In 2005, NBC was looking for new programming during the NHL lockout and broadcasted the first annual National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Today, the event is a staple for both NBC and the poker world, and the 2011 tournament is just days away.
Last year's winner was Annie Duke. She bested Erik Seidel in the championship round to take home the title and $500,000. With the win, Duke automatically qualified for this year's tournament, and other automatic qualifiers include Joe Cada, James Bord, Nicolas Chouity, Jonathan Duhamel, Peter Eastgate, Chris Ferguson, Ted Forrest, Faraz Jaka, Frank Kassela, Ayaz Mahmood, Sorel Mizzi, Scotty Nguyen, Dennis Phillips, John Racener, Vanessa Rousso, Huck Seed and Seidel.
They will be joined by a host of invites and the entire field looks like this:
|Jason Alexander||Patrik Antonius||Eric Baldwin||David Benyamine||Andy Bloch|
|Liv Boeree||James Bord||Doyle Brunson||Joe Cada||Daniel Cates|
|Johnny Chan||Don Cheadle||Nicolas Chouity||Allen Cunningham||Jonathan Duhamel|
|Annie Duke||Tom Dwan||Peter Eastgate||Eli Elezra||Antonio Esfandiari|
|Chris Ferguson||Ted Forrest||Phil Galfond||Phil Gordon||Barry Greenstein|
|Bertrand Grospellier||Joe Hachem||Gus Hansen||Jennifer Harman||Phil Hellmuth|
|Phil Ivey||Faraz Jaka||John Juanda||Gabe Kaplan||Frank Kassela|
|Eugene Katchalov||Phil Laak||Howard Lederer||Erick Lindgren||Ayaz Mahmood|
|Thomas Marchese||Mike Matusow||Jason Mercier||Michael Mizrachi||Sorel Mizzi|
|Chris Moneymaker||Daniel Negreanu||Scotty Nguyen||Annette Obrestad||Dennis Phillips|
|Dwyte Pilgrim||John Racener||Greg Raymer||Vanessa Rousso||Kara Scott|
|Huck Seed||Erik Seidel||Vanessa Selbst||Emmitt Smith||Gavin Smith|
|Jennifer Tilly||Melburn Whitmire||David Williams||Justin Young|
The players will be randomly seeded at the GoDaddy.com Draw Party at PURE Nightclub on Thursday, March 3 and play will begin the next day. Here’s a closer look at some of the players in the field along with some predictions and dream matchups.
Jason Alexander returns to the event for a second time. His first appearance was in 2009 when he was eliminated in the first round by Huck Seed, but Alexander has improved since then. He made a final table of a WSOP Circuit Prelim Event at Harrah’s Atlantic City in December of 2010, finishing fifth for $16,933. Heads-up play isn’t his forte, however, so a deep run would be surprising.
Don Cheadle shocked the world in 2007 when he beat Phil Ivey in the first round of this event and has won his first match in three of the four years he’s played. Unfortunately he’s never advanced passed the round of 32 and odds are this won't be the year either.
On Day 1d of the 2010 WSOP Main Event, Emmitt Smith opened the day by announcing, ”Shuffle and play.” The Hall of Fame running back never got things going, though, and busted after only three hours of play. This is Smith’s maiden voyage at NBC Heads-Up and unless he gets hit by the deck, the Cowboy legend will make an early exit.
Liv Boeree rocked 2010, cashing in over ten major live tournaments and winning the EPT San Remo Main Event for $1,698,300. She started off 2011 by defeating James “mig.com” Mackey heads-up in the Sunday Warm-Up for $147,780, and will be a very tough competitor for whomever she draws in the first round.
Since 2009, Faraz Jaka has amassed over $2 million in live tournament earnings and won the WPT Player of the Year award for season eight. Jaka has appeared at a handful of televised final tables where his aggressive play and exuberant style has gained him a lot of attention. He finished eighth in the $10,000 Heads-Up Championship at the 2010 WSOP for $94,956 and is primed for a deep run.
Justin Young qualified for the tournament by defeating his good friend Eric Baldwin in a satellite held at Caesars Las Vegas. Young avenged his runner-up finish to Baldwin at the NAPT LA Bounty Shootout, but don’t worry because Baldwin received an invite to play. Young has over $1.8 million in career live tournament earnings and recently finished fourth in two heads-up events; one at the Southern Poker Championship in Biloxi and the other at the LA Poker Classic.
Barry Greenstein has participated in all five NBC Heads-Up tournaments and has never been eliminated in the first round. He’s made the Sweet Sixteen three times and the Elite Eight once, where he lost to Huck Seed. Greenstein is among the best poker players in the world and despite a lack-luster 2010 he’s track record in this event proceeds him.
Joe Cada automatically qualifies for the event because he won the 2009 WSOP Main Event. Like Greenstein, Cada had a very rough 2010 on the live circuit, but heads-up play is his specialty. He is always grinding the largest heads-up sit-n-goes online and has an edge over the majority of the players in the field. A deep run here would be a good start to 2011 for the former Main Event champ and could perhaps spark a comeback year.
Vanessa Selbst was scheduled to play Layne Flack in the first round of the 2010 National Heads-Up Poker Championship, but Flack never showed and David Oppenheim took his place. Selbst had prepared to play Flack and was flustered when Oppenheim tagged in at the last minute. Oppenheim defeated her, and now she’s back for revenge. Selbst is a heads-up beast, cashing four times in major heads-up events for over $250,000. Twice she’s finished third in the Heads-Up World Championship at the WSOP (2007, 2008) and is clearly one of the more dangerous players in the field.
Huck Seed always crushes this event. He’s made the semifinals three times, taking it down in 2009. Also, he recently finished eighth in the High-Roller Heads Up event at the WSOPE. If history is any indication then Seed is a lock to go deep in this event, unless he draws Chris Ferguson early on.
Like Seed, Ferguson has reached the semifinals three times. Unlike Seed however, every time Ferguson reaches the semifinals he’s also made it to the final match. The man they call "Jesus" lost his first two championship matches to Phil Hellmuth (2005) and Ted Forrest (2006), but in 2008 he finally got the monkey off his back, defeating Andy Bloch (2-1). Ferguson is a clear favorite in this event and will be looking to reach the championship round for a mind-boggling fourth time.
Tom Dwan vs. Daniel Cates – Lol Live Durrrr Challengeaments. If single-tabling online is like pulling teeth for Dwan and Cates, imagine what will happen if they have to single-table live against one another.
Daniel Negreanu vs. Annie Duke – Can this one be moved to the closest octagon?
Greg Raymer vs. Phil Hellmuth – The battle of the patch-less Main Event champions. Hellmuth will obviously be wearing his own brand and possibly some Aria apparel, but other than socks and sandals, no one knows what Fossil Man will be wearing.
John Racener vs. Sorel Mizzi – Caesars provides dealers for this event, right?
Phil Galfond vs. Phil Ivey – Not only do these two share the same first name, they’re both absolute sickos. Ivey has the intimidation edge, but Galfond is a little more polished when it comes to heads-up play.
Eric Baldwin vs. Justin Young (III) – Good things always come in threes. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (III) in the Thrilla in Manilla was an epic battle, and we expect nothing less from these two friends.
Play begins on Friday, March 4 at Caesars Palace and concludes on Sunday, March 6. The buy in is $25,000 — $5,000 more than previous years — and the PokerNews Live Reporting Team will be on hand to bring you all of the action.