- Gary Wise, ESPN Poker
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I don't know if it's possible to take a physical beating on predictions, but if it is, I'm a pulp. Looking back on my Thursday and Friday articles on the National Heads-Up Poker Championship, we see that:
• I essentially trashed three selections -- Orel Hershiser, Clonie Gowen and Sam Grizzle. But all three won their first-round matches, and Hershiser's still alive as part of the elite eight.
• Of my four predicted semifinalists, three -- Patrik Antonius, Ted Forrest and Daniel Schreiber -- were eliminated in the first round. Antonius was my pick to win the whole thing.
• I'd convinced myself that Phil Ivey would be exhausted and be looking to go spend the $1.5 million he just won at the WPT's Los Angeles Poker Classic. But I forgot he's Phil freaking Ivey regardless of his 0-3 lifetime record in the event coming into this year. Still, I would have looked like a genius if I'd gotten that one right.
The reality is, this is a tournament where anything that could happen eventually will, as evidenced by Hershiser defeating Ted Forrest. Before the match, Forrest was probably the most successful player in the event's history, with an overall 10-2 record to go along with a win in 2006. Apparently, he's good at playing poker only against poker players.
As we enter the homestretch, it's time to take a look back at the first two days of play. Here's a look at the craziness, unpredictability and fun that is the National Heads-Up Poker Championship:
• Jon Little defeated Erik Seidel. The loss extended Seidel's record for most matches without a win at the NHUPC. He's now 0-4.
• Gabe Kaplan defeated Patrik Antonius. This was a crushing blow to the Internet throngs. Not only did the object of their hero worship (and disturbingly lust?) get beaten, but it happened at the hands of Kaplan, a true old-schooler.
• Greg Raymer defeated Caesar's qualifier Hooman Nikzad. All three amateur qualifiers lost in Round 1.
• Scott Clements defeated Kenny Tran. I called Tran to win this one because of his heads-up cash game experience, but this is by no means a shock. Clements, the owner of two WSOP bracelets while still in his mid-twenties, will be a star of this game for a long time.
• Mike Matusow defeated Joe Hachem, and he did it in style. Mike sported a shirt with the image of a kangaroo on it, and an Australian flag was by his side. He even was heard chanting "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy!" during the match.
• With a bad blood history, Phil Hellmuth and Tom Dwan sat down for exactly three hands, with the chips getting all-in when Dwan was dealt pocket tens and Hellmuth aces. Phil was his usual, chipper self right up until the 10 came on the turn. Rumor has it that the two are now negotiating a series of $100,000 heads-up matches.
• Gavin Smith defeated Tom Schneider. Remember, Gavin made the semifinals a year ago.
• Chris Ferguson defeated John Juanda. Ferguson, twice a finalist, was 10-3 lifetime going in, and this match put him past Forrest for best record among those who have played in all four events.
• Gus Hansen defeated Don Cheadle. Another tough first round pairing for the actor, who played Phil Ivey in Round 1 last year.
• Scotty Nguyen defeated Bill Edler. It's was Scotty's first win in four tries at NHUPC.
• Jerry Yang defeated Chris Moneymaker in a pairing of world champions.
• Phil Laak defeated David Singer. It had to be a disappointment for Singer, who finally got his first invite this year.
• Phil Ivey defeated Internet qualifier Alisha Kunze. Like Scotty, it was Ivey's first win in four tries.
• Johnny Chan defeated David Williams, setting up the powerhouse round-of-32 matchup against Ivey.
• TJ Cloutier defeated Daniel Schreiber. TJ was 8-3 in the event heading into this match.
• JC Tran defeated Annie Duke. Tran, Cloutier, Chan and Ivey made for a pretty spectacular Saturday foursome.
• Vanessa Rousso defeated Antonio Esfandiari, bringing his lifetime record to 4-4. It's a disappointing mark after his final-four finish in the event's first season.
• Andy Bloch defeated Shannon Elizabeth, which would have been even less surprising if not for her final-four run last year.
• Scott Fischman defeated Todd Brunson. Brunson joins Erik Seidel as the only players with lifetime 0-4 records now. It will be interesting to see if they get invited back a year from now without some major tournament success.
• Jamie Gold defeated Caesar's qualifier Tom Kelly with a shrewd move. He flashed an ace when he moved all-in, causing Kelly to call instantly with A-K. Jamie's kicker was a second ace, and the bullets held up. Nice hand, sir.
• Orel Hershiser defeated Ted Forrest. Shut up.
• Allen Cunningham defeated Chad Brown. He apparently didn't say much.
• Sam Grizzle defeated Jean-Robert Bellande, but apparently didn't get as animated as I'd hoped.
