The long-awaited “King of the Hill” competition at Poker Night in America came to an exciting conclusion at Rivers Casino in Schenectady, New York on Wednesday, live in front of thousands of viewers on Twitch.
On Tuesday, the two long-awaited first-round heads-up matches went down. Daniel “Jungleman” Cates and Frank Kassela played for less than ten minutes with Kassela finding himself on the losing side. And then, despite much public smack-talk from Doug Polk to Phil Hellmuth prior to their match (including a promotional video where Polk brandished the King of the Hill belt and told Hellmuth “I will destroy you” in a mock WWE-style rant), Polk was defeated by Hellmuth in their match.
The two finalists, Cates and Hellmuth, took to the felt on Wednesday at 5:30 ET to play for $200,000 and the belt in a best-of-three format. Both players began with $100,000 in casino chips, but it was played in a winner-take-all tournament format. Blinds started at $50/$100 with 20-minute levels.
Many viewed this matchup as a “New School” versus “Old School” battle, Hellmuth known for his live reads and his “white magic” and Cates for his math-based, online style. Early in their match Cates even jokingly asked Hellmuth, if he wins, “What are you going to say to the cameras? The white magic prevailed over the online kids? Something like that?”
“I don’t know. Let’s just see what happens, ya know?” was Hellmuth’s response.
Whatever viewers were expecting, they wouldn’t be disappointed.
Round 1 – White Magic
The first match saw Cates take an early marginal lead.
About ten minutes in, Cates raised to 2,000 on the button with and Hellmuth three-bet to 7,000 with . Cates called and they took a flop of . Hellmuth bet 7,000 on the flop and Cates called. The turn was the and Hellmuth bet 11,000. Cates called again and the completed the board. Hellmuth checked and Cates put out a bet of 40,000.
As Hellmuth was in the tank, Polk in the commentary booth told the viewers that there were two possible outcomes: Cates was going to be rather short-stacked, or Hellmuth was going to go on tilt. It turned out to be the latter.
Hellmuth tossed in his first reveal plaque of the match and folded, only to see Cate’s king-high bluff.
Hellmuth was quickly out of his seat and set into a tirade.
“Ah I knew it. He wanted to give me all the f***ing money… How does the deck save him?”
Cates had taken more than a 2:1 chip lead, and the intermittent Hellmuth rant continued for several minutes. Cates was up to a 3:1 lead around 30 minutes in. That lead was back down to 2:1 a bit later, when the momentum began to shift.
Cates had against Hellmuth’s on a flop of . Hellmuth check-called 2,500 from Cates and the turn was the . Hellmuth checked, Cates bet 9,000 with his two pair and flush draw, and Hellmuth check-raised to 27,000 with trip jacks. Cates called and the river was the . Hellmuth quickly moved all in and Cates let it go, giving Hellmuth a slight chip lead. They traded the lead a couple times, and then a big hand developed.
Hellmuth raised on the button with and Cates three-bet to 8,000 with . Hellmuth called and they saw a flop of . Cates bet 8,000 and Hellmuth raised to 18,000 with four outs for a chop. Cates called and the came on the turn. Cates checked and Hellmuth fired around one-third pot. Cates snapped his top pair, top kicker into the muck and Hellmuth took a 2:1 chip lead. Later, Polk would refer to that one as a “momentum-changing hand.”
Hellmuth extended his lead when he flopped trip sixes with against Cates’ for a gutshot straight draw. On the blank turn, Cates bet 9,000 into a pot of 13,000 after Hellmuth checked, and Hellmuth check-raised to 35,000. That prompted another frustrated fold by Cates and gave Hellmuth a 4:1 chip lead. He promptly asked Cates for a count of his stack, spurring more visible frustration.
Cates was able to grind back to just a 2:1 underdog, but ultimately got the rest of his chips in with king-queen against Hellmuth’s ace-queen and couldn’t improve.
Round 2 – Cates Gets Even
The second match kicked off at 7:40 p.m. ET and went significantly quicker.
Early in the match, Cates raised to 2,000 on the button with and Hellmuth called with . They both checked the flop and the turn was the . Hellmuth bet out 2,000 and Cates called. The river gave Cates trips and when Hellmuth bet 3,300, Cates made it 13,000. Hellmuth got away from it and Cates took the lead.
Cates used a reveal plaque after folding bottom pair on the turn to see Hellmuth’s semi-bluff with the nut flush draw and Cates admitted to steaming. Then, Cates made it 5,800 from the big blind with pocket eights, Hellmuth re-raised to 15,900 on the button with , and Cates called. Cates asked for some help from the poker gods before the flop came , and both players checked.
The turn gave Cates eights full and he checked again. Hellmuth bet 16,000 and after thinking for a long while, Cates went all in for 89,400. Hellmuth folded and used a reveal plaque to see how lucky Cates got on the turn. That pot gave Cates a 2:1 chip lead.
Less than forty minutes into the match, the final hand played out. Cates raised to 2,400 on the button with , Hellmuth three-bet to 7,000 with , and Cates called. The flop favored Cates, giving him two pair against Hellmuth’s second pair, top kicker. Hellmuth bet out 6,300 and Cates called.
