We all know that poker is blowing up. One can flip through the programs of many cable networks and figure that out for themselves. However, many people are predicting that the craze will be over in a matter of a couple years, as networks slow down the airing of tournaments, and as they run out of ideas for new poker-based shows such as the Celebrity Poker series. One thing that those prophets had probably not counted on was NBC creating a major tournament to be aired exclusively on their major television network.
The 2005 National Heads-Up Championship will be the first poker tournament produced by and aired on a major television network. The tournament will have a $1.5 million prize pool, which should attract some big names, and in fact, the network has already invited many big names and colorful characters. Expect to see, of course, the two previous WSOP main event winners, Greg Raymer and Chris Moneymaker, as well as Doyle Brunson, Jonny Chan, and Howard Lederer. The tournament will air on consecutive Sundays beginning the 1st of May.
NBC's brain-trust is planning to smartly capitalize on two things that have shown previous success on TV: Poker and the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. In the 2005 National Heads-Up Championship, 64 professional poker players will play each other, in NCAA Tournament-style, heads-up until there is one player left the National Champion. Not only is this good for TV, but for the poker world, it will be very interesting as well. Heads-up play creates a stage for players, where acting and reading the other player become even more important than the cards, and surely table talk will abound.
Another plus for this tournament is that it is invitation only. I know, when amateurs make it deep into tournament play, it probably attracts more people to the game. However, for those of us that have been paying attention to poker for a few years now, it will be great to see a field that is 64 of the best players in the world. There will not be a fish among them. It will be a casino full of sharks that realize they must look to each other or starve. Not only that, but it will be held in Las Vegas, where any so-called poker 'Championship' should be held, and where many of the top pros live. To top all of that off, Budweiser will be the top sponsor.
It sounds as if poker will not be going anywhere for a while. In fact, poker seems more and more like golf every day. Golf popularity skyrocketed a while back and finally gained major network television, major sponsors, and major worldwide recognition. It has not gone anywhere, and does not appear to be going anywhere for a while. Poker seems to be headed in the exact same direction, and many of us could not be happier.
Good luck and good odds.