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Gaming Guru

Jeff Haney
 

Jeff Haney previews the National Heads-Up Poker Championship and its satellite lead-in

16 January 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Nearly all of the 64 slots in the fourth National Heads-Up Poker Championship at Caesars Palace will be filled by big-name poker pros, with a smattering of celebrity types rounding out the field.

The heads-up tournament, to take place Feb. 28 through March 2, has emerged as one of the most prestigious even decadent stops on poker's calendar.

Last year's event, for example, featured a bracket-drawing party at Pure nightclub and head-to-head side wagers among participants for nights of lap dances and pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes.

The tournament is taped for a series of broadcasts on NBC and CNBC.

Although entry to the tournament is almost exclusively by invitation, Caesars will award one seat, worth $20,000, in a live satellite event scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Caesars poker tournament room.

(All participants, invitees included, fork over $20,000 to enter.)

The total cost to enter the satellite or qualifying tournament is $540: technically a $500 buy-in that goes to the prize pool and a $40 entry fee that goes to the casino.

The betting and payout structures for the satellite are player-friendly.

The format is a traditional no-limit Texas hold 'em tournament not a heads-up, bracket-style event. Players start with $7,500 in tournament chips. The blinds start at $25-$50 and increase every 50 minutes.

If the satellite draws up to 129 players, the winner will receive the $20,000 seat and $1,000 in cash. The remaining prize pool is awarded to other top finishers according to a formula based on the number of entrants. For example, if 45 to 69 players enter, the runner-up wins the remainder of the prize pool in cash. If 70 to 79 players enter, 60 percent of the remainder of the prize pool goes to the runner-up and 40 percent to the third-place finisher, and so on.

For 130 to 250 players, the winner earns the heads-up entry and 36 percent of the remaining prize pool, and nine players are paid.

For more than 250 players, the winner earns the heads-up entry and 33 percent of the remaining prize pool, and 18 players are paid.

Registration for the satellite officially begins at 9 a.m. Feb. 17, and 3 percent of the prize pool is withheld for the poker room staff.

Daily single-table satellites for spots in the $540 satellite are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Feb. 1, with a format to be announced.

Last year, Marco Traniello won his way into the heads-up field of 64 through a satellite that had a slightly different format.

Traniello, husband of high-stakes poker star Jennifer Harman, outlasted a field of 70 entrants in a satellite that cost $230 to enter but allowed rebuys.

Traniello won $2,500 in cash along with the tournament entry but lost to Humberto Brenes in the first round.

Paul Wasicka won last year's heads-up tournament at Caesars, beating Chad Brown in the best-of-3 final round to earn the top prize of $500,000.

Ted Forrest won the 2006 heads-up tournament at Caesars, beating Chris Ferguson in the finals for the top prize of $500,000.

In the 2005 heads-up tournament at the Golden Nugget, Phil Hellmuth beat Ferguson in the finals for the top prize of $500,000.