World Series 2008: Heads up for rolz

Eastgate opens biggest lead yet

In one hour, we saw one big hand, and that's all it took to put Peter Eastgate in dangerous lead.

It was a min-raise to 2 million from Demidov and a call from Eastgate that dropped the Td-Kd-7c flop. Both players checked and saw the Jd on the turn. Eastgate bet out 2.5 million and Demidov bumped it up to 5.5 more. Eastgate, seeming unsure, took several moments before calling.

"We have action," announced Jack Effel.

The 3s on the river drew a check form Eastgate. Demidov didn't take long before announcing his 12 million chip bet. Eastgate snap-called and turned over 7d-4d for the flush, well good enough to beat Demidov's Ac-9d ace-high.

That hand put Eastgate at 108,500,000 to Demidov's 28,000,000, which brings us to the title of this post.

If ever two poker players are involved in a dispute, matters can quickly descend into a simple challenge to play heads up for vast amounts of cash. "Yeah, I'll play you heads up anytime, any stakes!" goes the refrain. "You name it, I'll be there!" comes the retort, each verbal joust often punctuated by the odd word unprintable on a family blog.

Of course, few of these battles ever come to fruition; they're usually just posturings across cyberspace. Still, claims of heads up superiority hints at the regard with which this form of the game is held. It is widely considered to be poker in its purest form: mano-a-mano, undiluted competition, two pairs of eyes staring at one another from either end of the table, from which only the strongest will survive.

If all that's true, then it really doesn't come any bigger or purer than what we're seeing right now. The chip stacks levelled out earlier this evening, with Demidov chipping away at Eastgate's overnight lead, then Eastgate going on a charge of his own to put some space between him and the Russian. Demidov got back within about 20 million in that past hour, before Eastgate opened it up to 40 million again and then 90 million.


But for all the romantic notions of heads up play, it's also fair to say that if you get that far in a tournament of this size, you're significantly more than just a fairly adept poker player. You know about picking your spots, making the right moves at the right time, seizing on weakness, applying measured aggression, getting out the way when beaten, pressing the advantage when ahead. It takes all these skills just to get to a final table, and then you somehow have to find another gear to be there right at the end.

The Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu knows much more about final table play, and heads up battles, than I ever will. So let him explain:

Watch WSOP Final Table Daniel Negreanu Thoughts on

If you're wondering how we reached the point at which we discussed just a single hand played in the heads up battle within the first five paragraphs, it's because we've reached an odd point in this fight. It's not unlike watching to boxers in a ring. Both are hurt, both are jacked up on adrenaline, both are wise enough fighters to know they need a quick breather before returning to bludgeoning.

The past hour of play has been the equivalent of the pugilist's dance. Jab, dance. Jab, dance. Repeat. Unlike the first couple hours of play, a pre-flop raise has been good to take down most pots. More than 100 hands of heads-up play have already taken place and there has been just one pot to speak of in the past 60 minutes.

In fact, with the blinds now at 500,000/1 million, we're watching yet another historic time. No other World Series Main Event has ever see blinds this large. It is such, now, that a min-raise is scary enough to fold the big blind. The first time Eastgate tried it, Demidov almost seemed to smile. Pretty soon, both players were doing it with remarkable regularity.

A little while ago, this final table broke the record for the longest Main Event final table ever (the old record being held at 14 hours and 2 minutes in 2005). At least in this case, the heads-up players had a chance to get some sleep before stepping back in the ring.

Now, 2am, the crowd has grown notably quieter. Even by Las Vegas standards, it's getting late.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in World Series of Poker