NBC and Caesar's Palace are teaming up for the third edition of the National Heads-Up Poker Championship, to be held in early March. A ratings hit since its inception, the bracket-elimination tourney pits 64 top players against each other in poker's annual version of the NCAA basketball playoffs. The event will be taped in the tournament room at Caesar's Palace from March 1st through March 4th, 2007, with the highlights and money rounds broadcast on NBC in April and May. 12 hours of play will be aired over seven consecutive Sundays from April 8th through May 20th, when the three-hour finale runs.
NBC's initial press release confirmed 16 of the biggest names who had already accepted invitations to participate. Those 16 included 2006 champion Ted Forrest, 2005 winner Phil Hellmuth, 2005 and 2006 runner-up Chris Ferguson, plus 13 more of the poker world's very largest names: Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Antonio Esfandiari, Sam Farha, Gus Hansen, Jennifer Harman, Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, and the recent WSOP-champ quartet of Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem and Jamie Gold. An indisputable plus of NBC's Heads-Up Championship is the ability to bring such talent into one place at the same moment.
Several sources have now listed the remaining 46 players who were issued invitations. If all these players have accepted, the field stands at 62, making the bracket complete pending two late wild-card entries into the fun. The 46 additional players are: Rene Angelil, Patrik Antonius, Bobby Baldwin, David Benyamine, Andy Bloch, Brad Booth, Humberto Brenes, Todd Brunson, Don Cheadle, T.J. Cloutier, Allen Cunningham, John D'Agostino, Annie Duke, Eli Elezra, Shannon Elizabeth, Scott Fischman, Barry Greenstein, Phil Gordon, Clonie Gowen, Tony G, Gus Hansen, Cheryl Hines, Kenna James, John Juanda, Gabe Kaplan, Phil Laak, Nam Le, Tuan Le, Erick Lindgren, Jeff Madsen, Mike Matusow, Isabelle Mercier, John Michael, Michael Mizrachi, Yosh Nakano, Scotty Nguyen, Chip Reese, Huck Seed, Erik Seidel, Mike Sexton, Shawn Sheikhan, Jeff Shulman, Gavin Smith, Jennifer Tilly, JC Tran, and David Williams.
Spots 63 and 64 will be awarded to winners of events hosted by NBC and Caesar's Palace, respectively. The Caesar's seat will be awarded to the winner of a February 10th tourney, a $230 event with rebuys/add-on also available for an additional $200 each. The final seat is up for grabs in a special promotion being offered at nbcheadsup.com, which kicked off on January 6th and runs through February 10th.
While the above player list awaits final confirmation from NBC, the preference for "Q factor" Hollywood glamour remains in place with the selections, which will likely trigger the usual spirited and fun debate about which other players could or should have been invited. The celeb-speckled list --- notably including Shannon Elizabeth, Don Cheadle and Cheryl Hines --- certainly offers grist for non-poker color commentary and easy-to-recognize images.
Internet kiddies, to use the phrase, need to look to the likes of 2006 WSOP double bracelet winner Jeff Madsen for heroes; one won't find a Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy or Eric "Rizen" Lynch in the mix. Similarly, two-time '06 WSOP bracelet winner Bill Chen didn't make the cut, nor did a host of players who could serve up a resume comparative to many of those invited. Among those watching this one from the rail or on TV are Men Nguyen, "Devilfish" Ulliott, David Pham, Dan Harrington, Juan Carlos Mortensen, Hasan Habib, Marcel Luske, Layne Flack, Freddy Deeb, Amir Vahedi, Kathy Liebert, Hoyt Corkins, Victor Ramdin and John Phan.
Each of the 64 seats at the 2007 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship carries a $20,000 price tag, and first prize is again expected to be at or near $500,000, the same amount Forrest took home in 2006 when he claimed the victory over Ferguson.