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Erik Seidel Wins 2011 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship

Adds to an Already Stellar Year on the Tournament Circuit

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Apr 29, 2011


The last 12 months have certainly been kind to Erik Seidel. After finishing second in the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship to good friend Annie Duke, he went on to make three World Series of Poker final tables and be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

When the new year began, Seidel started a remarkable two-month run that included six final tables, three wins, and nearly $4.5 million in tournament winnings. He won the biggest buy-in tournament ever held, a $250,000 slugfest in Australia, and then came back home to top a field of 64 players to take down the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, earning $750,000 in the process.

With that victory, Seidel jumped into the top spot on the all-time tournament earnings list with $14,697,297, moving ahead of Daniel Negreanu.
The eight-time WSOP bracelet winner is a most deserving champion, as he had to outlast an impressive field that featured some of the world’s best poker players en route to the title.

Making the Field

The field of 64 included a number of automatic qualifiers, such as Card Player 2010 Player of the Year Tom Marchese, and former champions Ted Forrest, Chris Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth, and Huck Seed; none of the former champs managed to get out of the first round. Duke was scheduled to defend her title, but was replaced at the last second after being unable to participate.

As always, a few celebrities were thrown into the mix to battle it out with the poker pros. Seinfeld star Jason Alexander made his return to the big stage but experienced the same result, losing his first match to Liv Boeree. Noted actor Don Cheadle made his fifth appearance in the tournament, but was taken out by Tom Dwan.

The only celebrity who was able to make it out of the first round was former NFL running back Emmitt Smith, who won a tight match against David Williams. Afterward, Smith spent a few hours under the tutelage of both Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Cates, hoping to get a leg up on his next opponent. Smith’s excited railbirds loudly cheered with every pot he won, but he couldn’t break through to make the money, falling in the second round to Andrew Robl.

Barry Greenstein wasn’t able to make the money, but he was able to win his first match, extending his streak to seven consecutive years that he has advanced to the round of 32. He sits in third place with 12 career victories despite never advancing past the “Elite Eight.”

Vanessa Selbst continued her recent hot streak, making the Elite Eight after defeating Eli Elezra, Peter Eastgate, and Phil Galfond before running into Seidel. Before her match with Seidel, she told host Leeann Tweeden that she was “drawing dead,” having no shot to beat the streaking Seidel. Her prediction was accurate.
The “Final Four”

Robl was actually a last-minute replacement, taking over for David Peat just hours before Peat’s first scheduled match. On his way to the Final Four, Robl bested Kara Scott, Smith, James Bord, and David Benyamine before falling to the eventual champion.
Over on the other side of the bracket, 2010 WSOP main-event winner Jonathan Duhamel made an impressive debut, defeating qualifier Melburn Whitmire, Antonio Esfandiari, and heads-up mastermind Olivier Busquet before losing to the surging Chris Moneymaker.
Moneymaker had one of the toughest roads to the Final Four, beating John Racener, high-stakes phenom Daniel Cates, poker legend Doyle Brunson, and cash-game beast David Oppenheim. Oppenheim took a one-year hiatus from the event, but was able to match his 2009 run to the Elite Eight.

For making his way into the finals against Seidel, Moneymaker picked up $300,000, the second-largest score of his career. The 2003 WSOP main-event winner already had gotten off to a solid start in 2011 by making a deep run in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event and banking $130,000.

The Finals

Seidel certainly did his part to spark the poker boom with his appearance in the movie Rounders, but he has a deep appreciation for what the Moneymaker boom did for the industry.

“I have such a great appreciation for Chris Moneymaker and what he’s done for poker,” he said. “Winning that tournament really sparked the poker boom, and I’m certainly grateful.”

Respect aside, Seidel wasn’t about to lie down to his opponent. Moneymaker fought hard, but was never able to get anything going, and his every move was countered with remarkable accuracy. Every hand was second best and every bluff was picked off. Although he fully admitted to getting his fair share of cards, Seidel recognized that he was able to take advantage of Moneymaker’s desire to push the action.

“In the first match, there’s no doubt that I had the best of the cards,” he said. “During the second match, he came back determined to be aggressive, and I think I was able to manage that well. There were a few spots where I was able to pick off some bluffs and really swing the momentum in my favor.”

On one such hand, Seidel raised from his button and Moneymaker three-bet from the big blind. Seidel called, and then called a continuation-bet on a flop of A♣ 10♥ 4♦. The turn was the 8♠, and Moneymaker fired once again. Seidel called, and the river was the 8♣. Moneymaker cut out a huge bet, and Seidel took his time before making the call with the A♥ 2♦. Moneymaker could show only jack high, and Seidel took a 4-1 chip lead.

The final hand of the tournament wasn’t much of a sweat. Moneymaker forced the rest of his stack in on a flop of 9♥ 5♣ 5♦, only to see Seidel wake up with trips while holding the 5♠ 4♥. Moneymaker and his K♦ 10♦ were drawing dead by the turn, and Seidel was able to hoist the trophy.

