The NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship has done more for the popularity of heads-up poker than any other event. The tournament/television show, now in its fifth season, gave prestige to heads-up tournaments and brought its nuances to the spotlight, prompting online sites and live tournament series to add heads-up events to their schedules. So when the fifth annual NHUPC was announced less than one month ago, poker players and fans were ready to see the player line-up, follow the action, and speculate about the 2009 winner.
The drawing party was held at PURE Nightclub at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Thursday night, March 5, to determine the match-ups and fill in the brackets. Once that was accomplished, the first round was set to begin the next day.
The 64 starting players took their seats in four sessions on Friday, March 6. The Hearts bracket began, followed by Diamonds, Clubs, and Spades. There was only one last-minute change to the starting line-up when it was announced that David Oppenheim would be playing in the spot originally taken by Layne Flack. As the day progressed, the news emerged that Flack had been arrested the night before on his way home from the drawing party, charges listed by the authorities as driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding, and failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. Though Flack has released a statement since denying that he was under the influence, the result of the case remains to be played out in the Clark County courts.
Despite the interest in Flack’s situation, the NHUPC went on as planned. By the end of the night, results were as follows:
Eli Elezra defeated Johnny Chan
Erick Lindgren defeated Howard Lederer
David Williams defeated J.C. Tran
Scott Fischman defeated Jamie Gold
John Phan defeated Erik Seidel
Jerry Yang defeated Clonie Gowen
Sam Farha defeated Allen Cunningham
Peter Eastgate defeated Andy Bloch
Kenny Tran defeated Antonio Esfandiari
Jennifer Harman defeated Greg Raymer
Phil Laak defeated Kenny Yeh
David Oppenheim defeated Vanessa Selbst
Gus Hansen defeated David Benyamine
Huck Seed defeated Jonathan Little
Glen Chorny defeated Chad Brown
Brad Garrett defeated Annie Duke
Don Cheadle defeated David Pham
Paul Wasicka defeated Nicholas Joy
Phil Ivey defeated Jennifer Tilly
Vanessa Rousso defeated Doyle Brunson
Scotty Nguyen defeated Hevad Khan
Ted Forrest defeated Orel Hershiser
Daniel Negreanu defeated Chris Moneymaker
Dario Minieri defeated Mike Matusow
Gabe Kaplan defeated Chris Ferguson
John Juanda defeated Joe Hachem
Ilari Sahamies defeated Gavin Smith
Bertrand Grospellier defeated Fred Collins
Jeffrey Ishbia defeated Leon Yanovski
Phil Hellmuth defeated Mike Sexton
Tom Dwan defeated Gavin Griffin
Barry Greenstein defeated Blandino Gines
The second and third rounds were scheduled for Saturday, March 7. Round 2 started the day with the aforementioned 32 finalists. Notably, only two women - Vanessa Rousso and Jennifer Harman - made it through the first round, as did two celebrities - Don Cheadle and Brad Garrett. And of the six qualifiers who won their seats into this event, only one, Jeffrey Ishbia, was still in the game to start Round 2. The results of those second round match-ups were as follows:
Erick Lindgren defeated Eli Elezra
David Williams defeated Scott Fischman
John Phan defeated Jerry Yang
Sam Farha defeated Peter Eastgate
Kenny Tran defeated Jennifer Harman
David Oppenheim defeated Phil Laak
Huck Seed defeated Gus Hansen
Glen Chorny defeated Brad Garrett
Paul Wasicka defeated Don Cheadle
Vanessa Rousso defeated Phil Ivey
Scotty Nguyen defeated Ted Forrest
Daniel Negreanu defeated Dario Minieri
John Juanda defeated Gabe Kaplan
Bertrand Grospellier defeated Ilari Sahamies
Phil Hellmuth defeated Jeffrey Ishbia
Tom Dwan defeated Barry Greenstein
The 16 finalists who made it through consisted of only one female player, Vanessa Rousso, and no qualifiers or celebrities. All of them were in the money at that point, with Huck Seed having achieved what no other player had - cashes in all five National Heads-Up Poker Championships. Going into Round 3, Hellmuth and Dwan were scheduled to meet, with Hellmuth seeking revenge for the 2008 NHUPC match that found Dwan victorious and Hellmuth on tilt. Round 3 would be nothing if not interesting.
