While we take our poker seriously around here, it's nice to look into our crystal ball every once in a while and make a prediction or two. With the NBC Heads-Up National Poker Championship just hours from getting under way, we figured we might as well make some picks regarding the lineup. And just as a note, these predictions were made before the Draw Party Thursday night and before some unexpected scratches (well, except for Matthew Parvis, because he's the boss).
Matthew Parvis, Editor-in-Chief
Best Celebrity Performance: Phil Hellmuth. He seems more focused on the celebrity game than his poker game these days, so I think it's time to lump him into that mix. He's gotta be a favorite against Emmitt Smith, and Jason Alexander right?
Best Former WSOP Main Event Winner Performance: I like Jonathan Duhamel a lot these days. I think he has been an excellent champion for poker during his reign. I can see a deep run in this event legitimizing him even more.
Who Will Suffer the Worst Beat: Mike Matusow will lose some ridiculous hand to Greg Raymer in the first round. Matusow will than ask Raymer why the heck he played garbage, and Raymer will say, "To prove to you I've got big cojones."
Biggest Disappointment: I think the biggest disappointment comes from the selection process. It's time to eliminate these random celebrities like Emmitt Smith. It devalues what should be a premiere event in our game. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, and I think the ramifications of one of these celebs winning would be devastating for the credibility of the event in general — and for the game of poker itself.
Dream Televised Matchup: Although there are plenty of matchups I'd like to see, I think watching John Racener face off against Sorel Mizzi would make for some cringe-worthy television. Would there be any visible signs of the alleged Chinese poker cheating situation that's currently being discussed in the community? Would the two decided to hug it out for the fans? So many possibilities here.
Pick your final four: Huck Seed, Jason Mercier, Daniel Negreanu, and Daniel Cates
2011 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Champion: Daniel Cates. Despite little live poker experience, he will have a tremendous confidence boost by beating Phil Ivey in the first round. He'll use that momentum and his heads-up skills to wade his way through a very tough bracket. Cates has been on the hunt to get some live tournament notoriety, and although the structures are not very deep, this format suits his game well.
Chad Holloway, Senior Writer
Best Celebrity Performance: I watched Emmitt Smith play at the WSOP this past summer, and I know better than to pick him. He is still a newcomer to the game and has a lot to learn. On the other hand, Don Cheadle has gotten better every year. I think this is the year that he goes deep and outlast all other celebrities.
Best Former WSOP Main Event Winner Performance: Chris Ferguson, who won in 2000, has more than proved his skills in heads-up competitions. He has finished the NBC National Heads-Up Championship twice as runner-up, so I'll err on the side of caution and say he'll have the best performance of all the former WSOP Main Event winners.
Who Will Suffer the Worst Beat: Phil Hellmuth will, and he'll be more than happy to tell us all about it in his post-elimination interview.
Biggest Disappointment: There is a lot of hoopla surrounding Peter Eastgate's return to poker and his upcoming appearance at the NBC National Heads-up Championship. I'll predict he is eliminated in the first round and that his big return ends with a fizzle rather than a bang.
Dream Televised Matchup: I will admit that a Dwan vs. Cates match would probably garner the most interest as a live "durrrr Challenge," but personally, I'd love to watch Sorel Mizzi and John Racener go at it. The two have been involved in so much drama in recent weeks regarding a supposed cheating incident in a game of Chinese Poker at the PCA that I think a match between them would be epic. You'd no doubt be able to cut the tension with a knife.
Pick your final four: It is hard to make a prediction on this without knowing the bracket, but I'll go with Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, Eric Baldwin, Daniel Cates, and Tom Dwan. How sick would it be to see a live "durrrr Challenge" with Cates in the final? Let's hope that they draw opposite sides of the bracket to make it a possibility.
2011 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Champion: It is so hard to pick with such a stacked field. I'm going to go with Erik Seidel. He made it all the way to the finals last year and has had one of the sickest starts to 2011, winning $3.7 million in just eight weeks. No one has more momentum coming into the event than he has.
Rich Ryan, Senior Writer
Best Celebrity Performance: Are we talking on the felt or for the camera? Look, Emmitt Smith is a pretty poor player and Don Cheadle's playing career peaked when he defeated Phil Ivey in this event in 2007. Jason Alexander, however, has proven that he's a competent and skilled player and is coming off of a cash in a WSOP-Circuit event in Atlantic City. It's going to be the March of George.
