One of the most anticipated poker events of the year is the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. For the sixth year running, the three-day series of heads-up tournaments was announced with its $1.5 million prize pool and exciting list of attendees. What is most fun for poker fans paying attention to the events is the bracket-style playdown of the heads-up matches, which started with random picks from the March 4 drawing party at PURE Nightclub at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, as bets are made and favorites are picked to take down the $500K first place prize.
The Caesars Palace poker room is the place for the action, all filmed by NBC Sports for broadcasts to start on April 18 and run through May 23. Some of the biggest names in poker played on the first day, March 5, and the best of them proceeded to the March 6 action and hoped to be a part of the March 7 final match. Last year’s final saw Huck Seed defeat Vanessa Rousso for the title, and this year brought the same excitement.
Day 1: Clubs Bracket
It started with the following match-ups:
David Williams v. Joe Cada
Patrik Antonius v. Chris Moneymaker
Leo Wolpert v. Eric Baldwin
Erik Seidel v. Huck Seed
Dan Ramirez v. Erick Lindgren
Peter Eastgate v. Bertrand Grospellier
Stephen Quinn v. Ted Forrest
Dario Minieri v. Jamie Gold
The first to be eliminated was Antonius, who tangled with Moneymaker on a flop. Antonius pushed all-in with , but Moneymaker called with , and his set of fives held up through the turn and river. Moneymaker moved on.
In other matches, Minieri fell to Gold, Eastgate eliminated Grospellier, Williams canned Cada, Seidel defeated 2009 champion Seed, online qualifier Quinn took out Forrest, and Wolpert won over Baldwin. And to end the bracket, Ramirez pushed all-in with against the of Lindgren, and the board came to give Lindgren two pair and the ability to move forward, leaving online qualifier Ramirez with nothing but memories.
Day 1: Diamonds Bracket
The second set of matches began as follows:
Sam Farha v. Antonio Esfandiari
Barry Greenstein v. Vanessa Rousso
Jennifer Harman v. Jennifer Tilly
Jerry Yang v. Mike Matusow
Darvin Moon v. Bill Huntress
Andy Bloch v. Annie Duke
Andrew Wilson v. Paul Wasicka
Gus Hansen v. Greg Raymer
Action started with the table of Farha and Esfandiari ending early, as the latter was short and moved all-in with A-5 against the of Farha. The board came , and Esfandiari was the first to go from the bracket as Farha was promised a spot in the next round.
Play continued at other tables until Hansen removed Raymer, Wasicka eliminated online qualifier Wilson, Duke took out Bloch, Yang sent Matusow packing, Moon destroyed qualifier Huntress, and Greenstein never gave Rousso a chance. And the last match to end was between two Jennifers, and it was Tilly who moved all-in with 3-2 on a flop, but Harman was ahead with Q-5. The top pair held up as the came on the turn and on the river, sending Tilly out of the tournament and propelling Harman to the next level.
Day 1: Spades Bracket
Third of the four sets of matches for the day got underway with the following pairings:
Daniel Negreanu v. Jason Mercier
Gavin Smith v. Phil Ivey
Richard Edwards v. Scotty Nguyen
Shawn Rice v. Joe Hachem
Gabe Kaplan v. Johnny Chan
Pieter de Korver v. Mike Sexton
Phil Gordon v. Tom Dwan
Phil Laak v. John Juanda
The first match to finish was a quick one, and it happened when Negreanu pushed all-in on a board with pocket fives. Mercier called with pocket queens, and the on the river ended the contest with Negreanu out in mere moments and Mercier moving on to the next round.
Other matches began wrapping up as Gordon dominated Dwan, Ivey ousted Smith, Hachem took out qualifier Rice, De Korver pushed out Sexton, Nguyen eliminated qualifier Edwards, and Kaplan defeated Chan. And to end the round, Juanda put his chips at risk with against the of Laak, and the board came to give Laak the top pair and eliminate Juanda from the tournament.
Day 1: Hearts Bracket
The last round of matches started with the following tables of players:
Howard Lederer v. Phil Hellmuth
Jesper Hougaard v. Allen Cunningham
Brock Parker v. Doyle Brunson
Kara Scott v. Dennis Phillips
JP Kelly v. Don Cheadle
Eli Elezra v. Greg Mueller
Annette Obrestad v. Orel Hershiser
Annette Dworski v. Chris Ferguson
The first match to be completed involved Hellmuth and Lederer, when the latter pushed all-in with against the of Hellmuth. The board came to give Hellmuth trip kings and leave Lederer out in the first round of play.
Subsequent results included Brunson eliminating Parker, Ferguson dominating online qualifier Dworski, Cunningham defeating Hougaard, Elezra taking out Mueller, Phillips getting the best of Scott, and Obrestand finally scoring one against Hershiser. And to end the round and the day, Cheadle pushed with and Kelly called for his tournament life with . The dealer delivered a board of , and Cheadle knocked Kelly out of the tournament.
With that, the first day of matches came to an end, and players retired for the evening, only 32 of them planning to return the next day for the second round with the knowledge that the final 16 would be in the money with a minimum payout of $25,000 for making the third round.
Day 2: Clubs & Spades Brackets (Round 2)
The match-ups were prepared to kick off the action on March 6 as follows:
Phil Ivey v. Nguyen
Joe Hachem v. Gabe Kaplan
Jason Mercier v. Pieter de Korver
Phil Gordon v. Phil Laak
Chris Moneymaker v. Leo Wolpert
David Williams v. Erik Seidel
Erick Lindgren v. Peter Eastgate
Stephen Quinn v. Jamie Gold
The first duo to complete their battle involved Moneymaker and Wolpert, when the latter pushed all-in on a flop. Moneymaker called with for top pair, and Wolpert showed , but that flush never hit when the board finished with a turn and river. Wolpert left the tournament, and Moneymaker became the first player to work his way into the money.
Other matches completed as Gold eliminated Quinn, Eastgate toppled Lindgren, Kaplan ousted Hachem, Mercier took down de Korver, Nguyen busted Ivey, and Laak sent Gordon packing. The only two players left in action were Williams and Seidel, and Williams put his tournament at risk with . Seidel called with , at which point Williams physically ripped his cards in half. The board didn’t help Williams, who unhappily left the tournament, leaving Seidel to proceed to the next round.
Day 2: Diamonds & Hearts Brackets (Round 2)
The second portion of the afternoon consisted of the following contests:
Phil Hellmuth v. Annette Obrestad
Chris Ferguson v. Dennis Phillips
Jennifer Harman v. Jerry Yang
Paul Wasicka v. Gus Hansen
Doyle Brunson v. Don Cheadle
Barry Greenstein v. Sammy Farha
Darvin Moon v. Annie Duke
Allen Cunningham v. Eli Elezra
The first to ensure a payout and play in the next round was Brunson as he concluded his match with Cheadle. Action took off after the flop when Cheadle moved all-in with for the flush draw, and Brunson called with . That top pair of tens stayed good as the unknown turn and river cards were dealt, and Brunson eliminated Cheadle to move on.
Results were noted in more of the matches as Phillips forced Ferguson out of the tournament, Obrestad dominated Hellmuth, Yang took out Harman, Duke eliminated Moon, Elezra cut out Cunningham, and Greenstein defeated Farha. And the last battle ended when Hansen moved all-in for his last chips with against the of Wasicka. The board produced , and Wasick’s pair of nines took the pot and a place in the money by eliminating Hansen.
With that, the second round of play was complete, and only 16 players remained in the tournament, all of whom were sent to dinner before returning later in the evening. All players were guaranteed a minimum cash of $25,000, but they were all undoubtedly eyeing the winner’s circle.
Day 2: Clubs & Spades Brackets (Round 3)
The evening began with the following four match-ups:
Chris Moneymaker v. Erik Seidel
Peter Eastgate v. Jamie Gold
Scotty Nguyen v. Gabe Kaplan
Jason Mercier v. Phil Laak
The first match to be decided came at the Gold and Eastgate table when the board already showed . Gold pushed all-in with for the pair of sevens, but Eastgate called with for the better pair of nines. A fell on the river to eliminate Gold with a payout of $25,000.
Next to go was Moneymaker, who had only 30K left and pushed with against the of Seidel. The board came to eliminate Moneymaker with $25K. Not long after, Laak put himself at risk with , but Mercier was there with pocket fives, and the dealer produced to give Laak hope on the flop but take it away on the river. Laak finished with $25K. And finally, Kaplan and Nguyen went to a flop of before Kaplan moved all-in with . Nguyen called with but caught the flush when the and completed the board. Kaplan left with $25K.
Day 2: Diamonds & Hearts Brackets (Round 3)
The final four battles were set to take place as follows:
Eli Elezra v. Dennis Phillips
Doyle Brunson v. Annette Obrestad
Barry Greenstein v. Jerry Yang
Annie Duke v. Paul Wasicka
These matches took awhile, but the first one to be completed involved Yang and Greenstein, the latter of whom moved all-in for 17,400 chips with . Yang called with , and the board of gave Yang the trip queens and eliminated Greenstein with a $25K payday.
Not long after Obrestad took a stand with against Brunson, who called with . The dealer gave them , which relegated Obrestad to a $25K finish and allowed Brunson to move on. Then it was Elezra who made his move with , which was up against the of Phillips. The board came , and Elezra was sent out with $25K. And finally, after Wasicka and Duke traded double-ups for numerous hands in a row, it was Wasicka’s turn to move, and he did it with pocket jacks. Duke called with , but the board came to provide two pair for her, while Wasicka went to the cashier cage for his $25K.
With that, the day was done. Only the Elite Eight remained, all guaranteed a minimum payout of $75K but the chance to move forward into the winner’s circle. All of that action was scheduled to take place the following day, March 7, and the matches would start the day as follows:
Clubs Bracket: Erik Seidel v. Peter Eastgate
Spades Bracket: Scotty Nguyen v. Jason Mercier
Hearts Bracket: Dennis Phillips v. Doyle Brunson
Diamonds Bracket: Jerry Yang v. Annie Duke