The brat’s back!

Feb 27, 2006 2:08 AM

A field of 64 elite poker players — arguably the best group ever assembled — converges on Las Vegas, Friday through Monday, as the 2nd National Heads-Up Poker Championship brings its March Madness style to the Caesars Palace Poker Room.

Defending champion Phil Hellmuth, 2005 runner-up Chris Ferguson and Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, Howard Lederer, Barry Greenstein, Chris Moneymaker, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Gus Hansen, Chip Reese and Annie Duke, are among the top players who will compete in the event.

The single-elimination competition — similar to the 64-team, March Madness college basketball tournament — begins Saturday morning and continues through Monday, when a two-out-of-three championship match will determine the winner. The tournament will be taped for broadcast on NBC over six consecutive Sundays in April and May.

"The National Heads-Up is unique in a couple of ways," offers Jon Miller, Sr. VP programming for NBC Sports. "The field of 64 enables us to bring in virtually all of the top players. Then, they are on the verge of elimination throughout the tournament because of the one-on-one format. Fortunately, most of these players like the pressure."

Defending champ Phil Hellmuth is well-known for facing challenges.

"My chances of repeating are realistic," offers Hellmuth, the poker provocateur whose goal is to be considered the best player of all time. "Great players, to be sure, but all I have to do is win six times. Certainly, there can be no doubt that I am the pre-tournament favorite."

The field includes three slots to be filled by the winners of two Caesars Palace Poker Room competitions and a tournament at the event website, www.nbcheadsup.com.

The field, in alphabetical order, follows:

Angelil, Rene

Arieh, Josh

Berman, Lyle

Brown, Chad

Brunson, Doyle

Brunson, Todd

Buss, Jerry

Caro, Mike

Chan, Johnny

Chesnoff, David

Cloutier, T.J.

Cunningham, Allan

Deeb, Kassem "Freddy"

Duke, Annie

Elezra, Eli

Esfandiari, Antonio

Farha, Sam

Ferguson, Chris

Fischman, Scott

Flack, Layne

Forrest, Ted

Greenstein, Barry

Grey, David

Guoga, Antanas

Hansen, Gus

Harrington, Dan

Harman, Jennifer

Hellmuth, Phil

Ivey, Phil

Juanda, John

Laak, Phil

Lederer, Howard

Lee, Tuan

Lindgren, Erick

Luong, Dee

Matusow, Mike

Mc Manus, James

Mizrachi, Michael

Moneymaker, Chris

Mortensen, Carlos

Negreanu, Daniel

Ng Evelyn

Nguyen, Men

Nguyen, Scotty

Oppenheim, David

Phillips, Paul

Raymer, Greg

Reese, Chip

Seed, Huck

Seidel, Erik

Seif, Mark

Sexton, Mike

Sheiky, Sean

Shulman, Barry

Shulman, Jeff

Smith, Gavin

Tilly, Jennifer

Vahedi, Amir

Violette, Cyndy

Williams, David

Woods, James

www.nbcheadsup