• Freddy Deeb defeated Paul Wasicka in around fifteen seconds, decimating Andrew Feldman's bracket.
• Huck Seed defeated Jason Alexander. Seed is another guy who's been remarkably successful in the event, with a lifetime record of 8-3 coming into 2008.
• Brian Townsend defeated David "The Dragon" Pham. Like fellow high stakes online player Dwan, he got in behind but found the cards needed for the win.
• Clonie Gowen defeated Jen Tilly. The celebrities went 1-4 in Round 1.
• Grinder Mizrachi defeated Daniel Negreanu. Neither could have been disappointed with the bracket, which had the winner facing the winner of the Gowen-Tilly match.
• Barry Greenstein defeated Howard Lederer. I liked this match for the ambassadors of the game both of these guys are.
• David Benyamine defeated Jen Harman to round out the old-school, high-stakes cash-game foursome.
• Doyle Brunson defeated Sam Farha. Word is that Doyle looked chipper and determined. Nice to have him back to his old self.
• Erick Lindgren defeated Eli Elezra in the longest match of the bracket.
ROUND OF 32
• Jon Little defeated Gabe Kaplan. Little was one of the most celebrated additions to the field in the online community. He has been one of the game's most successful crossover stories.
• Greg Raymer defeated Scott Clements. Raymer said before the event that he'd "either win or get eliminated on some horrible beat."
• Mike Matusow defeated Tom Dwan, gaining a measure of revenge for close friend Phil Hellmuth on the man who'd ousted the Brat from the tournament.
• Jesus Ferguson defeated Gavin Smith. I'll never understand why I ever pick against Jesus in this thing.
• Gus Hansen defeated Scotty Nguyen, keeping Feldman's bracket alive.
• Phil Laak defeated Jerry Yang, as expected by most pundits.
• Phil Ivey defeated Johnny Chan -- apparently Ivey was energized by the LAPC victory more than he was exhausted by it.
• TJ Cloutier defeated JC Tran, setting up another fantastic Ivey match in the round of 16.
• Andy Bloch defeated Vanessa Rousso, extending his lifetime record to 5-1.
• Scott Fischman defeated Jamie Gold, upping his career record to 9-3.
• Orel Hershiser defeated Allen Cunningham. Cunningham had as much as a 75K-5K chip lead at one point, but Hershiser, who's been seen playing a lot of poker at the Red Rock Inn in Vegas of late, made the comeback.
• Freddy Deeb defeated Sam Grizzle. Grizzle complained. No one was surprised.
• Huck Seed defeated Brian Townsend. That took Huck to 11-3 lifetime.
• Grinder Mizrachi defeated Clonie Gowen.
• David Benyamine defeated Barry Greenstein, making him the sole survivor from the aforementioned high stakes bracket of death.
• Doyle Brunson defeated Erick Lindgren, coming back from down 5-1 in chips.
ROUND OF 16
• Huck Seed defeated Grinder Mizrachi. Grinder got all-in with the dominant hand (A-9 to 9-6), but Seed got the needed six on the flop.
• Andy Bloch defeated Scott Fischman. Still, this made four cashes in four tries for Scott. Only Jesus Ferguson has matched the feat.
• Orel Hershiser defeated Freddy Deeb, shocking the poker world. As unlikely as 3-0 was from Orel, it seemed even more unlikely because of the route he took through Forrest, Cunningham and Deeb.
• Phil Ivey defeated JC Tran. It would be truly remarkable if Ivey won the LAPC and NHUPC back to back. With the win, he evened his lifetime record in the event at 3-3.
• Jon Little defeated Greg Raymer when he found pocket aces and got the former world champion all-in against them.
• David Benyamine defeated Doyle Brunson. Benyamine seems to be taking out the entire Big Game, now that he has beaten Brunson, Barry Greenstein and Jen Harman. His next opponent, Ferguson, isn't a participant.
• Gus Hansen defeated Phil Laak.
• Jesus Ferguson defeated Mike Matusow, ensuring a quieter day of play Sunday.
That leaves us with eight players. Here's how the round of eight shapes up:
Jonathan Little vs. Chris Ferguson
Gus Hansen vs. Phil Ivey
Andy Bloch vs. Orel Hershisher
Huck Seed vs. David Benyamine
If you're asking me to pick the winners, I'm saying Ferguson, Ivey, Bloch and Seed, but I've been wrong before. Just check out the beginning of this article for proof. Gotta love this tournament.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, Bluff magazine, worldseriesofpoker.com and other publications. His podcast, Wise Hand Poker Radio, can be heard at roundersradio.com and airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne