for me to put a stamp on to the poker world showing who I am and what I can do."

"It's going to be a tough match-up but I am looking forward to proving I am one of the best at the elite format of the best game in the world."


dong_kyu_12feb15.jpgDong Kim: Let's not start talking about monkeys on people's backs

His opponent Nick "TCfromUB" Frame, has done his own share of moving around. The 27-year-old ("feels old in the online poker world") grew up in Georgia, United States, but hit the road when Black Friday coincided with his graduation.

"I've been in Whistler BC; San Jose, Costa Rica; Toronto, Ontario; and now Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

I think Playa is my favorite spot and I hope to be able to stay here and keep playing. I normally go really hard at poker for 3-4 weeks then hop a quick two hour flight to Georgia for a week off."

The Format

The contest will take place over the next three weeks, with the aim of wrapping it up before the end of the month. Both players must be ready to play for five of every seven days, starting at 11am Melbourne time (7pm EST).

There will be at least 1,000 hands per session, although this can be change if both players agree, or if a player is down by more than seven buy-ins.

Each player will receive two new time banks per day and will play on a minimum of three tables. Either player can forfeit at any time, however that means they will lose the challenge, and the $15,000 side bet. Oh, and Run It Twice will be turned on throughout.
If there are any judgements to be made three Judges have been selected: Raul, Ike Haxton, and Alex "Kanu7" Millar.

Ahead of things getting started the PokerStars Blog talked to both players about the idea, the heads-up format, and a little about their poker careers that brought them to this point.


PokerStars Blog: Can you tell me how the idea originated?

Dong Kim: Nick Frame and I have been rivals for quite some time now. We first started playing each other at the small stakes heads-up and have both continually improved to the point where we now play the highest stakes online, taking on all opponents.


dong_kyu_cigar_12feb15.jpgKyu enjoying some down time

I recently saw that Nick released his "HU power rankings" where I was directly below him. This obviously was incredibly motivating for me and I wanted to use this opportunity to formally challenge my biggest rival to a heads-up showdown.

Nick Frame: There's been talks for a while of doing a HUNL challenge of sorts. But Dong decided to make a formal challenge and the next morning I woke up to some texts saying "check NVG 2p2..." I was a bit surprised but also excited at the opportunity to play this. Often when HU challenges happen it's because two people don't like each other. That actually isn't the case here. We're friendly towards each other and it should be an enjoyable match regardless of the outcome.


PS: There was a lot of doubt among some observers when this match was proposed. Were either of you surprised by the reaction of the other?

DK: Not at all, in fact, I would've been surprised if he turned me down. Nick is a competitive person and I don't think he would turn down a public challenge from his long-time rival. He's also very reasonable and extremely easy person to work with so finding an agreement in the middle where both sides felt the terms were fair ended up happening fairly quickly.

NF: Originally Dong proposed doing this challenge at $100/$200. I can't afford a game that big right now, without selling off action, and Dong's a super tough player who I have a ton of respect for. So I decided I would accept but only if it was lower--$25/$50. I think we're both going into this believing we have the edge. I know Dong wouldn't have proposed it if he didn't think that, likewise, I wouldn't have accepted.


PS: Tell me about your background, what sort of games you play, how many years you've been playing?

DK: Just like anything in today's world, if you want to be the best you have to specialize in one specific art. I chose the game I enjoyed railing the most: Heads up No Limit Hold'em. I have been playing this game for about 3.5 years now and with no regrets. I still enjoy the game very much and it's where you'll find me most days.

As of a few months I have been trying my hand at more live tournaments. I find it very exciting to travel the world taking my shot at big main events and 100ks . So far I've mostly had excruciating bubble experiences but I can only imagine how fun it will be if I final tabled an event, let alone got heads up!

NF: I've been playing poker for a while. I guess I first started with it around age 19 while at university. It took me a year or so to be able to break even. I played 6-max at first but my game started to take off when I switched to HUNL. I've been battling regs at HUNL for a little over four years. Currently I play HUNL, HUPLO, and I'm also working a lot on my Hyper turbo HUSNG game. They're all quite different but I enjoy each format.


