Las Vegas Sun

March 28, 2017

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The Inside Straight:

Jeff Haney on the odds on top players in the upcoming Heads-Up Poker Championship

Coming off his victory in last year’s 64-player field, Paul Wasicka will enter the fourth National Heads-Up Poker Championship as one of the favorites.

To win the $500,000 top prize again this weekend at Caesars Palace, Wasicka will have to outlast another tough field of top “live game” players, Internet poker stars and celebrity invitees.

The bracket-style tournament, which carries a $20,000 entry fee, takes place Friday through Sunday after a pairings draw Thursday at Caesars. It’s single elimination except for the final, which is best-of-three.

Viewing is free on a first-come, first-served basis. The tournament is taped for a spring airing on NBC (Cox cable channel 3).

There is no sanctioned betting on the tournament’s outcome, although there traditionally has been a lively market in creative man-to-man (or woman) wagering.

The following is a list of our (for amusement only) opening odds to win the tournament, based on a “theoretical hold,” or house edge, of 25 percent:

Chris Ferguson, 22-1: The runner-up in the 2005 and 2006 tournaments, he studied heads-up no-limit Texas hold ’em poker while earning a doctorate in computer science at UCLA.

Barry Greenstein, 23-1: His No. 1 quality necessary for achieving success in tournament poker? “Entering lots of tournaments.”

Allen Cunningham, 23-1: Finished fourth in the 2006 World Series of Poker main event, although some handicappers had him as the favorite at the final table.

Andy Bloch, 24-1: Played on the MIT blackjack card-counting team, and later compared the two books about the team’s Las Vegas exploits, unfavorably, to James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces.”

Paul Wasicka, 25-1: The defending champ won $6 million for placing second in the 2006 World Series of Poker main event; has many interests outside of poker, including golf and skiing.

Phil Hellmuth, 25-1: The 2005 heads-up champ. His official NBC Sports bio for the tournament touts him as “the game’s best self-promoter.”

Phil Ivey, 25-1: An underachiever in the heads-up event, with three first-round eliminations including a loss to actor Don Cheadle last year.

Ted Forrest, 27-1: His 2006 heads-up tournament title was a confidence-builder, coming shortly after a disastrous run playing in a heads-up cash game against Texas billionaire Andy Beal.

Howard Lederer, 31-1: A Grateful Dead purist, he attended more than 125 Dead shows — but none of the concerts performed by various surviving members of the band after the death of Jerry Garcia.

Daniel Negreanu, 31-1: A fantasy hockey enthusiast, he owns three World Series bracelets and two World Poker Tour titles.

Huck Seed, 32-1: Once won a $10,000 bet with Lederer that he could do a standing back flip, according to Cigar Aficionado magazine.

Todd Brunson, 33-1: Has been growing a ponytail for 15 years, but would consider cutting it off for $10,000.

Doyle Brunson, 33-1: Still one of the favorites in the field at age 74.

Daniel Schreiber, 35-1: Won the 2007 World Series of Poker Heads-Up event at the Rio, which with 391 entrants is the largest heads-up competition to date.

Chad Brown, 35-1: Runner-up to Wasicka last year at Caesars.

Johnny Chan, 35-1: His 10 World Series bracelets are tied with Brunson for second all-time behind Hellmuth (11).

Jonathan Little, 40-1: The 23-year-old won the World Poker Tour’s Mirage Poker Showdown last year.

Tom Dwan, 40-1: One of the game’s best Internet players, his online handle is “durrr.”

Bill Edler, 40-1: A veteran tournament pro who also holds a law degree from Cal-Berkeley, he won a heads-up tournament last year at the Crystal Park Casino in Compton, Calif.

Scott Clements, 40-1: Has won two World Poker Tour titles and two World Series bracelets, all since 2006.

David Singer, 45-1: The only player to make the final table in both the 2006 and 2007 $50,000-entry HORSE tournament at the World Series of Poker, finishing sixth each time.

Tom Schneider, 50-1: The only player to win two bracelets at last year’s World Series.

Erik Seidel, 50-1: Respected tournament pro has been a disappointment in the heads-up tournament, with three first-round exits.

J.C. Tran, 50-1: Has plenty of live tournament success (yes, he does enter a lot of tourneys), but lost to Chan in Round 1 last year in his National Heads-Up tourney debut.

Brian Townsend, 50-1: An online pro with a huge Internet following, has also competed on the popular show “High Stakes Poker” on GSN.

Greg Raymer, 50-1: The 2004 World Series champion prides himself on being an ambassador for the game.

Erick Lindgren, 50-1: “E-Dog” also likes to gamble high on the golf courses of Las Vegas.

Patrik Antonius, 50-1: The former male model from Helsinki, Finland, is respected for his short-handed cash game skills.

T.J. Cloutier, 54-1: Lost to Ferguson in the 2005 semifinals and advanced to Round 3 in 2006 and 2007.

Each 60-1: Freddy Deeb, Antonio Esfandiari, Scott Fischman, Joe Hachem, John Juanda, Phil Laak, Mike Matusow, Scotty Nguyen, David Pham, Gavin Smith, Kenny Tran, David Williams.

• Smith lost to Brown in last year’s semifinals.

• Esfandiari lost to Hellmuth in the 2005 semifinals.

• Deeb won the 2007 $50,000-entry HORSE tournament at the World Series.

Each 63-1: David Benyamine, Sam Farha, Jennifer Harman,Gabe Kaplan, Michael Mizrachi.

• The erstwhile Mr. Kotter has some serious heads-up experience. In 1980, he challenged 1978 World Series champ Bobby Baldwin and 1979 champ Hal Fowler to $200,000 freeze-outs, and won both.

Each 75-1: Annie Duke, Jamie Gold, Gus Hansen.

• Like Antonius, Hansen resides in Monte Carlo.

Field (all others), 4-1 combined: Jason Alexander, Jean-Robert Bellande, Cheadle, Eli Elezra, Shannon Elizabeth, Clonie Gowen, Sam Grizzle, Orel Hershiser, Tom Kelly, Chris Moneymaker, Hooman Nikzad, Vanessa Rousso, Jennifer Tilly, Jerry Yang.

• Elizabeth advanced to the semifinals last year before losing to Wasicka.

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