When the third round was completed, the results were as follows:
David Williams defeated Erick Lindgren
Sam Farha defeated John Phan
David Oppenheim defeated Kenny Tran
Huck Seed defeated Glen Chorny
Vanessa Rousso defeated Paul Wasicka
Daniel Negreanu defeated Scotty Nguyen
Bertrand Grospellier defeated John Juanda
Phil Hellmuth defeated Tom Dwan
The highlights of the round included Daniel Negreanu meeting with Scotty Nguyen dressed as Scotty Nguyen, complete with curly wig, sunglasses, and gold chains. It was all in good fun, though Negreanu poked fun at Nguyen specifically for his antics at the 2008 WSOP HORSE tournament. Also in good spirits was Phil Hellmuth, who was surprisingly gracious in his victory over Tom Dwan. Everyone who left the tournament during Round 3 was awarded $25,000 in prize money for their efforts.
The Elite Eight returned on Sunday, March 8 to play the quarterfinals, and the excitement was brewing as a champion would eventually be crowned later that night.
Play began with the Hearts and Diamonds brackets, and it was over quicker than anyone expected. After only a few hands, one of the two matches was decided. After a board of , betting and raising led to Sam Farha pushing all-in. David Williams called and showed Q-6 for his flopped full house, but Farha turned over Q-10 for his better hand that came on the river. Williams left with $75,000, and Farha would move on to the semifinals.
Very soon after, Huck Seed moved all-in with pocket eights, and David Oppenheim called, all-in and covered, with . The flop came 4-K-3, which left Oppenheim with outs, but the 8 on the turn brought a set for Seed and no more outs for Oppenheim, who left the tournament with $75,000 in prize money. Huck Seed would proceed to the semifinal round.
The Clubs and Spades players then came to the floor to play their hands, and again, the first match was decided rather quickly. On the fifth hand, Phil Hellmuth put his slightly shorter stack at risk with pocket queens, but Bertrand Grospellier woke up with pocket aces. The board came an uneventful 10-8-3-10-2, and Phil Hellmuth was out with $75,000. Grospellier was to move on to the semifinals.
Daniel Negreanu and Vanessa Rousso duked it out for awhile, but just as Negreanu was getting comfortable with his lead, Rousso doubled up twice to take the lead. Finally, the two went to see a flop, and more betting led to the on the turn. After Negreanu bet, Rousso moved all-in, which prompted a four-minute thought process from Negreanu before finally making the call with for top two pair. But Rousso showed pocket deuces for the turned full house. The on the river left Negreanu out with a $75,000 prize and pushed Rousso on to the semifinal round.
The match-ups were set as follows:
Sam Farha vs. Huck Seed
Vanessa Rousso vs. Bertrand Grospellier
While Farha and Seed traded the chip lead back and forth without any significant action, Grospellier and Rousso’s match was a roller coaster. Though Grospellier took the initial lead in the game, Rousso came back to double up twice and finally took the lead away from him. Not long after, Grospellier got the remainder of his chips in with , and Rousso was there with pocket sevens and the call. The board ran out , and Grospellier was left with $125,000 for his elimination. Vanessa Rousso was the first to secure a spot in the championship match.
Meanwhile, Farha and Seed continued to exchange chips. At one point, Farha doubled up to take a 3-to-1 lead, but Seed came back; with two double-ups, the stacks were almost even again. After two and a half hours, there was a decision. Farha was short-stacked and pushed all-in with . Seed called with . The board came to give Seed the flush. Sam Farha walked away with $125,000 for his run, and Seed was set to head to the championship rounds.
Vanessa Rousso and Huck Seed took a dinner break before returning to the NBC set to play for the title. The best-of-three format awaited, along with 640,000 chips for each player and the initial blind level starting at 3K/6K. Fifteen-minute levels would keep action from going too terribly long, but both players were known for their calculated moves and patient demeanors. It was not going to be a talkative or quick championship round.
The first match saw Rousso jump out to an early chip lead, but Seed quickly changed the pace by taking a sizable pot shortly into the game. Seed then proceeded to open it up and increase his lead to more than 3-to-1. It was then that Rousso pushed all-in preflop with , but Seed was there to call with . The board came and couldn’t improve Rousso’s hand. Huck Seed won the first match.
After a short break, the second game began, and Rousso again came on strong out of the gate. But according to those on the scene, when Seed took the first major pot from her, she seemed irritated. It was then that Seed grabbed the lead and ran with it. The last hand saw the two players see a cheap flop. Both checked to see the come on the turn, which prompted a good deal of betting resulting in Rousso pushing all-in with for middle pair. Seed called with and the flopped top pair. The river came a , and that was enough to eliminate Rousso.
Vanessa Rousso was awarded $250,000 for her second place finish.
Huck Seed claimed victory at the 2009 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. In a clean sweep of the championship round, Seed won the title and the $500,000 grand prize.