The first round of the National Heads-Up Poker Championship kicked off on Friday. The upset of the evening went to “High Stakes Poker” host Gabe Kaplan, who defeated reigning champion Chris Ferguson. The Full Tilt Poker pro had reached the finals in three of the four years the tournament had been held and boasted an amazing 16-3 record.
Kaplan, who serves as the host of the popular ring game show on GSN along with A.J. Benza, will square off against 2008 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Europe Main Event winner John Juanda on Saturday in the round of 32. The winner of their match will take on the winner of Ilari Sahamies against Bertrand “Elky” Grospellier. The latter took down the World Poker Tour (WPT) Festa al Lago last October for $1.4 million. He’s one of three poker players ever to win WPT and European Poker Tour (EPT) titles (Roland de Wolfe and Gavin Griffin are the other two). Sahamies made his “High Stakes Poker” debut along with fellow young gun Tom “durrrr” Dwan last Sunday.
Actor Don Cheadle defeated David “The Dragon” Pham in the opening round and will move onto face 2006 WSOP Main Event runner up Paul Wasicka. The second place finish three years ago earned Wasicka $6.1 million. Cheadle, along with Annie Duke, serves as the front man for Ante Up for Africa. A $5,000 buy-in charity tournament benefiting Cheadle’s organization will once again occur during the WSOP festivities this year and kicks off on July 2nd.
First round action at Caesars Palace in the National Heads-Up Poker Championship’s Clubs bracket included five-time bracelet winner Phil Ivey defeating Jennifer Tilly. Ivey now faces Go Daddy Girl Vanessa Rousso, who bested the legendary Doyle Brunson heads-up. In a battle of eccentric poker players, 2008 HORSE Championship winner Scotty Nguyen defeated Hevad Khan in the first round on Friday. Nguyen will now battle Ted Forrest, who is fresh off a win over former Major League Baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser. In the same bracket, Daniel Negreanu will face Dario Minieri in the round of 32.
In the spades bracket, which also includes Juanda against Kaplan and Grospellier against Sahamies, Jeffrey Ishbia will face off against Ultimate Bet icon Phil Hellmuth. “The Poker Brat” holds the record for most number of bracelets at 11. He recently saw his mark for the youngest WSOP Main Event winner ever shattered by Peter Eastgate. Hellmuth was 24 years-old; Eastgate was just 22 when he won the marquee tournament in November. Dwan showed that his heads-up skills are second to none, defeating Gavin Griffin in the first round and setting up a Saturday showdown with Barry Greenstein. Ironically, the two were seated next to each other during the most recent installment of “High Stakes Poker.”
Here is a rundown of the matches for Saturday, separated by bracket:
Don Cheadle versus Paul Wasicka
Phil Ivey versus Vanessa Rousso
Scotty Nguyen versus Ted Forrest
Daniel Negreanu versus Dario Minieri
Gabe Kaplan versus John Juanda
Ilari Sahamies versus Bertrand “Elky” Grospellier
Jeffrey Ishbia versus Phil Hellmuth
Tom “durrrr” Dwan versus Barry Greenstein
Eli Elezra versus Erick Lindgren
David Williams versus Scott Fischman
John “The Razor” Phan versus Jerry Yang
Sam Farha versus Peter Eastgate
Kenny Tran versus Jennifer Harman
Phil Laak versus David Oppenheim
Gus Hansen versus Huck Seed
Glen Chorny versus Brad Garrett
Garrett defeated “Celebrity Apprentice” candidate Annie Duke in the first round and is now 1-0 in National Heads-Up Poker Championship play. The “Everybody Loves Raymond” star will have his work cut out for him in the second round, where he’s slated to face off against Glen Chorny, the reigning EPT Monte Carlo Grand Final Champion. In April of 2008, Chorny defeated Dénes Kaló in Monaco to take home over $3 million.
The second and third rounds will occur on Saturday. The Hearts’ and Diamonds’ second round matches will begin at 1:30pm Pacific Time. Clubs’ and Spades’ heads-up battles will kick off at 4:00pm PT. The Hearts and Diamonds survivors will return to the felts at 7:00pm PT, two and a half hours prior to the round of 16 in the Clubs and Spades brackets. A champion will be crowned on Sunday.