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Annie Duke wins NBC Heads-Up Championship

8 March 2010

By Gary Trask

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – The glitzy trophy and the pile of $500,000 in cash that sat in front of her were reason enough for Annie Duke to be overjoyed with winning the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship on Sunday night.

But they certainly weren't the only reasons why Duke was overcome with emotion after she took out good friend Erik Seidel in the best-of-three final match that took more than three-and-a-half-hours.

For Duke, a victory in what has become one of the most coveted titles in the game was about much more than hardware and cash. It helped her prove some critics wrong. It saw her break yet another barrier for women in poker and win one for the older pros in the game. And, of course, she was able to score a little revenge with a certain network.

Annie_Duke

Annie Duke had plenty of reasons to smile Sunday night after she captured the 2010 NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship at Caesars Palace. (photo by Stephanie Moore, NBC Sports)

"I finally didn't have to settle for second place on NBC," Duke said with a huge laugh before the award ceremony, referring to her appearance on last year's "Celebrity Apprentice" where she was the runner-up to rival Joan Rivers on Donald Trump's reality TV show. "It feels good because this time it wasn't up to some guy sitting across the table. It was up to me."

Duke was laughing as she made her point, but surely she wasn't kidding. The longtime poker pro is as competitive as they come and the longer she spoke to the press following her triumph, the more you realized just how satisfying this victory was for her.

"I took a lot of time off from poker over the last year or so and I've taken some criticism for it," said Duke, who was still involved with teaching poker and working the charity circuit, but didn't play in many events for a five-month span between October of last year and February of 2010. "People were saying that I'm not a poker player anymore and that I'm just focused on all of the other things going on in my life.

"But, you know what? That time off helped me refocus. It made me realize that my priorities are family first and then poker. I don't like being criticized for that. So, I came back hungrier than ever so to see that hunger translate into a big win like this…it just feels really, really good."

Then she spoke about what the victory meant for the "older" generation of poker players.

"I'm really glad that one of us 'old folks' was able to win," said the 44-year-old. "The younger generation has some ridiculously talented players out there and it seems like they are the ones winning a lot of the big events. So it was nice to see me make a deep run and Erik and Doyle (Brunson) and Scotty (Nguyen).

"I think most of us realize how talented the younger players are and we respect that. But I'm not sure the respect goes both ways. Maybe all of us doing so well in this event will change that."

Then there's the whole female aspect to Duke's victory. Last year, Vanessa Rousso became the first woman player to make it to the finals of the Heads-Up, but she fell short of becoming the first to win the title when she lost to Huck Seed. Duke was able to seal the deal this year and become the first woman Heads-Up champ.

Erik_Seidel

Erik Seidel fell short in the NBC Heads-Up final against Annie Duke, but he did gain some redemption in the event after coming in with an 0-5 record. (photo by Stephanie Moore, NBC Sports)

"First of all, Vanessa is incredibly talented and she's playing as well as anyone in the game right now," Duke went on. "So this wasn't about me trying to 'one-up' Vanessa. I'm happy she was able to make a run last year and I'm happy I was able to do the same this year. I think we've proved beyond a doubt that women can play this game."

And finally, Duke spoke about what the Heads-Up title means for her career.

"I haven't won a real big event since the Tournament of Champions back in 2004," she said. "I needed another landmark victory for my career and this does it. This one ranks right up there with any of my accomplishments.

"And the best thing about that is that it will help my charities. Winning an event like that will make a huge difference in that part of my life so that makes this even more special."

Meanwhile, Seidel had to settle for second place, which in the grand scale of thing is pretty good considering he came into the event with a 0-5 record over the last five years.

"I'm real happy for Annie because we've know each other for like 20 years so if I couldn't win, I'm glad Annie did," he said. "But it still hurts a little bit."

Seidel lost the first match of the best-of-three finals and then dominated the second to square things up. In the third match it was a dead-even heat until Duke's pocket nines held up against Seidel's Ace-2 on the final hand.

But even with the loss and runner-up finish that earned him $250,000, Seidel admitted that he felt a little bit of redemption for finally breaking through in the event with not only one victory, but a run to the finals.

"Yeah you could say that," he laughed. "I've been taking a lot of shit from a lot of people about that. So this does feel pretty good."

Duke, who said she first met Seidel when she was 19, said that she feels poker fans and media constantly underrate her long-time friend.

"I see these Top-10 players in poker lists all the time and sometimes you don't see Erik in there, and that's just crazy," she said. "Look at his record. Look what he does every year at the World Series. It's incredible and I don't think he gets the recognition he deserves."

Wasicka a tough task for Duke
Before her Final Four meeting with Dennis Phillips on Sunday, Duke said that the toughest match for her in getting to the semifinals was against Paul Wasicka in Round 3.

"He's just such a solid player; he wasn't giving away any chips," she explained. "Facing Andy [Bloch] in the first round wasn't easy, but things just fell my way and we played a lot of hands. Believe me, I never want to have to sit down and face Andy Bloch heads-up ever again. And the same goes for Paul. They are both incredibly talented players and I feel fortunate to say I was able to beat both of them."

Duke's other opponent in between Bloch and Wasicka was Darvin Moon. After she chipped slowly away at Phillips and eventually disposed of the man wearing his customary St. Louis Cardinals hat, Duke once again said she felt fortunate to survive and advance to the finals.

"I actually think I made a lot of mistakes in this match," she said. "Dennis had me confused at times. So I'm really lucky to have gotten by him. He was a tough opponent."

