The notion of single-combat confrontations stretches back to antiquity in both historical and fictional contexts. The concept is as dramatic as it is simple: Individual champions represent entire armies.
Depending on the rules of engagement, the result of a one-on-one duel could influence, even determine, the entire conflict.
More recently, participants in individual confrontations have served as proxy champions on behalf of ideologies or even social movements.
Anyone who recalls a Cold War-era Olympics is keenly aware of how any athletic battle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was widely perceived as a test of political systems.
The 1973 Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, won by King in straights sets, was played in front of 30,000 spectators at the Houston Astrodome and a worldwide TV audience of 90 million. Whether it appears silly or not 44 years later, in that moment King’s win against Riggs, who had contended he could beat any woman, was a blow struck on behalf of feminism.
On Sunday, March 19, at the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, the long tradition of the single-combat duel as a confrontation that many will see as a proxy on several levels will play out at a poker table.
Veteran poker pro Mike Dentale, 48, and emerging star Cate Hall, 33, will play a best-of-three poker match that is born of a blood feud that began on social media.
However, the heads-up contest that has been arranged to air on on the TV show Poker Night in America later but Live-streamed on Twitch Sunday has several thematic threads running through it.
- Poker philosophies. The least rancorous and least personal difference of opinion between the two players is how the game is best approached. Dentale, a Brooklyn native, sees poker as an art where guile and psychology — skills learned over time — will consistently best strict mathematics. Hall, a Yale Law School grad based in Washington, D.C., believes the opposite – that analysis and study will prevail over instinctive play.
- Gender. This poker match is not strictly Riggs-King as a raw test of masculine superiority versus feminism but gender still plays a huge role. In its most indelicate moments, the Dentale-Hall feud has devolved to vicious name-calling with plenty of gender buttons being pushed. From their own tweets, which each player has confirmed, we have the following:
Dentale regarding Hall — “slut”, “tramp”, and “crackhead”.
Hall on Dentale — “scumbag”, “coward”, “train wreck of a poker player”.
- Politics. Apparently there’s no escaping this one. Dentale supports Donald Trump. Hall clearly does not. In their tweets, one player revels in Trump while the other reviles him.
On social media, in what is often referred to as the poker community, the battle lines have been drawn. Not surprisingly, rooting interest (and side bets) seems to have been driven largely by how people feel about the president of the United States.
The monetary stakes involved in the poker match between Hall and Dentale are probably modest by 21st century poker standards.
The winner of each session will collect $15,000, so if one player sweeps, that’s $30,000. Assuming each player is bankrolling his or her own risk, that’s a maximum of $30,000 to the good or lost. A two-of-three outcome is $15,000 either won or lost.
Although the two players share a mutual loathing for each other, Dentale said his initial impression of Hall was positive.
“At first, I felt here’s a girl who is running well, she’s playing pretty good and I was happy for her,” Dentale said. “She’s a pretty girl and I thought that this could be good for poker.”
Indeed, since the beginning of 2015 when Hall started playing regularly, she has reached three World Poker Tour final tables; cashed in six events at the 2016 World Series of poker, and has 14 Top 10 finishes overall.
However, somewhere along the way, Dentale, who has $1.4 million in tournament earnings since 2008, said he noticed aspects of Hall’s personality that, he said, “rubbed (him) the wrong way.”
Dentale said that Hall failed to show the game of poker proper respect, that she lacked humility, and that she failed to admit her shortcomings as a poker player, even when they were obvious.
“I was on Mike’s radar as someone who was doing well but who he saw as someone who was lucky and didn’t deserve the attention,” Hall said.
What was a smoldering feud burst into flames in December 2016 following a hand when Hall lost a large pot in a major tournament at the Bellagio. Hall called nearly an all-in bet against an opponent who was holding jack-jack when she held ace-ten off-suit. The pair of jacks held up and Hall’s considerable chip stack was almost wiped out. Her explanation for the call on Twitter, where she described the math calculations she made, drew derision from Dentale.
He is firm in his belief that poker is a game where experience and instinct count.
“Cate and players like her may be book-smart,” Dentale said, “but one of my strengths is reading people. If I need to, I can learn the math part of poker. Reading people is not something you can learn that easy.”
Hall brushes aside Dentale’s criticism.
“To be an elite player in today’s game, you have to do a significant amount of work away from the table. … And people who don’t realize that are not winning players any longer,” she said.
The continuing back-and-forth on Twitter led to Hall challenging Dentale to a heads-up duel.
It didn’t take long for the 140-character flaming to get personal.
“She attacked my manhood,” said Dentale, who is known for his weight-lifter’s biceps. “If I feel you’re disrespecting me, I’m going to lose my mind.”
Hall admits that she egged on Dentale by “for lack of a better word, emasculating him.”
Soon, poker pro Matt Glantz was recruiting Hall and Dentale to play their heads-up match at SugarHouse for Poker Night in America where it’s being billed as the “Grudge Match.” The contest starts at 3 p.m., EDT, March 19, and will be live-streamed on Twitch (www.Twitch.com/PokerNightTV). The PNIA telecast will air on CBS Sports Network sometime in May. Blinds start at $75/$150 and if any session hits the two-hour mark, the blinds increase to $150/$300 for the rest of that match.
Although, Dentale said he doesn’t see the contest as a Battle of the Sexes, he is candid about his feelings.
“I’m a man’s man and I feel that men are better at many jobs than women simply because of genetics,” he said. And that superiority extends to the felt where, Dentale said, men have “more qualities that tend to make them better at poker.”
Hall is careful to parse the role that gender plays in the heads-up match.
“I don’t think the match is about gender but it had a role in why the match happened,” she said. “I think Mike was so critical of me because he believes the reason I received so much attention in the poker world – attention that was undeserved as he saw it – was that I was a woman. I don’t think he would have been so quickly goaded into a (heads-up) match if it were a man.”
In addition to Hall and Dentale playing for thousands of dollars and whatever comes in terms of praise or ridicule depending on the outcome, there is a charitable component to the match. Viewers of the live streaming on Twitch can make donations to charities being represented by each player. For Dentale, that will be Community Volunteers In Medicine and for Hall, it’s the Committee to Protect Journalists.