Best Former WSOP Main Event Winner Performance: Besides Huck Seed, who I picked to go to the final four, I was really excited to see Joe Cada play because he's a heads-up specialist. Unfortunately, he's out of the mix, so I'm going to take the next youngest Main Event Champion. Peter Eastgate is fresh, well-rested and looking to prove that he's still a solid player despite his half-year vacation. He also has some extra motivation as a result of the hate he's received for "quitting" and auctioning his bracelet.
Who Will Suffer the Worst Beat: Layne Flack is gong to suffer the worst beat when he shows up only to be told he didn't make the list this year. He'll then go on a rant about having tiger blood and Adonis DNA.
Biggest Disappointment: The biggest disappointment for me is that Tony G isn't in the field. I know he's our boss and that this sounds a bit biased, but he is just so entertaining on the PokerStars.net Big Game. NBC is really missing out by not having him, and there is no one in this tournament who is as qualified or has as much heart as Tony G. He loves the game.
Dream Televised Matchup: From a poker standpoint, I would love to see Phil Galfond and Phil Ivey play heads-up because the two are absolutely sick, and the play would be insane. From an entertainment standpoint, I want to see Annie Duke and Daniel Negreanu. The two are so outspoken and have so much dislike for one another that it would only take on small beat for the bickering to begin.
Pick your final four: Vanessa Selbst, Erik Seidel, Huck Seed and Barry Greenstein. Selbst and Greenstein are shots in the dark, but Seidel is on a tear and Seed always crushes the event. Let's be honest, the only thing in the world that can screw up this foursome is the selection process, so they better not draw the same brackets.
2011 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Champion: Sure, the last time Barry Greenstein won a major event was in 2008 when he took down a $1,500 Razz event at the WSOP, but that makes him due. Right? Greenstein is still among the best players in the world, and plus, he's NEVER been eliminated in the first round of this event. It's time for the Robin Hood of poker to turn it around and grab a victory this weekend.
Eric Ramsey, Senior Tournament Reporter
Best Celebrity Performance: People like to pick on Jennifer Tilly, and she'd probably tell you that she's not even the most talented Jennifer in this field. But for a "celebrity," Tilly is well above average on the felt. How many celebrities have won a $5k Bellagio Cup event, hmm? I wouldn't bet against Mrs. Unabomber picking off an opponent or two in her bracket.
Best Former WSOP Main Event Winner Performance: The only reason I picked James Bord to win was so that I didn't have to make the obvious Chris Ferguson pick. Heads-up poker is all about getting a feel for your opponent and the flow of the match, and Ferguson makes that as difficult as anyone. This is an event that he seems to really get up for, and he's a legitimate threat to win it every year.
Who Will Suffer the Worst Beat: Emmitt Smith could one-outer Doyle Brunson in the final, and Phil Hellmuth would still have the worst beat he's ever seen. Get your popcorn.
Biggest Disappointment: The Vanessas. Depending on the draw, I think there's a good chance they both stumble in the first round. It would be a big letdown for Rousso, who finished runner-up in 2009, but I have a feeling that her head might not be fully in the match this time. Selbst is either going to win the tournament or be out in the first ten hands.
Dream Televised Matchup: The current bit of drama going on between Sorel Mizzi and John Racener would make them a dream matchup for the educated viewers and the soap opera moms alike. But for entertainment value, what could be more fun than Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari duking it out for the cameras?
Pick your final four: Just like March Madness, the actual bracket draw makes such a crucial impact on who advances all the way to the final four. On a hunch, though, I'll take Daniel Negreanu, James Bord, Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, and, d'uh - Chris Ferguson.
2011 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Champion: The Brits seemed to be on a mission to take over the poker world last year. I'll take a flyer on defending WSOPE Main Event winner James Bord going the distance. If our English friends had their druthers, it'd be Sam Trickett vs. James Bord for the win.
Mickey Doft, Staff Writer and Tournament Reporter
Best Celebrity Performance: None. All will lose in the first round.
Best Former WSOP Main Event Winner Performance: Chris Moneymaker. His 2011 started well with a deep run at the PCA. I think it's a start of a nice year for the 2003 champ and it will show in this event.
Who Will Suffer the Worst Beat: Phil Hellmuth. Whatever it is, he'll make a big deal out of it and that will overshadow the real worst beat.
