NBC Heads-Up Championships 2011 preview [Friday editorial]
Friday, 25 February 2011
The seventh annual NBC Heads-Up Championships will be beginning in one week’s time on March 4, with 64 players putting up $25,000 apiece in the six-match shootout to determine who will take Annie Duke’s crown as NBC Heads-Up Champion. In the past the event has been won by Paul
Wasicka, Huck Seed, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and Phil Hellmuth.
This year the notable change to the event is the increased buy-in from $20,000 up to $25,000. This means that the winner this year will receive $750,000 instead of the $500,000 that Annie Duke pocketed in 2010; second-place will receive $300,000 for their efforts after winning five of six games. This year the best poker players in the world are joined by former NFL star Emmit Smith as well as comedians Jason Alexander and Don Cheadle plus former High Stakes Poker host Gabe Kaplan.
Now, even the likes of Annie Duke and Huck Seed will likely admit that the skill required to win the NBC Heads-Up Championship is far outweighed by the amount of luck you need - with starting stacks giving you a less than 100 big blind start and no best of three rounds until the final, the element of luck inherent in poker comes to the fore as these 64 players are thrown together into what descends swiftly into coinflipping. Makes good TV, though.
Speaking of making good TV, or not as the case may be, a complaint raised by both myself and Daniel Negreanu is the presence of the ‘Old Guard’, the 2004-era pros who still make regular TV appearances despite a lack of recent results. Chris Ferguson, as a former champion of the event in question, is forgiven but do we really need to see Mike Matusow or Phil Gordon or Scotty Nguyen playing poker again? That said, though, NBC have somewhat opened doors to the new generation with the likes of Daniel “jungleman12” Cates making an appearance.
Sadly, we won’t be seeing Viktor “Isildur1” Blom take to the tables; he still isn’t old enough to play legally in the US. I do think, though, that we have a great field of potential entertainment being snubbed in order to put in the recognisable faces. I’d happily replace Matusow with Isaac Haxton and Gordon with someone like Di Dang. The audience don’t know them, but they have actually made money from poker in the past few years which surely makes them more qualified?
Furthermore, only through appearances in major made-for-TV events can they become recognised pros, so it’s a bit of a catch 22.
Enough about that, though. I’m going to go through the poker players competing in the event (sorry Don and Emmit, you don’t make it on the list) and assess their chops in this event in brief summary for your reading pleasure:
Patrik Antonius: Finnish God of online and live high stakes. Could win but probably won’t be too concerned about the motivation of $750,000.
Eric Baldwin: Young tournament player, sick good and took down NAPT Bounty Shootout event recently.
David Benyamine: French high stakes cash player in Full Tilt colours, regular on GSN’s High Stakes Poker and WSOP bracelet-winner.
Andy Bloch: The best without a bracelet; probably a favourite to place second in this event. That’s what he does.
Liv Boeree: A poker player made of gorgeousness, EPT San Remo champion and tournament millionaire/PokerStars Pro.
James Bord: Bordy take it ‘ome, take it ‘ome… WSOPE 2010 champion with the most boisterous rail seen at a WSOP event.
Doyle Brunson: The Godfather of Poker, tweeted recently that he may miss the event due to recovering from surgery.
Joe Cada: WSOP 2009 champion with the most disappointing results of anyone who has tried post-WSOP win.
Daniel Cates: Better known as jungleman12, the winningest online poker player of 2010 and the scourge of Tom “durrr” Dwan.
Johnny Chan: The Oriental Express and double WSOP Main Event champion. Returns to the poker mainstream with a High Stakes Poker appearance.
Allen Cunningham: WSOP 2006 finalist and multiple bracelet-winner Cunningham is considered one of the best players in the world.
Jonathan Duhamel: WSOP 2010 Main Event champion, also took down a High Roller event at a recent EPT.
Annie Duke: Former UB pro and reigning champion of the event. The second-highest ranked female tournament player of all time.
Tom Dwan: Who is he? Durrrrr. Tom Dwan is online poker’s king but, like Antonius, will be unmotivated to win the $750,000.
Phil Galfond: Durrrr’s buddy makes his first appearance in this event; the WSOP bracelet-winner and online giant is a PLO specialist.
Peter Eastgate: Making a return to poker after a very short retirement, the 2009 Main Event champion is back in action.
Eugene Katchalov: The PCA Super High Roller champion has made over $2.5m this year alone and is considered one of the poker world’s best tournament players.
Erik Seidel: The best start to any year ever for Seidel with over $3.5m in tournament winnings in January and February at the PCA and the Aussie Millions. Can he make it $4.25?
Phil Ivey: He’s Phil f’ing Ivey. If he wanted to win this, he could. He won’t, though.