Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Best of Gary Trask
Top-10 facts, figures and predictions for the 2010 NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship1 March 2010
By Gary Trask
The event – which pits 64 players against each other in an NCAA tournament bracket style – has become one of the more popular events on the poker calendar each year. And thanks to the attendance of the biggest and most popular poker pros in the game, each year we are guaranteed to see some delicious match-ups.
The tournament draw will take place at PURE Nightclub at Caesars Palace on Thursday night with the first-round getting underway on Friday. The best-of-three heads-up finale will take place on Sunday and then all the action will be broadcast on NBC over the course of six weeks, beginning April 18.
But before you start thinking about filling out your 2010 Heads-Up office-pool bracket, take a close look at this week's Top-10. We've gone back and broken down the results of the first five editions of the Heads-Up event and have come up with some interesting facts and figures, which helped us come up with a couple of well-thought out predictions.
I will be in Las Vegas this week to cover this year's Heads-Up Championship, so be sure to stay tuned for more stories from Caesars Palace and check out my Twitter page for more updates from the event.
10. Seidel has been silenced
Seidel has played in all five of the events and is 0-for-5, an amazing stat for such a talented player. If the people that run the event have any sense of humor, they should pit Seidel against Jennifer Tilly in the first round on Friday since Ms. Phil Laak is the only other player in this year's field that has never won an opening match (she's 0-for-4). At least that way, somebody could walk away with a Heads-Up victory.
9. First-round studs
The other players who have yet to get bounced in the first round are Vanessa Rousso and Gabe Kaplan, who are both 3-0, and Tom Dwan and 2007 WSOP Main Event champ Jerry Yang, who have each won their first-round matches the last two years. Peter Eastgate and Dario Minieri both won their first-round match last year in their rookie appearances and both were eliminated in the second round.
8. Notable names have struggled
Also, the brother-sister combination of Howard Lederer and Annie Duke has gone a combined 2-10 in the event with equally poor 1-5 records. And 2005 WSOP Player of the Year Allen Cunningham is just 2-4 in four Heads-Up appearances while Elezra comes into this weekend with a 2-5 mark.
Heck, even the almighty Phil Ivey is only 5-5 in his Heads-Up career, but be warned that he is 5-2 in his last seven matches –- thanks to a run to the Final Four in 2008. According to SkyBet, Ivey is the odds-on favorite – along with defending champ Huck Seed – to win the title this year at 10-to-1.
7. Defending Main Event champs have faltered
6. Impressive rookie class
Also leading the list of intriguing Heads-Up rookies is last year's WSOP Main Event runner-up, Darvin Moon. The New Orleans Saints fan said dozens of times before his heads-up showdown with Cada at the final table last year that he had only played one-on-one poker a couple of times in his career because back in Maryland they typically chop the pot when a tournament gets down to two players. But Moon more than held his own against Cada, who is known as a heads-up specialist, and actually took the chip lead before a couple of crucial mistakes did him in. It would be just like Moon to come into this weekend saying he hasn't played heads-up poker since that sit down with Cada in November.
Other rookies to keep an eye on this weekend include 2008 third-place Main Event finisher Dennis Phillips, 2009 two-time WSOP bracelet winners Jesper Hougaard, Brock Parker and Greg Mueller, 2009 Bluff Player of the Year Jason Mercier, and Kara Scott, the always-stunning poker TV host who was one of the last women standing at last year's Main Event in Las Vegas.
5. Watch out for celebrities
In 2007, Shannon Elizabeth made it all the way to the Final Four and on her way she ousted players like Jeff Madsen, Barry Greenstein and Humberto Brenes. Unfortunately, Elizabeth isn't in the field this year, but there are a couple of other celebs with impressive Heads-Up resumes who will be playing this week.
We already mentioned Kaplan's success in the first-round, but what we didn't mention is that those three opening-round wins came over the likes of Todd Brunson, Patrik Antonius and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, one of the most accomplished Heads-Up players (more on that later) as well as the 2000 WSOP Main Event champ. And no matter how Don Cheadle fares for the rest of his life at the Heads-Up event, he can always hang his hat on the fact that he beat Phil Ivey in the first round back in 2007.
And Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser has made it a yearly tradition to have players he eliminates sign a baseball for him and so far the signatures he has acquired through his play at the Heads-Up include Ted Forrest, Allen Cunningham and Freddy Deeb.
4. Esfandiari has lost his "magic"
In fact, that loss to Hellmuth was the start of a five-match losing streak for Esfandiari, who has been eliminated in the first round every year since. But it says here that Esfandiari not only snaps that streak this year, but makes a deep run into the bracket.
3. Vanessa Rousso is the Heads-Up Queen
But it wasn't just last year that Rousso had success at the Heads-Up event. As mentioned above, she has never lost an opening round match in three appearances and overall her record is 7-3. In addition to her notable victories from last year, Rousso also has wins over Esfandiari and Erick Lindgren to her name while her only three losses have come against big names like Seed, Greenstein and Andy Bloch. Suffice it to say, Rousso will be as battle-tested as they come when the action unfolds this weekend.
2. Jesus and Seed are the Heads-Up Kings
"Jesus" is the 2008 champ, but also has made the final two on two other occasions (2005 when he lost to Hellmuth and 2006 when he lost to Ted Forrest). Overall, Ferguson has won 80% of his matches (16-4) and is the second betting choice at SkyBet for this year's event at 12-to-1, behind Ivey and Seed at 10-1. The only major hiccup Ferguson has had at the event came last year when Kaplan upset him in the first-round.
Seed, meanwhile, won last year's event in what marked his third Final Four appearance. In his Heads-Up career, Seed is 17-4 (81%) making him and Ferguson a combined 33-8 (80%). They are also the only two players with multiple Final Four appearances to their name.
1. Players to watch in 2010