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Poker News | Casino Poker | Tournament Reports

Laak and Esfandiari face off in Heads-Up Challenge

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In the heat of battle, Antonio Esfandiari turned to the crowd for advice.

"What should I do guys?" he asked.

The voices in response were almost unanimous. The decision was simple - call. Esfandiari pushed a button and called the short stack Phil Laak's all in. Laak led with K-J before the flop against his best friend Esfandiari's Q-2, but a queen on the flop sealed his fate.

In the inaugural match of the Heads-Up Challenge: World Series of Poker edition, Esfandiari came out on top. This electronic, two-player Texas Hold'em table will be coming to a bar or restaurant near you soon.

"This table is really cool guys," Esfandiari told the crowd gathered for the match at high noon on Thursday in the Milwaukee Best Light No-Limit Lounge.

He was impressed with the features in which a player can press a button and it squeezes the cards up where the player can see them. Otherwise, the cards are face down. A player can push the button while cupping his hands to protect his hand from the opponent's view.

WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack introduced the contestants and the table was unveiled. Laak was talking smack before the match and Esfandiari was bowing to his foe.

"I'm going to kick your ass," Laak told his friend as he sat down to play.

"Can you let the audience know that I'm playing the greatest player who's ever lived and I'm a little nervous about that?" Esfandiari asked the announcer.

The learning curve was quick for the two poker pros. After a couple of minutes of figuring out the controls, they were off and running. The two started out with 10,000 chips and blinds of 100-200.

Esfandiari called Laak a nit for folding one hand.

"What does Jennifer see in you?" he asked, referencing Laak's famous girlfriend, actress Jennifer Tilly.

Finally, Laak made a move at the pot, but Esfandiari pushed back. Laak called and turned over A-6. Esfandiari had A-K. The best hand held up and Laak was short stacked and all but beaten.

"Good move, Phil. Good move," Esfandiari said in mocking his friend. "You're the worst."

After his defeat, Laak tried some easier competition by playing some people from the gathered crowd who wanted to try the machine and say they beat the "Unabomber."

Zack Luttrell, national sales manager for the Heads-Up Challenge for developer PokerTek, said the company will begin distributing the machines in August, with a full-scale launch by January. The machines will be found in bars and restaurants all over the United States and parts of Canada within the next 12 months.

The machine will be coin-operated, with each player paying $2 to play a game.

"It's just for bragging rights," Luttrell said. "They don't win any money."

Luttrell said the Heads-Up Challenge has tested very well, with players lining up to play the machine wherever is has been demonstrated. As many as 5,000 of the devices should be distributed within the next year, but Luttrell hopes the game will catch on fast. PokerTek is using the electronic golf game Golden Tee as its comparable product in marketing research, and that game is now in about 100,000 bars and restaurants after 10 years of distribution.

"People love to play poker and to be able to sit down in a bar and play, we think it's doing to do phenomenal," Luttrell said.

He said PokerTek will maintain a website at where player results will be tracked and they will be ranked. Heads-up bar tournaments will undoubtedly be popular wherever the game is located, too.

PokerTek will be demonstrated the game at the annual WSOP Gaming Life Expo at the Rio. Laak and Esfandiari were on hand from 2-3:30 p.m. Friday and 1:30-3 p.m. Saturday to take on all challengers.

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