Although winning has become sort of old hat for Seidel, he was still unable to express how he felt after taking the title. “I don’t even know what to say,” he admitted. “It’s just amazing. To come in second last year and then come back to win it this year, it’s unbelievable. I’ve obviously been on an amazing run recently, so this kind of feels like icing on the cake.”

Final results were as follows:
1. Erik Seidel — $750,000
2. Chris Moneymaker — $300,000
T3. Andrew Robl — $125,000
T3. Jonathan Duhamel — $125,000
T5. David Benyamine — $75,000
T5. Vanessa Selbst — $75,000
T5. Olivier Busquet — $75,000
T5. David Oppenheim — $75,000
T9. Phil Gordon — $30,000
T9. Phil Galfond — $30,000
T9. Michael Mizrachi — $30,000
T9. James Bord — $30,000
T9. Jason Mercier — $30,000
T9. Eugene Katchalov — $30,000
T9. Ayaz Mahmood — $30,000
T9. Doyle Brunson — $30,000

Heads-Up Tips From the Pros

Heads-up poker is the purest and most exciting form of poker, and the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship provides many of the year’s marquee heads-up matches. Card Player picked the brains of some of the top players in this year’s field on what it takes to dominate in your next heads-up match.

Eli Elezra

I usually spend the first 15 minutes or so determining what type of player my opponent is. If the player turns out to be weak and passive, I don’t mind playing small-ball poker to grind him down. If the player is more aggressive, I will be making bigger bets with weaker hands, going for thin value. Furthermore, if you find that you are up against a much better player, there’s nothing wrong with coin flips. They greatly decrease your opponent’s edge.

Bertrand Grospellier

Never go into a heads-up match with a set game plan. That is the easiest way to lose. You really need to be able to adjust to what your opponent is doing, and try to make it tough on him to get any momentum. Depending on the structure, you can really make overaggressive players pay when you do make good hands. Sometimes, that means checking rivers to induce bluffs in spots where you know they won’t call a bet.

Olivier Busquet

You really need to open yourself up to more creativity when playing heads up. Your typical ring-game or tournament strategy won’t help you. In general, against unknown opponents, I advocate an aggressive strategy — not just preflop, but at the ends of hands, as well. Not enough players utilize the river bluff. Many are stuck semibluffing flops and turns and are too afraid to put in a big bet or raise when knowing they can’t improve their hands.

Michael Mizrachi

The biggest mistake beginners make is that they fail to realize what makes a good starting hand. Some players fall in love with small suited connectors, but those hands really go down in value in heads-up play, because you might not always be getting correct odds to draw on certain flops. Any ace and any pair are huge, but I would recommend playing them fast when you are out of position.

Faraz Jaka

Heads-up play is pretty much all about game flow. The math becomes much less important, so feel free to experiment with different approaches and lines with any particular hand. If your opponent is tight, you want your lines to be confusing. If your opponent is a calling station, you want to be more straightforward, letting him know that you are strong when you might not be. Confused players tend to call, so make sure that you have it in those spots.

Eugene Katchalov

First of all, you should be playing nearly all of your buttons. It doesn’t really matter what your cards are, since the majority of your hands won’t go to showdown. Understand that since you are up against only one other hand, you need to be better at assigning hand values and determining the true strength against the relative strength of your holdings.

Jonathan Duhamel

The most important thing is to be aggressive. Just remember one simple thing: Your opponent is getting just as many bad hands as you are. It’s the player who wins the hands where nobody has anything who usually comes out on top.

Barry Greenstein

Because you won’t be showing down your hands very often, position becomes much more important. You absolutely cannot start calling with bad hands when out of position. If your opponent opens for a raise from the button, you can’t always call with your ace-rag type of hands. You can fold or you can raise, but calling hurts you, because you won’t be hitting most flops and your opponent will most likely continuation-bet and force you to fold.

Tom Dwan

Players just aren’t aggressive enough. This isn’t a full table or even a six-handed table, so you really need to amp it up in this format. People know that hands as weak as middle or bottom pair have a lot more value, but they still play them weakly. Rather than call a player down, you might force a better hand to fold by taking the lead and applying some pressure, and you’ll get more value whenever you’re ahead. ♠

Past Winners

Some of poker’s most notable players have won the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship in its seven-year history; 2010 champion Annie Duke had only one match win under her belt before notching six straight to win it all; 2008 champion Chris Ferguson has reached the finals three different times; 2009 champion Huck Seed holds the record for most match wins with 18. Here are the event’s past winners:

Most Matches Won in the Tournament’s History

1. Huck Seed, 18; total amount won, $800,000
2. Chris Ferguson, 16; total amount won, $1,000,000
3. Barry Greenstein, 12; total amount won, $150,000
4. Erik Seidel, 11; total amount won, $1,000,000
4. Ted Forrest, 11; total amount won, $500,000
6. Paul Wasicka, 10; total amount won, $550,000
6. Phil Hellmuth, 10; total amount won, $575,000
6. Scott Fischman, 10; total amount won, $150,000