Biggest Disappointment: The fact that this event isn't showcasing many of the top players in the game. Emmitt Smith? Really? So instead of seeing a potential Viktor "Isildur1" Blom vs. Phil Hellmuth match, I get to see Emmitt Smith? That is just silly. Also, this event has become a popularity contest and is not reflective enough of the players who have truly earned their spots during the past year. Several of the players in the event are just in because of their names. I'm sorry, but until Mike Matusow, Ted Forrest, Phil Gordon, Jennifer Harman, and Jennifer Tilly (to name a few) make a big splash in the poker world again, they should give way to others in this tournament.
Dream Televised Matchup: While Sorel Mizzi vs. John Racener would be very cool to watch because of their recent issues with each other, I want to see any combination of Liv Boeree vs. Vanessa Selbst vs. Vanessa Rousso. They are all phenomenal players, and I would be very interested in seeing their skills showcased against each other.
Pick your final four: Vanessa Selbst, John Juanda, Sam Trickett, and Vanessa Rousso.
2011 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Champion: Vanessa Selbst.
Elaine Chaivarlis, Managing Editor
Best Celebrity Performance: Jason Alexander. You can just tell he really enjoys the game and isn't just playing because a production company asked him to.
Best Former WSOP Main Event Winner Performance: I'd like to see Peter Eastgate do well since he's gotten so much flack about "retiring."
Who Will Suffer the Worst Beat: The online qualifier. He'll draw someone like Phil Ivey instead of Emmitt Smith and his dream of becoming a rock star will be crushed.
Biggest Disappointment: That some of the more qualified players didn't get a bid, but I get it, it's television and they need household names to draw viewers. But you can't make a household name out of someone if you don't get them in the public's eye.
Dream Televised Matchup: I know everyone is going to say Sorel Mizzi and John Racener because of the all the drama surrounding them, but that wouldn't make good TV because the general poker audience wouldn't get it, so I'm going to have to say Tom Dwan and Patrik Antonius. We'll rebrand their match the "durrrr" Challenge, and boom — after years of waiting, it's over.
Pick your final four: Phil Ivey, Erik Seidel, Vanessa Selbst, and Sam Trickett.
2011 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Champion: Erik Seidel. All he does is win.
Kristy Arnett, Producer/Hostess
Best Celebrity Performance: Jason Alexander. I've seen him around grinding the low-limit cash games in Vegas. It seems like he genuinely loves the game and wants to improve. I think he'll come out with confidence, be comfortable with the cameras, and knock some opponents out.
Best Former WSOP Main Event Winner Performance: Peter Eastgate. I suspect he's fresh, rested, and ready to play poker. I think he'll come out of retirement with a big score.
Who Will Suffer the Worst Beat: Because I'm only clairvoyant on Saturdays, I'll pick the person I'd want to suffer the worst beat — Phil Ivey. Because he just wins at everything in life, it wouldn't hurt him to get smacked in the face with a one-outer, right?
Biggest Disappointment: Huck Seed. He's had an amazing run in this competition, so anything other than another win will be a disappointment.
Dream Televised Matchup: Daniel Negreanu vs. Annie Duke. I want them to kiss and make-up, or observe what happens if they don't.
Pick your final four: Jason Alexander, Phil Galfond, Peter Eastgate, and Vanessa Selbst.
2011 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Champion: Like I said in a PokerNews podcast, Phil Galfond is my
Lynn Gilmartin, Producer/Hostess
Best Celebrity Performance: Perhaps all of Don Cheadle's good karma will pay off.
Best Former WSOP Main Event Winner Performance: Joe Hachem - just putting one out there for the Aussies.
Who Will Suffer the Worst Beat: Frank Kassela.
Biggest Disappointment:[/I] I'm going to go with Erik Seidel. It would be too good to be true for him to have a deep run again in this event and to see him add more to this year's millions. Share it around Erik!
Dream Televised Matchup: Patrik Antonius and Kara Scott for some seriously good-looking poker.
Pick your final four: DDaniel Negreanu and Annie Duke, John Racener and Sorel Mizzi. Is that evil of me?
2011 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Champion: Sorel Mizzi just to cause even more stir on TwoPlusTwo.
Think we're way off? Let us know your predictions in the comments section below, and as always, follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news.