- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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Editor's note: The list of participants can be found at the bottom of the column.
It all started four years ago. I was looking at the list of players in the National Heads-Up Poker Championship and couldn't believe who had been omitted from the field of 64. For the record, let's take a look at who I decided was "snubbed" in 2006: Steve Dannenmann, John Phan, Mike Gracz, John D'Agostino, David Pham, Hoyt Corkins, Mimi Tran and Phil Gordon (more on him later). Before you immediately hit the Comments button to proclaim just how terrible these selections were, remember that this was 2006.
At the very bottom of that column, I also posted the following:
"So what can be done? Each year this committee will have a tough job to do, but there are plenty of ways to adjust the process:
• Include a fans' vote for one or two spots
• Remove the celebrities and the promotional winner
• Give automatic bids based on previous year's performance
• Use magazine player rankings to determine who should be invited
• Use the NCAA's process; certain events get you automatic invites, then have at-large bids"
Let's jump to 2010. The NHUPC begins Friday with a field of 64, and some of the criteria above are now included in the selection process, creating more than 20 automatic invites. I continue to applaud the efforts of the selection committee to make this a better tournament, but there are still some players noticeably missing from the field. The selection committee's job is to make the most entertaining televised event possible, and that's why some players got the nod over others. (Quick disclaimer: The following are simply players missing from the list. They might have been invited but declined the offer.)
Yevgeniy Timoshenko: I think another automatic bid that needs to be added is the winner of the WPT Championship. Timoshenko had an amazing year and is ranked No. 6 on ESPN.com. On top of his live success, he also is one of the top online players, winning the WCOOP main event this past fall. In total, Timoshenko banked $4.3 million in 2009! There's no doubt that Timoshenko has earned his spot in this field. This is the ultimate snub in 2010.
Barry Shulman: I'm pretty shocked that he isn't competing and am assuming he turned down the spot, considering he should've recieved an automatic invite for winning the WSOPE main event. But did the snub come from giving Annette Obrestad an overdue invite from her win in 2007?
I know that Shulman wasn't the most exciting person to watch at the WSOPE main event final table, but with two seven-figure scores in the past six months, how could he not be part of this event? Plus, having him on the show makes the most sense because when the shows air, it will be only a few months since his championship performance was broadcast on ESPN.
Jeffrey Lisandro: Three WSOP bracelets in 2009, an automatic invite and a no-show. Lisandro must have declined his invitation to participate, but it is a shame he isn't part of this event.
James Akenhead/Antoine Saout: These two also should've received automatic bids for making the final table in both WSOP main events. Akenhead is more TV-friendly than Saout, but if you watched the way Saout played at the WSOP final table, you'll want to see more from this young Frenchman.
Hoyt Corkins: I find it funny that I mentioned him a few years ago and he's back in this category once again. First off, his poker résumé should dictate an invite. Fresh off a $100,000 finish at the NAPT high roller event and a title at the Southern Poker Championship, Corkins has started off the year with some pretty substantial money. The real deciding factor is that Corkins makes for good TV. He's recognizable and usually very friendly among cameras, making him a perfect competitor for this type of event.
Chad Brown/Michael Binger: I might take some heat for these two, but both of these players have been the most consistent players on tour over the past few years. Brown's inclusion could eventually set up a match with his wife, Vanessa Rousso, and I'm sure the producers would love that. Binger has seven cashes so far in 2010 (including a fourth-place finish at the heads-up event at the LAPC) and 17 WSOP cashes in the past three years. If we're talking about successful grinders, these two represent that category well.
Steve Gross/Jeremy Fitzpatrick: I'm also calling for the inclusion of the Bluff and CardPlayer online players of the year. They proved they can win online, and I'm sure some of the online forums would enjoy seeing their top players in action. Fitzpatrick notched 99 wins in 2009 and earned $1.8 million. Gross -- who leads the 2010 online player of the year race, by the way -- made $1.2 million online in 2009. These two definitely should be included.
