Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Best of Gary Trask
NBC Heads-Up event held in high regard by poker pros7 March 2010
LAS VEGAS – The NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship is in its infancy with this just its sixth-year of existence. So while for most players it doesn't carry the prestige of a World Series of Poker bracelet event, make no mistake about it. Getting a spot in the Heads-Up bracket of 64, playing well in the event and ultimately winning a Heads-Up title are all things the big-name poker pros are passionate about.
"Because there are so many big names and because it's on NBC, it's a big deal for sure," says 2003 WSOP Main Event champ Chris Moneymaker, who was bounced from this year's event at Caesars Palace by Erik Seidel in the quarterfinals. "It's a fun event because it's much different than your typical tournament with thousands of people in the field. I think this is something everyone looks forward to."
Moneymaker proved just how much he cares about the event when we asked him after he won his first-round match over Patrik Antonius if he realized that it was his first Heads-Up victory since 2005 and snapped a five-match losing streak.
"Are you kidding me? Of course I do," he smiled. "And, believe me, I remember everyone of those losses. I got run over by Joe Hachem one year, but other than that they were all real tough losses. So to get at least one victory here this year means a lot to me.'
Moneymaker, who killed time after his win on Friday by jumping into a $1-$2 No Limit game in the Caesars Palace poker room and on Saturday was roaming the Caesars sportsbook in between matches, went on to earn his first Heads-Up cash by taking out Leo Wolpert in the second round before losing to Seidel.
Meanwhile, Phil Gordon was diplomatic about where the Heads-Up event ranks on the poker pecking order.
"It's a tough question," said Gordon, who beat Tom "durrr' Dwan in the first round before suffering a brutal beat on Saturday in the second round in a loss to Phil Laak. "I know we all want to play in it. And the fact that it's a heads-up, one-on-one match really brings the whole ego thing into the equation. But overall we all realize that when it comes right down to it, this is a crapshoot. There's just so much luck involved in a one-time heads-up match."
But 2008 WSOP Main Event champ Jerry Yang had a different view. Not only does he think the Heads-Up title ranks right below the WSOP Main Event, he also thinks that there is more skill involved than most people think.
"It's a world-class field so you can't be lucky to win this tournament, you've got have a lot of skill and deep focus," said Yang before his second round match against Jennifer Harman on Saturday. "Believe me, if I could be fortunate enough to win this title, it would be a dream come true for me."
Yang's dream was alive and well late Saturday night after he took out Jennifer Harman in the quarterfinals to move on to Sunday's quarterfinals.
Elite Eight is set
On the other side of the bracket, Dennis Phillips takes on Doyle Brunson in the Hearts Bracket final while Yang faces Annie Duke, who will be trying to become the second woman to reach the Heads-Up finals after Vanessa Rousso did it last year, and the first female to win the title.
None of the players in the Elite Eight have ever made it to the Heads-Up Final Four. Brunson has the most Heads-Up experience with a 6-5 career record, closely followed by Duke, who came in with a 1-5 record before ripping of three-straight victories.
Another player still alive that has turned his fortunes around in the event in a big way is Seidel, who was reminded quite a bit at the Draw Party on Thursday night that he was 0-for-5 coming into this year. Seidel's new success in the event could be attributed to what he's currently reading. On Saturday he was spotted carrying around the book "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right" by Atul Gawande.
Also, there are two Heads-Up rookies still alive -- Phillips and Mercier -- and four of the final eight players are former WSOP Main Event champs -- Eastgate, Brunson, Yang and Nguyen. As we noted in our Heads-Up Preview last week, all five of the NBC Heads-Up title holders have had at least a Top 5 finish in the WSOP Main Event. If this trend holds up, the four Main Event winners mentioned above and Seidel -- who was a runner up in the Main Event to Johnny Chan in 1988 -- are the five players to watch out for.
Hellmuth goes into the tank
Finally, Hellmuth made the decision to call with a pair of nines and an Ace kicker. When Obrestad flipped over pocket jacks for a straight, Hellmuth appeared as if he was about to blow his top and suffer a classic meltdown, but somehow remained calm.
Too bad. We were quietly rooting for an "Idiot From from Northern Europe – Part II" explosion. (One of Hellmuth's classic breakdowns -- which is saying something since there have been many -- came during the 2008 WSOP Main Event when he caused some controversy by shouting at Romanian Cristian Dragomir.)
Before the tournament, Hellmuth, who won the inaugural Heads-Up title in 2005, was talking tall, not only about his chances this weekend, but for the rest of the year.
"I've been learning stuff and playing a lot of hours lately trying to watch how some of the new school players are playing and trying to figure out their style," he said at Thursday night's Draw Party. "It's a really good time for me. I'd like to be the first guy to win [the Heads-Up] twice and serve notice that Phil Hellmuth is back, big time, in 2010."
Tilly, Cheadle make Oscar picks
"Jeff Bridges should win [Best Actor] because he's fantastic," said Tilly, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1994 for her role in Bullets Over Broadway. "And I'd love to see Meryl Streep win. But I also think Sandra Bullock has a great shot because she's very popular in the Hollywood community and she's very well-respected.
Tilly added that she loved Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, but felt that Avatar would most likely win out for Best Picture.
"I think most that are expected to win are probably going to win and I like that. I don't like surprises. There are enough unpleasant surprises in poker."
Cheadle said that he thought Avatar was a "juggernaut" and pretty much a "lock" to win Best Picture and that Jeff Bridges would "most likely" win Best Actor. Cheadle, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in 2004 for his role in Hotel Rwanda, had a new film -- Brooklyn's Finest with Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke -- debut over the weekend.
E-Dog as classy as ever
The soft-spoken Ramirez, who was sitting in the stands with three family members, was noticeably nervous and understandably so, considering the task he was up against as well as NBC cameras that were sitting all around him. The two players met briefly at the Draw Party on Thursday night, but when Lindgren walked into the studio on Friday he spotted Ramirez and immediately went over to reintroduce himself.
E-Dog then politely introduced himself and shook hands with Ramirez's wife, brother and sister-in-law and then proceeded to sit down and continue to chat with his opponent about where he was from and what his other interests were outside of poker.
Ramirez was immediately put at ease, especially since Lindgren went on to explain what it was going to be like at the table once the cards went in the air. Once the match began it was cordial throughout, as expected, but surprisingly it ended up being one of the more entertaining matches of the early session.
In what was the last of the first round matches of the Clubs Bracket to end, Lindgren – who had fellow Full Tilt pro Erica Schoenberg in his cheering section during both of his matches this weekend – finally put the amateur away when his Ace-King cracked Ramirez's pocket Queens. After the match, Lindgren hugged Ramirez and all of his family members and posed for pictures.
In a poker world where arrogance and ego sometimes outweigh classy behavior, this was a refreshing scene indeed.
Quotes, Notes, Stats and Streaks
NBC Heads-Up event held in high regard by poker pros is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Best of Gary Trask