Throughout the years, iconic sports moments have often been memorialized with the equally classic commentary that went with it. The Miracle on Ice will always be paired with Al Michaels and his unforgettable call of “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” Every Premier League fan around the world will always remember Martin Tyler yelling “Balotelli…Agurerooooooo!” when the Manchester City striker scored the winning goal to give his team their first EPL title ever in 2012. The list goes on and on.
While poker commentary isn’t necessarily known for its incredible calls, it is often an integral part in creating a highly entertaining and engaging product for the viewing audience. Someone who knows plenty about this, is none other than Kane Kalas, the man chosen to do the commentary for the highly anticipated Doug Polk vs. Daniel Negreanu heads up match. Kalas’s love of sports was ingrained in him from a young age by his father, legendary baseball commentator and MLB Hall of Famer Harry Kalas.
“Growing up listening to my father broadcast NFL games weekly during the regular season and following his commentary with NFL Films turned me into an NFL fanatic,” Kalas told us about his childhood.
While Kalas made a name for himself in the poker world through his stellar play, he has channeled his father many times when he has stepped into the commentary booth, quickly becoming one of the most popular and talented poker commentators. When it came time to pick out who the voice would be for this matchup of two poker titans, his wealth of experience made the choice an obvious one for Polk and Negreanu.
“I have worked with PokerCentral/PokerGo for years. Each summer I broadcast a number of WSOP events. I have also broadcast for the WPT, Poker Night in America, the Triton Super High Roller Series, the Patrick Antonius Poker Challenge, the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open, Live at the Bike, and the Borgata Poker Open,” Kalas listed off.
Kalas not only has plenty of experience playing high stakes poker, something not all poker commentators have, but even more important to this project specifically is the fact that Kalas first came up in poker by playing mostly heads up cash games.
“Heads up NL Hold’em is my strongest game; I have played well over 1 million hands of that format in my career. I have played heads up NL Hold’em against both Daniel and Doug online. In addition, considering the nature of the feud between Daniel and Doug and the polarity it has caused in the poker community, my amicable relationship with both players was an asset,” said Kalas.
Heads up battles have been popular in 2020 with the lack of live poker options due to Covid-19 restrictions throughout the world. Phil Galfond has been playing high stakes heads up matches in his popular Galfond Challenges, but for Kalas, this grudge match is different. He says the reason is simple: this feud has years in the making, and for both players, it’s personal.
“The main thing that makes this match different is the drama and personal vendetta between these two top pros. Doug has been relentlessly trolling Daniel for years, both on his channel and in the flesh. Daniel, for his part, largely assumed the posture of the bigger man, generally avoiding direct public criticism of Polk, until recently that is.”
Kalas continued on that note, discussing how quickly Negreanu agreed to a challenge where, on paper, he would be a heavy underdog against Polk, who was widely considered one of the best heads up players in the world during his poker prime.
“Daniel barely hesitated to accept the challenge. In a blog post, he spoke directly to Polk, ‘Attack me endlessly, bully me, mock me, in the hopes of getting me to agree to a high stakes poker match. If that’s the case, well played. You have your wish.'”
Kalas continued, “The intense feud between Daniel and Doug is at the center of the storyline of this match and I am well-positioned to recap the drama, trolls, tirades, and escalation of this feud into a high-stakes grudge match in an entertaining yet fair manner.”
The drama seemed to kick up to a new level recently on Twitter, when Negreanu and Polk went back and forth on whether charts should be allowed to be used while the two are playing. Polk argues that charts that indicate the preflop raising tendencies of his opponent should be allowed because they are standard with online play, while Negreanu argues that this match should be played straight up with no outside assistance during hands. Kalas weighed in a bit on this recent controversy, saying that he can see both sides of the argument.
“Ultimately, it should be determined by the players. To Daniel’s point, it does make the match a bit less interesting if both players are employing the exact same preflop strategy by following a chart. To Doug’s point, there is no precedent to ban the use of preflop charts during play and it is within the rules of the platform, WSOP.com.”
While Kalas’s poker commentary resume speaks for itself, his selection doesn’t come without its own bit of controversy, as is largely inevitable on Twitter and other online spaces. There have been some whispers that Kalas might be biased towards Polk considering that he runs a Short Deck Poker course on Upswing Poker, a coaching website run by Polk himself. Kalas was quick to address those critics, saying that anyone who knows him knows that he won’t pull any punches towards either player, regardless of his business considerations.
“Everyone who knows me knows I am a guy who speaks my mind openly and honestly. Any ‘filter’ I may have is based on my ethics, not based on my business dealings. As an ex-professional poker player and current investor and hedge fund manager, I am in a privileged position of not needing to worry about getting ‘fired.'”
While Kalas no longer plays professionally full time, he plans to use his vast experience to his advantage with this job. However, he was quick to point out that poker experience alone does not make for a great poker commentator, making sure to recognize some of the biggest names in poker commentary who don’t play at the same levels as Polk or Negreanu.
“David Tuchman, Lon McEachern, Norman Chad–these are just a few examples of my colleagues who have not competed on the felt at the level of Negreanu or Polk but are all indisputably top-tier commentators.”
Kalas did also point out that there are a few high-level aspects of the heads-up battle that he feels specifically suited to commentate on. “In-depth range analysis, while interesting on occasion, is not the cornerstone of a successful broadcast. I will say, however, that having played at the game’s highest level allows me to more easily empathize with and explain the drama at the table as it unfolds.”
While Kalas has largely switched from playing poker to focusing on hedge funding, he did say that he uses several aspects of his poker playing in his new career, and vice versa.
“One thing that I took away from my poker career is the value of data and quantitative analysis. When I got into poker, the number of good professionals was pretty much split 50/50 between ‘feel players’ and ‘data geeks’ like me. Today, most of the feel players have gone broke and the data guys are the best players in the world. The same thing is happening in the world of finance,” said Kalas.
Kalas went on to discuss in more detail what he has been up to the past few years. “Since 2015, I have spent less time at the poker tables and more time in the securities and digital assets markets. This year I launched Crystal Oak Capital which manages Crystal Oak Partners, a stocks fund, and Crystal Oak Digital Assets, a digital assets fund. I’m really excited about the future of finance and the opportunities that lie ahead.”
The future in the financial world surely looks bright for Kalas, but for the upcoming week, he will be going back to the past. He will be drawing from his years of poker playing and commentating, and digging even further back to the days of listening to his father’s famous radio calls. For Kalas, he hopes that his voice will forever be associated with a poker battle that could ultimately go down as one of the most memorable moments in recent poker memory.