PHILADELPHIA — The poker Grudge Match that was born of animus and vitriol ended on a note of graciousness when rising poker star Cate Hall defeated veteran Mike Dentale, 2-0, in a best-of-three showdown at Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino on March 19.
“You played great,” Dentale told Hall after her quad Kings took the last of his chips in the second session of the evening. “You deserved it. …. There’s justice in poker.”
Hall earned $30,000 for the win.
Dentale’s congratulatory comments were in stark contrast to what led to the heads-up match in the first place.
After the two players had flamed each other on Twitter in December with Dentale contending that Hall’s impressive run in her first two years of serious poker play was in large part due to luck, Hall issued a heads-up challenge. Poker pro Matt Glantz, representing SugarHouse, arranged the heads-up duel, and Poker Night in America will be broadcasting the match on CBS Sports in May. It was live streamed on a delay on Twitch.
The social media exchanges between the two players had become bitterly personal and devolved into ad hominem attacks.
The 48-year-old Brooklyn-bred Dentale is a self-described “man’s man” and considers himself an instinctive player who learned his poker craft over the years through practical experience; he has won about $1.4 million in live tournament play since 2008. Hall, 33, is a Yale Law School graduate who leans on situational analysis and game theory; she has won nearly $880,000 in tournaments and made three World Poker Tour final tables since 2015.
Once the two were seated across from each other under the TV lights, the atmosphere was more civil but Dentale occasionally tried to employ some psychological warfare.
At one point early in the first session, he said to Hall, “I just want you to know that no matter who wins, I’ll still be better than you.”
Dentale has made clear that he feels Hall’s two-year rush has been due to “run good,” and that she lacks proper humility in failing to adequately recognize the role that good fortune has played so far in her poker career.
Hall has said that Dentale’s criticism has been motivated, in part, by the fact that she’s a woman.
To top it off, Dentale is a vocal Trump supporter and Hall has been unrelenting in her criticism of the new occupant of the White House.
In this era, that difference of opinion alone is enough to set off fireworks.
For a moment, the poker match turned political when Dentale – in an obvious reference to the controversy over Trump refusing to release his tax returns – issued a challenge to Hall. Dentale said that Hall contended she had left a $500,000-a-year law career to pursue poker.
Dentale offered Hall $500 if she would produce her tax return proving that she made $500,000 a year.
“Between you and me, that’s the dumbest thing you could do – give up a $500,000 job to play poker,” Dentale said.
(For the record, I was unable to find a past reference where Hall contended she made $500,000 a year as a lawyer).
However, by and large, the table talk was relatively tame and was mostly one way.
On the felt, Hall dominated play, and to be fair, she caught her share of hands while Dentale was card-dead for much of the two rounds.
“I feel like I stuck to the plan that I came in with,” Hall said.
That plan included “deviating a little from optimal game theory,” she explained.
“I don’t regret many of my decisions – yet,” Hall said, meaning she had yet to look at the full video of the match.
“Obviously I ran pretty good although I would have liked to play a little longer but I’m certainly happy with the results.”
The structure of the best-of-three tournament had each player starting with $15,000 in chips for each session with the outcomes decided by freeze-out. The two-match sweep gave Hall the maximum payday of $30,000. The blinds were $75/$150 and would have doubled if a session went beyond two hours. Neither did.
Hall started quickly and actually cited the very first hand of the day as a telling one. On that hand, Hall’s pocket 10-8 turned into three-of-kind with a flop that included a pair of 8s. Dentale’s pocket Queen-5 paired with a Queen on the river but that just helped him lose more chips when he bet $2,000 on fifth street. Hall’s call gave her a $7,800 pot setting the tone for the day.
Hall moved out to a healthy lead but during the first hour of play, Dentale came back to nearly draw even. However, Dentale’s rally didn’t last and as the opening session closed in on the two-hour mark and an impending increase in blinds, Hall had about a 9-to-1 chip lead.
Holding Ace-9, Hall challenged Dentale with an all-in and he called holding Queen-5 once again. The flop paired Hall’s 9 and Dentale’s 5 and that’s how it stayed to give Hall the first session.
The second match didn’t last nearly as long.
It opened with Hall bluffing Dentale when he bet $700 post-flop holding 5-5. Hall, holding air, raised to $2,100. Dentale tanked, then folded.
The Brooklyn veteran player never could get any traction although he staved off elimination once with a double-up when he hit an Ace-to-5 straight on the turn getting him to about $7,000. But again, Hall wore him down and finished it when she caught pocket Kings against Dentale’s Ace-2. The flop came with an Ace and a King and her set of Kings turned into a gaudy quad on the river.
After the match, Dentale said he was mostly disappointed in a string of bad starters that kept him from competing (“I think I had 10-5 about 19 times”) and for the people who had backed him with their own side bets.
“I was playing for the grinders who do this day after day and never really earn what they deserve,” Dentale said.
Hall was elated and appeared relieved, considering all the hype the match attracted, but as far as the issues that had attached to the confrontation, such as playing philosophies, gender issues and political differences, nothing had changed, she said.
“I wish this was some retribution for the election,” she said, “but that’s not the case. I’m just happy to have won.”
(Photos courtesy of Jeff Shurilla, SugarHouse Casino and Poker Night in America).