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NBC's Poker Pairings Party Celebrates a Full House at Caesars

NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship Pairings Party

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Caesars Palace and NBC officially kicked-off the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship slated to begin on Saturday, March 4th, 2006 with an extraordinary affair on Friday. The much anticipated pairings party, sponsored by Gentleman's Quarterly magazine and Outback Steakhouse, had Caesars dishing up the cheer and edibles to several hundred guests.

Caesars poker room is located between Pure nightclub and the sports book, and the surrounding area is swarmed with hip-hoppers and sports fanatics. But, the red carpet walk by famous poker players like Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan gave cause for diehard club goers to lose their sacred place in the Friday-night line, just to catch a glimpse of a poker celebrity.

The high limit area was open only to VIPs and their guests, closely guarded by Herculean watchman, standing cross-armed and stationary, wearing breastplates and typical Roman attire (or the lack thereof). Beyond the sentries, celebrities and their guests could indulge in tasty hors d'oeuvres and beverages from an open bar, flowing with Hpnotiq based drinks.

After an hour of party favors and elbow rubbing, players and VIPs were directed into the feature room for the official pairings ceremony. The stands were chock full of spectators and along the ropes stood a squash of onlookers, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the live action. Even with the largest poker room in Las Vegas, including a separate tournament area, there was barely enough space to house the crush of fans who gathered to witness the hullabaloo. The entire presentation could also be observed by real-time telecast throughout the poker room and over the large screens in the sports book.

Caesars poker room director, Michael Matts exclaimed. "This is amazing. Look what's happened to poker! Who would have thought there would be such a turn out?" He added, "This is a tremendous opportunity for Caesars."

The draw party would establish which bracket each player would belong to by drawing names randomly from a drum. Sixty-four players were separated into four "brackets", or groups; Clubs, Spades, Hearts and Diamonds.

Jamie Horrowitz reminisced. "I can remember watching the draft party at the Golden Nugget last year, seeing the players fill out their brackets, seeing their enthusiasm, and thinking how exciting it was." He added. "I think much of what makes sports television compelling is 'storytelling.' And much of what makes poker good for television is that each hand is in itself a mini drama. And no part of poker lends itself to the dramatic stories more than heads-up poker." No part, except maybe the match-ups themselves.

Throughout the pairings of the Clubs brackets it was all kicks and giggles until Phil Hellmuth picked Chip Reese's name out of the drum. "This is going to be an interesting match." Said Hellmuth. Reese just grinned and allowed Hellmuth to steal the spotlight. Reese is known for playing his "A" game at all times and will prove to be a powerful competitor for the 2005 champion who returned to defend his title.

James Woods will compete among the Spades bracket and drew Scott Fischman for his first match. Apparently, Woods has been face-to-face with Fischman in the past. Woods began to rattle off inferior hands, from memory, that Fischman previously challenged him with. Fishman raised his eyebrows and laughed when Woods declared, "At least I know what I'm up against."

Midway through the Hearts bracket Daniel Negreanu was summoned to pick from the drum. He rolled his eyes and told the crowd, "You are not going to believe this." Negreanu had drawn, none other than Evelyn Ng, a long time friend and fellow Canadian. "I play Evelyn all the time on-line and I can't win a coin toss against her lately." He added, "This girl knows me better than I know myself."

The Diamonds bracket would consist of the remaining 16 players and Doyle Brunson had been keeping track. He propositioned any other bracket against his (the Hearts bracket) to a side bet of $100,000.00. Howard Lederer quickly accepted the bet adding yet another level of excitement to an already heady event, while increasing the $1.5 million prize pool.

Josh Lochner, a 21-year-old student at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, won the 2006 Heads-Up Poker Online Tournament and had just flown into Las Vegas. He was curious to learn more about whom he would be facing on Saturday, and possibly over the weekend. He clutched an early release of Card Player featuring bios and photos of fellow heads-up rivals. "This is unbelievable." Said Lochner. "I need to read up on these players and get an idea of who I'm up against."

Single-elimination competition begins Saturday morning with the champion to be crowned Monday as the culmination of a high-energy weekend of non-stop, one-on-one Texas Hold'em confrontations.

GQ's style correspondent, Brett Fahlgren, will be on hand at a NYNE Boutique to help poker players choose NYNE clothes to wear and keep.

On Friday, March 3rd, CNBC began airing the series at 8PM ET and 11PM ET. Catch an encore of Season 1 of the National Heads-Up Poker Championship, held in 2005 at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.

Click this link for the complete line up of all 64 players, their brackets and match-ups, and follow the events live by clicking on CardPlayer.com's front page marquee featuring the 2006 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship.

The following brackets are scheduled to play on Saturday, March 4, at these times:

Spades - 11 a.m. PST.
Hearts - 12:40 p.m. PST
Diamonds - 3:30 p.m. PST
Clubs - 5:10 p.m. PST