The "PokerStars.net Million Dollar Challenge" returned to the air this past Sunday with two new contestants taking their shots in the $1 million heads-up match with Daniel Negreanu, who once again proved himself to be the show's star.
First up was Oluwasegun "Big Mike" Odumuyiwa, a 35-year-old former football player turned music manager from Michigan, Il. Nicknamed "The Nigerian Nightmare," Odumuyiwa towered over his coach, Negreanu, but proved to be no match for former NFL great Jerome "The Bus" Bettis.
Showing no fear, Bettis kicked off the match with a little trash talk, showing Odumuyiwa his NFL championship ring and claiming, "This means I'm a champ and you're a chump." Then, before long, Bettis began trampling his competition just like he trampled opposing players during his NFL career. In the first hand, he pulled a monster bluff while holding on a board.
Bettis continued to build momentum and keep the pressure on, which proved too much for Odumuyiwa. Several hands later, Odumuyiwa found himself on the short end of the stick after he mistakenly moved all-in holding . Bettis insta-called Odumuyiwa's weak attempt to steal the pot with and destroyed his dream of becoming a millionaire when the board bricked for the challenger. For his win, Bettis earned $5,000 for his charity, "The Bus Stops Here."
The day's second contestant was 31-year-old liquor salesman Brian Barboza from Raynham, Mass. Nicknamed "The Truth," Barboza fared better than Odumuyiwa thanks to Negreanu who chimed in with some hilarious trash talk aimed at Barboza's opponent, 2008 Playboy Playmate of the Year Jayde Nicole. Barboza got lucky right away, hitting a gut shot straight on the river to eliminate Nicole in the first round of play.
Next, Barboza faced Team PokerStars pro Vanessa Rousso in the second round. Once again, he was able to ride the coattails of "coach" Negreanu who once again showed why celebrity player John Salley calls him the "Rain Man of Poker." Barboza correctly called a monster flop after he made a bad play by moving all-in with versus Rousso's . Within seconds of seeing both players' cards, Negreanu evoked his inner Nostradamus and predicted the queen of spades on the flop. Much to Rousso's dismay, Negreanu was correct, and Barboza took a commanding chip lead after ending the hand with two pair. Barboza flopped a pair of jacks on the following hand, sending Rousso to the rail and earning him $25,000.
Instead of playing it safe, Barboza decided to try to follow in the footsteps of the previous $100,000 winner, Father John Trapp, by taking on Negreanu heads up. Despite getting solid reads on Barboza during several hands, Negreanu couldn't fade Barboza's lucky streak. On the final hand of the show, Negreanu called the blind with , making the pot $4,000 preflop, and Barboza, who held , checked. The flop came and Barboza made it $4,000. Negreanu insta-shoved all-in for his remaining chips and Barboza made a victorious call with a pair of jacks.
Although the contestants are the focus of the game, it is obvious to anyone watching that Negreanu steals the show 95 percent of the time. Whether recognizing a celebrity's tell or calling the board with remarkable accuracy, Negreanu's uncanny gift for understanding the game captivates the audience. If these early episodes are any indication, the final show for the million dollars should make for great television.
Interested in winning a seat on the show? A first step is signing up for a PokerStars account right here.