The turn was the and Hellmuth bet 11,000. Cates called again and the river was the . Hellmuth quickly checked and Cates bet enough to put Hellmuth to an all-in decision with 38,500 behind. He tank-called and that evened the set 1-1. A third game would determine the winner.
Round 3 – Epic Battle
The final heads-up match of the inaugural King of the Hill competition began at 8:37 p.m. ET. and it turned into one to be remembered.
Hellmuth came out of the gate firing and in the second hand, Cates raised to 2,000 with on the button and Hellmuth three-bet to 7,000 with . Cates four-bet to 20,000 and as he folded, Hellmuth made a prediction: “Wow, I feel like this match is going to end very quickly somehow.”
It did not.
Cates won the next hand with pocket queens to Hellmuth’s pocket fives at showdown, and the fourth hand developed into a big one.
Cates again raised to 2,000 on the button, this time with . Hellmuth made it 7,000 from the big blind with and Cates called. They took a flop of and Hellmuth continued for 9,000. Cates called and the turn improved Cates to two pair. Hellmuth bet 20,000 with his three-high and Cates called again.
The river was the and Hellmuth bet 27,000 with 24,000 behind. Cates thought it over, looked visibly uncomfortable, and told Hellmuth he didn’t think he was bluffing.
“It’s sick if you’re bluffing. I have a pretty big hand, but I just don’t think I win.” He muttered to himself for about another minute and eventually put forward calling chips, and he was happy to see Hellmuth was indeed bluffing. The pot gave Cates a 7:1 chip lead, and it wasn’t looking good for the 14-time WSOP bracelet winner.
When Hellmuth was down to 14,000 chips (14 big blinds), Polk told the fans, “If Hellmuth could pull off a comeback from this place, it would be one of the greatest comebacks in poker history.”
After 25 minutes of play, Hellmuth was whittled down to 5,800 chips, representing a more than 34:1 chip deficit. He proceeded to build back, doubling up with versus all in for 9,600 and then winning several more small and medium pots.
After 25 minutes of play, Hellmuth was whittled down to 5,800 chips, representing a more than 34:1 chip deficit.
Cates got one back when he turned trip eights with jack-eight after Hellmuth flopped a pair of aces with ace-deuce. Cates had check-called the flop, Hellmuth called a bet from Cates on the turn, and when Cates led the river, Hellmuth folded. He chose to use a reveal to see Cates’ hand and set into a brief rant about his bad luck, again with the eight on the turn.
Another game-changing hand went down right after that. Cates min-raised to 3,200 on the button with and Hellmuth called with . On the flop, Hellmuth checked, Cates bet 2,200, and Hellmuth called.
The turn was the , giving Cates trip tens, and Hellmuth checked. Cates bet 7,600 and Hellmuth made it 12,000 more with queen-high and no draw. Cates thought for a little while and called. On the river, Hellmuth quickly moved all in for his remaining 9,900. Cates looked disgusted and rather quickly flicked his cards to the muck.
Polk’s response on stream echoed much of the Twitch chat’s sentiments. “Wait, what? What just happened?”
Cates used a reveal and announced he was steaming when he discovered Hellmuth was bluffing with queen-high. Hellmuth was up to 58,300, less than a 3:1 underdog, and the comeback was starting to feel real.
About an hour in, Cates raised on the button with and Hellmuth made it 6,000 with . On the flop, Hellmuth bet 9,000 with his set and Cates called with the nut flush draw and a gutshot. The turn was the . Hellmuth checked and Cates bet 15,000. After a long hesitation, Hellmuth moved all in for 58,300 and got a quick fold from Cates. Just like that, Hellmuth had taken a slight chip lead.
Hellmuth kept chipping away and extended his lead with blinds at 2,000/4,000. Hellmuth limped on the button with and Cates raised to 12,000 with in the big blind. Hellmuth called and they checked to the river on a board of . Cates bet 20,000 and was shocked and disgusted to see Hellmuth’s trip aces after he snap-called.
Hellmuth had an almost 4:1 chip lead after that, and a little while later, the two got the rest of the chips in. After more than two hours of play, Cates was all in with and behind Hellmuth’s . The board ran out clean for Hellmuth and the comeback was complete.
Crowning the Champ
Polk had to swallow his pride and present Hellmuth with the first-ever King of the Hill belt. Hellmuth told Polk during the interview, “One thing is, I never ever ever give up.” No one can argue with that.
Polk joked with Cates about Hellmuth’s famed “white magic” in his final interview question on stream.
“David Copperfield. Penn and Teller. Phil Hellmuth. Would you agree that these are some of the best magicians of our time?”
Cates gave Hellmuth some credit for surprising him and being tougher than some people may think. However, he also said that he would welcome future heads-up games with Hellmuth and declared that “This match taught me that magic is not real and I don’t believe in that shit.” Though he admitted during the heads-up battle that he let the white magic get to him some, he’s determined to stick to his math-based approach and believes it will prevail over the magic.
Still, Hellmuth won this one, claiming the $200,000 cash prize and the King of the Hill belt for his victory.
If you missed the live stream on Wednesday, you can watch the full match in its entirety right here: