NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship Hits Bittersweet 16

We’re now two days into the 7th Annual National Heads-Up Poker Championship which is being hosted at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. As usual, the tournament has had its fair share of both obvious victories (like Liv Boeree over Jason Alexander and Tom Dwan over Don Cheadle) and surprise upsets (like Daniel Cates over Phil Ivey). This tournament continues to be a must-see for hardcore poker fans because it offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the greats face off. Unfortunately, this year’s heads-up competition has been marred by the obvious absence of some longtime fan favorites.

For days following the announcement of this year’s heads-up field, the poker news and poker forums have been dominated by disappointed speculation on how the invite list for this important and prestigious competition was decided. With some very obvious and thus far unexplained snubs (once again “The Ambassador of Poker” Mike Sexton comes to mind), it’s starting to look like the National Heads-Up Poker Championship is devolving into its own kind of good ol’ boys club.

Of course they also sacrificed a few seats to celebrities like Cheadle and Alexander, and of course none of those celebrities have made it past the second day of play. If this is going to be the world’s definitive heads-up competition, then shouldn’t those seats be reserved for worthy players? Where, for example, is Viktor Blom? He may be iffy in MTTs, but there’s no denying he’s one of the sports most explosive and well-recognized heads-up players, having already bested many of the players at the top of this year’s Heads-Up Poker Championship.

Having said our piece about player selection, let’s move on to the real meat of the matter – the bracket results. There’s still no denying that the National Heads-Up Poker Championship has packed the Caesars poker room with some amazing players, and today featured some truly epic match-ups. Unfortunately, defending champion Annie Duke and her brother Howard Lederer had to withdraw, but last year’s runner-up Erik Seidel is going strong having already defeated Allen Cunningham and then Jennifer Harman.

Some of today’s highlights included Jonathan Duhamel besting Antonio Esfandiari, Chris Moneymaker eliminating Daniel Cates, Eugene Katchalov sending Patrik Antonius to the rail, Michael Mizrachi topping Phil Laak, David Benyamine schooling boy wonder Tom Dwan, Phil Galfond bumping Bertrand Grospellier, and Vanessa Selbst’s victory over Peter Eastgate (which also earned her the honor of being the last lady pro left standing). We’ll report back on the final eight tomorrow.

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