NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship bracket preview [Friday editorial]

NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship bracket preview [Friday editorial]

Friday, 4 March 2011

The NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship 2011 event begins tonight with 64 players, having put up or qualified to the tune of $25,000, will be hoping to play and win five heads-up matches in order to take down a first prize of $750,000 and the accolades of winning one of the more famous poker tournaments in the world.

You know and I know that this 64-strong field does not represent the 64 best poker players in the world, as competitors Don Cheadle, NFL star Emmitt Smith and Seinfield comedian Jason Alexander will confirm. However, what it does give us are the sixty-plus biggest names in poker right now – i.e. the ones that the casual viewer recognises.

The thirty-two matches are divided into four brackets – hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs – with the field playing down to 16 tonight and coming back tomorrow to play for the title and the cash. In previous years this event has been won by Paul Wasicka, Phil Hellmuth and Huck Seed. This year the champion of 64 will win $750,000 but of the first round matches, which are the ones to watch? Here is my summary of the potential highlights from the thirty-two matches taking place in the first round of the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship.

Peter Eastgate v. Chris Ferguson
Eastgate makes his official return to the poker world after the shortest retirement in history. The young, aggressive Dane who honed his skills on sheer balls and range merging in the high stakes online games will take on the experienced, analytical mind of fellow former WSOP champion Chris Ferguson, a constant favourite in this format. The clash of styles will be interesting and Ferguson is always great to watch in this event.

Erik Seidel v. Allen Cunningham
Two old-school titans of the felt. Cunningham we’ve heard little of in the past few years since his 2006 Main Event final table against eventual winner Jamie Gold; Seidel – you may have noticed – we’ve heard quite a bit from in the past month. Regardless, this is two quality players with history taking each other on heads-up so what’s not to like about that?

Mike Matusow v. Greg Raymer
Well, if you’re not familiar with the Matusow versus Raymer history then fire yourself up some popcorn and watch this:

That’s Matusow and Raymer going at it at the World Series of Poker. Sure, they’re both big boys now and will consider it water under the bridge but the metaphorical sumo match across this table will be epic. You know they’ll both want it really badly.

Phil Laak v. Daniel Negreanu
The worst thing about this match-up is that only one of them will make it through. Poker fans and TV producers want both this guys in the event as much as possible but hey, luck of the draw. The only people that will benefit from Negreanu or Laak taking an early shower are the other 31 players waiting in the next round. Still, if this isn’t the feature table for their bracket then airbrush me purple and call me Barney. I don’t know why I said that.

Phil Hellmuth v. David Benyamine
Short answer – Hellmuth on TV is great always, especially when he’s playing someone who so clearly outclasses him. Look for Benyamine to make a sick play only for it to go straight over Hellmuth’s head as he starts going on about “idiots from central/Western Europe”.

Daniel Cates v. Phil Ivey
What can we say? It’s jungleman12 against Ivey, we can’t wait. Two titans of the online felt and experts at the game, Cates has the indisputable advantage at his speciality of NL heads-up. However, Ivey is Ivey and can match the best in the world at their own game, any game. That in addition to the fact that they’re not behind screens means I think Cates is on the back foot with this one. Can he withstand the Ivey stare?

Carlos Mortensen v. Sam Trickett
Two men snubbed by this event and included in the last minute. Trickett replaced 2009 Main Event champion Joe Cada who, let’s face it, has done sweet F.A. since his $9m win. Not that I’d want to do much either, after that. Trickett's run this year is second only to Seidel’s; he has earned over $2.5m in 2011 alone. Mortensen recently made his fifth World Poker Tour final table, finishing third and just short of a record fourth title.

I missed out some potential – Antonius v. Mizzi, for example, will be a great match... though not, I imagine, all that chatty. The above are just the games I believe will be most entertaining from the standpoint of a poker enthusiast or casual viewer – or both!

Join me on Monday when I’ll be writing about Erik Seidel and his being on pace for a $25m year.

Tags: Poker News, NBC, National, Heads-Up, Poker, Championship, bracket, preview, [Friday, editorial]