Special moment for Dennis Phillips
Phillips said that facing Brunson in Sunday's quarterfinals was one of the most nerve-wracking -- but special -- moments in his brief poker career.

"I'm glad the TV cameras weren't focused on my feet because they were dancing because I was so nervous," said Phillips, who burst onto the poker scene at the 2008 WSOP Main Event when he was the chip leader heading into the final table before finishing third. "I mean think about it. I'm sitting there playing heads-up on national television for $50,000 against a legend like Doyle Brunson. That's just mind-boggling to me."

Phillips said that he was just as anxious about his match with Texas Dolly than he was before the Main Event final table two years ago.

"Oh, without a doubt," he said. "This was something I'll never forget. It was a real special experience, even if I didn't win."

Cash is king for Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey was fashionably late for his first-round match against Gavin Smith on Friday, and when he finally got to the set, before sitting down he had to take care of some business.

Trying to be discreet, Ivey pulled six rolls of large bills out of the front pocket of his jeans and handed five of them over to a prominent member of the TV crew on the set. He then stuffed the other roll back into his pocket, before getting miked-up by another person on the set.

When we asked the TV crew member who was the recipient of Ivey's cash what had transpired, he was taken aback at first, but then was kind enough to explain.

"That was Phil's buy-in," he told us before declining to give us his name. "He was too lazy to walk over to the cage and pay it. I've been friends with him for a long time so he called me and asked me to front him until he got here."

Bloch sees 'momentum' for online regulation
Bloch, who was in attendance along with his parents for the final match between Duke and Seidel, has been a huge proponent of online gambling legislation and one of the front men for the Poker Players Alliance (PPA).

So it was refreshing to hear Bloch say that he thinks we are getting closer and closer to seeing online poker getting regulated in the U.S.

"I'm very hopeful because we have a lot of momentum coming into this year," said Bloch, who lost in the first round to Duke on Friday. "We've always had most of the Democrats in Congress on our side and now we're finally starting to get some of the Republicans to back off some of their opposition to it. That's a good sign…Hopefully all of the poker players out there can kind of unite. There are a couple of elections coming up where we can make a difference."

Notes, Quotes & Stats

  • The NBC Heads-Up, which is presented by GoDaddy, will air on the network beginning Sunday, April 18th and run for six straight weeks, with the finale starting at 12 noon EST on May 23rd.

  • The Final Four of Nguyen, Duke, Seidel and Phillips was an unlikely group if you consider that Phillips is a NBC Heads-Up rookie and the other three players came into this year's event with a combined record of 3-15. As has been well documented Seidel was 0-5 coming in while Duke was 1-5 and Nguyen was 2-5.

    Scotty_Nguyen

    Scotty Nguyen proved that he is still one of the more popular players in the game during his run to the Final Four of the NBC Heads-Up Championship at Caesars Palace. (photo by Stephanie Moore, NBC Sports)

  • A reminder of just how popular Nguyen is with poker fans came after he lost to Seidel. Even though he was on the losing end of the match, "The Prince of Poker" was mobbed by fans asking for autographs and posing for pictures. While Nguyen graciously did his part for this fans, Seidel quietly stood to the side by himself, texting the news of his victory to friends and family.

  • The chip stacks were so close between Seidel and Nguyen that on the final hand tournament officials had to come in and count the chips to make sure Seidel had actually won. In that final hand, Seidel went all-in on the river with a board of 10-9-5-7-9. Nguyen called with a set of 9s before Seidel flipped over a 7-9 for the full house. It took the officials a few minutes to count all the chips before announcing Seidel would advance.

  • The majority of poker pros made a bee-line out of Caesars after they lost and hardly any stuck around to watch the other matches. But on Sunday night some big names came out to catch the action, including Bloch, Allen Cunningham, Moon and Seed. Orel Hershisher was also a steady presence in the crowd throughout the entire weekend, despite the fact that he lost in Friday's first round. Reigning WSOP Main Event champ Joe Cada – who lost in the first round to David Williams -- was also at Caesars Palace on Sunday, but instead of watching the final match he was camped out in the sportsbook adjacent to the poker room with his brother taking in some NBA action.

  • We tracked down Ty Stewart, the marketing director for the WSOP on Sunday as he was watching the final match and he told us that all systems are go for the 2010 WSOP, which begins in just over two months.

    "We're excited," he said. "We're really looking forward to the new footprint at the Rio, which is the biggest one we've ever had. We're going to have about 376 tables and that's a 30 percent increase from last year. Everybody seems to like the changes we've made over the last few years so this should really be a great year for us."

    Stewart added that while he has missed working with former commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, who stepped down from his position in November and was not replaced, he's confident the WSOP is still "moving forward and becoming better and better every year."

    "I worked very closely with Jeffrey, we both started with the WSOP within the same month and he brought a lot of great ideas to the table," Stewart added. "But even without Jeffrey, things are progressing the way we want them to and we have every reason to believe that this year's event is going to be the best one ever."

  • Four of the six best-of-three finals at the Heads-Up event have gone to the maximum three matches. The only two sweeps came in 2006 when Ted Forrest swept Chris Ferguson, and last year when Seed took care of Rousso in two matches.
Annie Duke wins NBC Heads-Up Championship is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Gary Trask
Gary is an expert on all things gambling. The Boston native has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years, including a few at Casino City and was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's Media Committee.

No Limit Hold'em tournaments are a favorite of Gary's, but he also enjoys a night of dealer's choice with a variety of games like Seven-Card No Peek, Guts or Five-Card Draw with a qualifier. In addition to playing cards, another of Gary's interests is golf, a game that allows his two favorite hobbies to collide quite naturally.

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