Elite Eight Set For 2013 NHUPC, Phil Hellmuth In Contention For Repeat Championship

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After two days of battle amongst the 64 players chosen for the event, the “Elite Eight” have been determined at the 2013 National Heads Up Poker Championship at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The first-ever winner of the tournament in 2005, Phil Hellmuth, is still in contention to once again make poker history as the only two-time winner of the event.

Spades & Clubs Brackets

One half of the 32 players remaining in the tournament took their seats at 2PM (Pacific Time) in the Caesars tournament hall, looking to work their way down to the final four players from the Spades and Clubs brackets. Unlike Thursday’s play, where the contestants were a bit more jovial, Friday’s action was more serious as the winners of the second round matches were guaranteed to get their buy in back (the top 16 players will be paid, with those losing in the third round to receive $25,000).

Barely ten minutes into play, the first elimination occurred of Friday’s play. Dan Cates was able to hit a set of Queens against Chris Moorman (who had made two pair) and the duo got the chips to the center. Cates’ Queens were able to survive, ensuring him a slot in the third round.

After only forty minutes of play, Moorman had company on the rail. Phil Ivey (holding an A-Q) outpipped Justin Bonomo’s A-J to earn his spot in the “Sweet Sixteen,” while John Monnette chose the wrong time to attack against Barry Greenstein. Monnette, holding pocket fours, pushed all in against Greenstein, who unveiled pocket Aces. Once the board failed to bring any miracles, Monnette was out and Greenstein was in the money. Finishing off the flurry, Vanessa Rousso made a better straight than Shaun Deeb to send Deeb packing.

Twenty minutes later, Mike Matusow defeated Viktor Blom and Scott Seiver ended the run of Kyle Julius, leaving only two more matches to determine the eight representatives from the Spades and Clubs brackets. John Hennigan was able to outlast Sam Simon and, in the longest of the matches from this side of the brackets, Antonio Esfandiari bumped Jonathan Duhamel from the tournament to set up these matches for later on Friday:

Spades Bracket

Mike Matusow vs. Barry Greenstein
Phil Ivey vs. John Hennigan

Clubs Bracket

Antonio Esfandiari vs. Dan Cates
Vanessa Rousso vs. Scott Seiver

Hearts & Diamonds Brackets

After a short break, the Hearts and Diamonds brackets took to the tables. Once again, in stark contrast to Thursday’s play, all sixteen competitors seemed much more serious about the game at hand. Over the course of the first hour of action, only Phil Hellmuth was able to punch his ticket when he knocked off Justin Smith.

Phil Galfond and Eugene Katchalov battled it out for more than an hour, with Katchalov holding the edge for the entirety of the match. It would come down to a stunning hand in which Galfond, holding Big Slick, pushed all in and was met with a call from Katchalov’s A-10. The 8-9-K flop looked innocent enough, but the Queen on the turn opened more outs for Katchalov. One of those came home when a Jack hit the river, giving Katchalov a runner-runner straight to eliminate Galfond from the event.

By the time the clock hit the hour and a half mark, all the matches were complete. Joe Serock eliminated the only other NHUPC champion in the field, Huck Seed, while Joseph Cheong ended the Cinderella dreams of WSOP.com qualifier Bruce Miller. Brian Hastings and Dan Smith quietly picked up victories, while David ‘Doc’ Sands defeated Chris Moneymaker and Tom Dwan stopped Doyle Brunson to set up the final eight from these brackets:

Hearts Bracket

Joseph Cheong vs. Eugene Katchalov
Phil Hellmuth vs. David Sands

Diamonds Bracket

Tom Dwan vs. Brian Hastings
Joe Serock vs. Dan Smith

Spades & Clubs Brackets – Round of 16

With the remaining players now guaranteed to at least get their money back, the action ramped up in the Round of 16. Fifteen minutes into “Sweet Sixteen” play, Phil Ivey would get John Hennigan to go to battle on a Q♦ 2♦ 2♥ flop. When the 7♥ came on the turn, all the chips went to the center and Hennigan was in a spot. His K♥ 10♥ was crushed by Ivey’s pocket Kings and left him only looking for a heart to save him. Sure enough, the 6♥ peeled off on the river to give Hennigan the hand and the knockout against Ivey. Moments after Ivey’s elimination, Vanessa Rousso’s attempt at another deep run in the NHUPC was derailed by Scott Seiver, while Mike Matusow vanquished Barry Greenstein.

The battle of the night in the Clubs bracket turned out to be the Esfandiari/Cates matchup. After moving out to a more than 5:1 lead, Cates saw Esfandiari slowly work the match back to even. Cates kept his composure and, after Esfandiari put on a move with a Q-8, called Esfandiari’s all in with pocket nines. The board didn’t bring a Queen for “The Magician” and, after a nine hit the turn, he was drawing dead and out of the tournament, allowing the next eight players to step to the felt.

All totaled, the Spades and Clubs brackets were only in action for about 50 minutes, by far the quickest series of matches yet in the tournament.

Hearts & Diamonds Brackets – Round of 16

Unlike their fellow combatants from the other two brackets, the Hearts and Diamonds players were a bit more deliberate in their actions. Although Eugene Katchalov would put a cooler on Joseph Cheong when he called Cheong’s all in move (pocket Jacks) with a devastating pair of Kings to eliminate him quickly, the other three matches wore on into the night.

After an hour of play, Brian Hastings was able to put away Tom Dwan, while the Sands/Hellmuth and Smith/Serock battles continued. Hellmuth, down to his last 53K, moved all in against Sands, who called with pocket nines, and the results will definitely be worth seeing when the NHUPC is broadcast this spring.

Sands would hit a nine on the flop to give him a commanding lead with his set, leaving Hellmuth drawing thin to two outs. A three on the turn gave him nothing, but the Caesars tournament room exploded when a Queen hit the river to give Hellmuth a better set and new life in the matchup. As the crowd calmed down after the dramatic hand, Joe Serock quietly eliminated Dan Smith to leave Sands and Hellmuth as the focus of attention.

The Sands/Hellmuth fight would last past midnight, with the lead switching back and forth. Sands would eke out a slim lead only to see Hellmuth come back to stake his claim to a slight edge. The final hand, much like the battle itself, would prove to provide a cap to arguably the most exciting match of the past two days.

Hellmuth moved all in (the only time he did it during the match) and Sands made the call. When the duo turned up their cards, they showed the same hands – K-Q, although Hellmuth’s were both hearts. What started out as looking like a split pot on the 10♥ Q♣ 3♦ flop took a turn on the J♥ fourth street. Both men held straights, but Hellmuth held the redraw with his potential heart flush. That potential became realized when the 4♥ came on the river, giving Hellmuth the last seat in the “Elite Eight” for the 2013 NHUPC.

Action is set to resume this afternoon at 2PM and the final eight men will play until there is only one left standing. The matchups are as follows:

Clubs Bracket

Dan Cates vs. Scott Seiver

Spades Bracket

Mike Matusow vs. John Hennigan

Hearts Bracket

Eugene Katchalov vs. Phil Hellmuth

Diamonds Bracket

Brian Hastings vs. Joe Serock

The winners of the Clubs and Spades brackets will square off in the semi-finals, with the victors in the Hearts and Diamonds draw providing the other two semi-finalists. The winners of those two matches will square off this evening in a best of three series to determine the champion of the 2013 National Heads Up Poker Championship, with that man walking off with the $750,000 first place prize.

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