National Heads-Up Championship Contenders Announced

Today a press release was issued announcing the official field of 64 competitors for this year’s National Heads-Up Championship. Considering that NBC will be broadcasting the event and that is sponsoring it, it should come as no surprise that this year’s Heads-Up Championship has been made more television friendly. That translates to a more controversial field; tried and true heads-up pros will be mingling with young upandcomers and even with a handful of celebrities.

First, let’s discuss the obvious invitees. This year there are five returning Heads-Up Champions and four returning runners-up. Annie Duke, the defending champion, will be joined by past winners Chris Ferguson, Ted Forrest, Phil Hellmuth and Huck Seed. Ferguson doubles as a runner-up and will be joined under that heading by Andy Bloch, Vanessa Rousso and Erik Seidel. Those players alone represent a staggering number of poker titles, but this year’s field also includes 12 WSOP Main Event Champions. Ferguson factors into that number too, as do Hellmuth and Seed. Doyle Brunson, Joe Cada, Johnny Chan, Jonathan Duhamel, Peter Eastgate, Joe Hachem, Chris Moneymaker, Scotty Nguyen and Greg Raymer are the other pros whose WSOP wins earned them a Heads-Up seat.

Some of the new faces appearing at this year’s National Heads-Up Poker Championship include online sensations like Daniel Cates, rising stars like Liv Boeree, high stakes beasts like Eugene Katchalov and deserving older hands like Dwyte Pilgrim and John Racener. Speaking of Racener, many are hoping to see him matched up against the pro he accused of cheating, Bluff POY Sorel Mizzi, who has also been invited to compete.

Little opposition has risen against the infusion of new blood, but already there is outcry over replacing fan favorites like Mike Sexton with celebrities. Some have gone so far as to suggest that WPT promoter Mike Sexton was left off the list by the request of new FS+G league commissioner Annie Duke. Indeed, it seems a little suspicious that Sexton was omitted while Duke’s Ante Up For Africa co-founder, actor Don Cheadle, received a seat instead.

Other celebrity players include Jason Alexander, Emmitt Smith and Jennifer Tilly. In all fairness, all three players – plus Cheadle – have previous poker ties that include playing in the WSOP Main Event (or in Tilly’s case winning a WSOP event). With all the controversy, one thing’s for certain; when the 7th National Heads-Up Poker Championship kicks off on March 4 there are sure to be some interesting (and potentially heated) pairings.

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