Caesars to host ‘heads-up’ poker tourney

Oct 24, 2005 3:08 AM

Harrah’s Entertainment last week announced that "The National Heads-Up Poker Championship," which brings together 64 of the world’s best players competing in a bracket-style format, will move to Caesars Palace starting in 2006.

NBC will broadcast 10 hours of tournament action over six shows next April and May.

The inaugural edition of the tournament generated solid ratings on NBC and a strong buzz in the poker community.

This season’s event, featuring a total purse of $1.5 million, including a top prize of $500,000, will be contested March 3-5 in the casino at Caesars Palace.

The first-ever "National Heads-Up Poker Championship" was held at the Golden Nugget and generated big crowds at the casino plus an average of four million home television viewers for each of six telecasts (eight total hours) on NBC.

Television audiences grew as the tournament progressed, with a total audience of six million watching the finale on May 22, when Phil Hellmuth bested Chris Ferguson in the two-hour telecast.

"This is a terrific addition to our portfolio of sports ventures," said Jeffrey Pollack, vice president of sports and entertainment marketing for Harrah’s Entertainment. "We’re thrilled Caesars Palace has joined with NBC Sports to showcase this increasingly popular event in Caesars’ new poker room."

The 2006 TV coverage will be expanded to 10 hours over six shows to be telecast on Sundays in April and May.

Hellmuth will defend his title against many of the game’s most prominent players, with the field expected to include legendary Hall of Famers Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, plus established stars such as Howard Lederer and 2003 Player of the Year, Erick Lindgren.

Other top names expected to compete include 2005 Poker Superstars champion Gus Hansen; 2003 World Series of Poker champion Chris Moneymaker; 2004 Player of the Year Daniel Negreanu; 2004 World Series of Poker champion Greg Raymer; and 2005 and National Heads-Up Poker Championship semifinalists Antonio Esfandiari and T.J. Cloutier.

"This event has special qualities that have enabled it to rise in the poker landscape and establish a uniqueness that the public can embrace," said Jon Miller, senior vice president of NBC Sports, which created the event. "The head-to-head confrontation between players, who are now legitimate stars, provides compelling competition for players and makes for entertaining television."

A blind draw will put the poker players into college basketball tournament-like brackets that, because of the quality of the invitational field, produce attractive match-ups between some of the best players in the world.

Tournament officials will conduct the draw at Caesars Palace on Thursday, March 2, as part of a media event to be attended by the 64-player field.

"All the top players were excited last year when the ”˜National Heads-Up Poker Championship’ was announced," said Hellmuth, the youngest player to ever win the World Series of Poker Main championship (24 years old in 1989). "Then the event exceeded our expectations. This is the type of big-time stage that will enhance poker’s position as a mainstream institution for decades to come."