PS: The build-up (online at least) has been a bit like that of a prize fight. Are you surprised how much interest this has gained online?

DK: I actually am quite shocked at how much interest has been gained in the short period of time. I didn't know what to think of it before I made that thread. I feel like this challenge has really put my name on the map in the poker community. I feel great that everyone is excited again for some good old fashion HUNL on PokerStars.

NF: I actually am quite surprised at how much interest there has been with this, but I think it's great. The lowering of the stakes hasn't seemed to dissuade the interest much. I'm confident it's going to be an awesome battle with some really high quality poker.


PS: Dong has you down as the favourite Nick. Would you agree with that?

NF: The betting lines are suggesting I'm the slight underdog here. It's tough to say exactly who the favorite is. For example, over 15k hands, 1.25:1 odds with a normal HUNL standard deviation, the favorite would have approximately a 1.5bb/100 edge; which is pretty small.


nick_frame_12feb15.pngNick Frame

Variance can certainly play a big role in the outcome, but I think it's going to come down to who executes the best and who makes the best adjustments from session to session.


PS: Is heads-up poker the purest form of the game in your view? The most accurate way to compare the ability of two players?

DK: Yes and no. If full-ring NLHE is the "Cadillac of Poker," then heads-up no limit is the Ferrari. When you play a game with one other person, it's you vs. him and no one else. The more hands played, the more likely the better player will come up on top. It's truly a king-of-the-hill and the best will always win over a large enough sample.

Unfortunately this comparison might not necessarily hold if you are trying to compare two ring players for example. If they played each other HU over a large sample, the one with a better understanding of heads-up will win. But to me, heads-up is the most beautiful and flawless form of the game.

NF: In my opinion it is the purest form yes. HU also has a more personal feel. In full ring or 6-max you're trying to beat the table. With HU you have one job: take one opponents money. It's somewhat of a specialty game but if you asked me which I'd choose, of course money aside, I'd rather be known as the best HUNL player over a WSOP Main Event winner.


PS: Can you talk me through your progression through different stakes, from when you first started to now?

DK: When I first got introduced to poker, I started by playing $2 SNG's as my main game. I started with a $50 deposit and would've played lower if smaller games were offered. A 25 buy-in bankroll wasn't much online and that was a lot of money for a broke college kid.

Games were a lot softer at those stakes then and I managed to move up in stakes slowly. I then got into online 6-max cash games and decided to go pro in 2009 playing 25c-50c and moved up to playing mostly $1-$2.

Fast forwarding to Black Friday, I wasn't able to play online and moved Las Vegas to play live cash games for about a year. Coincidentally, exactly a year after Black Friday I played my first hand of online poker. I started on smaller softer sites at the micros and wanted to do something different from 6-max online as it didn't seem to excite me too much. I thought to myself: Why not play the games that I loved railing? Sure I played 6-max, but even then I personally thought reading through high stakes 6-max hands were boring. That's how I got into HUNL.

NF: As I said earlier HUNL is my main game, I'm better at it than the other formats I play (HUPLO and hypers) and it's my favorite overall.

My climb through the stakes has been pretty linear. In 2011 I was playing regs at 2/4 to 3/6. In 2012 I was playing them at 5/10 to 10/20. In 2013, 10/20 to 25/50. And since 2014 I've been battling regs at 25/50 to 50/100.

To be successful it's incredibly important to put a lot of work in off the table. In the past you could get away with just being a naturally talented poker player. It's not like that anymore, at least for any significant amount of money. I wouldn't say I'm super-talented, but my work ethic has allowed me to continually progress faster than the games have. I try to never let a month go by where the answer to the question "Am I better [vs. the field] than I was last month?" isn't "yes."


The "proof" of that may well come by the end of this month, when this Heads-Up Challenge is expected to finish. Sport? Call it what you like. For regardless of which player comes out on top, it's a heads-up duel not to be missed.


Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.
Stephen Bartley
@StephenBartley in PokerStars news