Scott Fischman: In a case of what have you done for me lately, Fischman cashed in his first four appearances in the National Heads-Up Championship. In 2009, he was the bubble boy and now, he's not invited. The automatic criterion was "Any player who cashes in the past four consecutive years of the NHUPC." Sorry, Scott. Four out of five just isn't good enough.
Cornel Andrew Cimpan: Two WPT titles in one year and no invite? That's a real-life bad beat for Cimpan who earned $2.8 million in 2009. The double-WPT win automatic bid should be included in 2011.
The guys above earned their invite but won't be appearing in this weekend's action because of the limited capacity. However, there are some players on the list who I feel should be defended just a little bit
Annette Obrestad: She was 18 when she won the WSOP Europe main event, making her ineligible for an automatic bid. Now, she's of age and regardless of her WSOPE win a few years ago, she's deserving of her spot in this tournament by her recent accomplishments.
Eric Baldwin/Jason Mercier: Players of the Year for different publication, both are tremendous players and deserve a lot of respect. There are some sites that have placed odds on the field, and the ones placed on these two seem a little bit high (49-1 and 45-1, respectively).
Jesper Hougaard: One of the more entertaining players in the field, Hougaard won two bracelets in 2008 but wasn't invited in 2009. I think the selection committee made things right here, and I'd love to see him chat it up with a player like Mike Matusow, Gavin Smith or Phil Hellmuth.
Phil Gordon: You knew it was coming. My co-host on the Poker Edge podcast hasn't made an appearance in a few years, but can you really blame him for not being on the circuit when he has two kids under 2 at home? Gordon is excited to get back to the felt in 2010.
Now for the "I can't believe they're in this event" list:
Seven qualifiers: Seven? Really? I think the committee drastically needs to reduce this number moving into 2011.
I'll stop there. I think that almost everyone on this list has something to offer in terms of making this event a success. Many have wondered how Jennifer Tilly, Annie Duke, David Williams, Jamie Gold and Dennis Phillips are playing, but the truth is that they're good for TV. Phillips came away the biggest winner from the 2008 WSOP main event and has done a tremendous job as an ambassador for poker. Williams, Duke and Tilly are recognizable, and their presence is good for the game. Remember that the goal is to make the most entertaining tournament possible so that every matchup offers a story to remember.
The event airs on NBC starting on April 18 and will run every Sunday until May 23, when a winner will be crowned. It's going to be a great event, and ESPN.com will have coverage of each round each weekend.
Editor's note: Here is the list of players participating in the 2010 National Heads-Up Poker Championship: Patrik Antonius, Eric Baldwin (automatic bid), Andy Bloch (automatic bid), Doyle Brunson, Joe Cada (automatic bid), Johnny Chan, Don Cheadle, Allen Cunningham, Pieter De-Korver (automatic bid), Annie Duke, Tom Dwan, Peter Eastgate (automatic bid), Eli Elezra, Antonio Esfandiari, Sam Farha (automatic bid), Chris Ferguson (automatic bid), Ted Forrest (automatic bid), Jamie Gold, Phil Gordon, Barry Greenstein, Bertrand Grospellier (automatic bid), Joe Hachem, Gus Hansen, Jennifer Harman, Phil Hellmuth (automatic bid), Orel Hershiser, Jesper Hougaard, Phil Ivey, John Juanda, Gabe Kaplan, John Paul Kelly (automatic bid), Phil Laak, Howard Lederer, Erick Lindgren, Mike Matusow, Jason Mercier (automatic bid), Dario Minieri, Chris Moneymaker, Darvin Moon (automatic bid), Greg Mueller (automatic bid), Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen, Annette Obrestad, Brock Parker (automatic bid), Dennis Phillips, Greg Raymer, Vanessa Rousso (automatic bid), Kara Scott, Huck Seed (automatic bid), Erik Seidel, Mike Sexton, Gavin Smith, Jennifer Tilly, Paul Wasicka (automatic bid), David Williams, Leo Wolpert (automatic bid), Jerry Yang, and seven online qualifiers.