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'Jesus' prevails at the 2008 National Heads-Up Poker Championship

3 March 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – (PRESS RELEASE) -- After three days of intense game play at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Chris Ferguson defeated Andy Bloch in the final round and emerged as the 2008 National Heads-Up Poker Champion. In order to claim victory, Ferguson had to fight his way through a field of 63 other poker players, including not only the top professionals in the world, but also several skilled celebrities. He will collect 500,000 dollars out of the total 1.5 million dollar prize money for his win. In the best of three final, Bloch won the first game and Ferguson came back to take both the second and the third. In the semifinals, Andy Bloch defeated Huck Seed and Chris Ferguson beat Phil Ivey, who had just won 1.6 million dollars three days earlier at the L.A Poker Classic.

The two finalists are both highly educated, with Ferguson holding a Ph.D. in computer science from UCLA and Bloch holding two electrical engineering degrees from MIT and a JD from Harvard Law School. Bloch was part of the MIT Blackjack Team featured in the non-fiction book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. This is only Bloch's second time playing in the National Heads-Up Poker Championship (NHPC) – in 2007 he advanced to the quarterfinals before being defeated. Ferguson, on the other hand, has reached the finals in three out of the four NHPCs, but this is his first win, putting him first place in total money won with 1 million dollars.

The Championship was full of surprises from the beginning, with first round upsets including 2007 NHPC champion Paul Wasicka losing to Freddy Deeb; "Poker Brat" Phil Hellmuth going all in with pocket aces - and losing – against online poker phenomenon Tom Dwan on the third hand; and Shannon Elizabeth, the Cinderella story of last year's tournament, getting knocked out by Bloch. Other poker heavyweights eliminated in the first round were Howard Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, and 2007 NHPC runner-up Chad Brown.

The talk of the tournament came from perhaps the most unlikely of places – baseball legend Orel Hershiser. Hershiser stunned the crowd when, in true 'Bulldog' fashion, he simply outplayed his opponents and advanced to the quarterfinals. Left in his wake were five-time WSOP bracelet winner Ted Forrest, five-time WSOP winner Allen Cunningham and two-time WSOP bracelet winner Freddy Deeb. Just when it seemed he could not be beat, Hershiser was finally stopped by Bloch.

"This has truly been the best year ever for the National Heads-Up Poker Championship," offered Jon Miller, Executive VP of NBC Sports. "The players were better than ever, Orel Hershiser provided a great deal of excitement and buzz, we had a superb final four players and a genuinely exciting finale."

Celebrity participants included Jason Alexander, Don Cheadle, Jennifer Tilly and Shannon Elizabeth. Cheadle, Tilly and Elizabeth were all in last year's tournament, where Cheadle scored a massive upset of Phil Ivey, and Elizabeth advanced to the semi-finals. This year, they were all defeated in the first round.

The single-elimination competition began Friday morning, February 29 and continued through Sunday, March 2, when a best of three championship match determined the winner. The tournament was taped for broadcast and will air on NBC over six consecutive Sundays in April and May, beginning on April 13. New to the championship was model and television personality Leeann Tweeden, who served as the sideline reporter/interviewer.

The National Heads-Up Poker Championship features 64 poker players competing in a series of heads-up (one-on-one games of No Limit Texas Hold'em) matches to determine the best heads-up poker player in the world. This tournament has a unique, single-elimination, bracket-style format modeled after college basketball's championship tournament, except that the finals are the best of three. The brackets are set during the tournament's draw party held at PURE Nightclub the Thursday before the Championship begins.

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