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In a final matchup that seemed more like something we'd see in 2005 than 2013, Mike Matusow defeated Phil Hellmuth to win the 2013 National Heads-Up Poker Championship. The victory was Matusow's first since 2010 and his largest score since his appearance at the WSOP main event final table in 2005. He defeated Michael Mizrachi, Viktor Blom, Barry Greenstein, John Hennigan, Scott Seiver and Hellmuth in the best-of-three finale to win the title and $750,000.
"And god [sic] said let the cards break even and they did. Thanks to all my supporters and fans was such a great win #lovinglife," said Matusow on Twitter after his victory.
Hellmuth made his way to the finals for the second time in his career with victories over Mike Sexton, Justin Smith, David Sands, Eugene Katchalov and Joe Serock. But the best-of-three finals proved to be a different challenge. Matusow won the first match in just over an hour as his A-Q outflopped Hellmuth's 5-5. Hellmuth evened the score after a 90-minute second match, which featured Hellmuth hitting an ace with A-K against Matusow's K-K and then a 10-10 over 2-2 final hand.
The third match lasted only 25 minutes. On the final hand, Hellmuth, who was trailing nearly 2:1 in chips, tanked on a board of Kd-Js-2d-6s before moving all-in with Ks-10h. Matusow debated his options, then finally called with only a flush draw holding 8d-4d. With everyone in attendance standing, the river Qd completed Matusow's flush and a successful return to the NHUPC.
Interestingly enough, when the two players reached the finals, there was a sharp divide among the conversation on Twitter. While many fans were excited about the finale that featured two of the game's most outspoken players, others were disappointed and knocked the finalists, saying the younger generation of players had failed in this event. Looking at the big picture and relating to something often discussed on the Poker Edge, this matchup could be good for the game. There have been only a handful of new stars created since the poker boom's peak in 2005. Since that time, the industry has simply lost viewers and interest. Having Matusow and Hellmuth in the finals may (not saying will, but may) spark interest among those who enjoyed watching them in the past and encourage them to give the game another shot.
The casual poker fan isn't a member of 2+2, the poker forum (twoplustwo.com), and probably thinks about poker only a few times during the year. Part of the biggest challenge in the industry is to find names and faces that fans can constantly relate to. You can't handpick the players at the WSOP main event final table, and if people don't get attached to a storyline or a player, they may not continue to watch. This event creates a unique opportunity and featured not only a good portion of the top players in the game right now, but the players that drove eyeballs in the past. I've been privileged to observe a number of focus groups regarding poker on television and my biggest takeaway is that the groups don't refer to the people at the table as "players" but "characters." In my opinion, this finale had the "characters" and was exactly what the industry needed.
Here's a look at the results of the 2013 National Heads-Up Poker Championship:
1. Mike Matusow ($750,000)
2. Phil Hellmuth ($300,000)
T-3. Scott Seiver, Joe Serock ($100,000)
T-5. Eugene Katchalov, Brian Hastings, John Hennigan, Daniel Cates ($50,000)
T-9. David Sands, Dan Smith, Tom Dwan, Joseph Cheong, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Phil Ivey, Vanessa Rousso ($25,000)
The completed bracket can be found here. The event will be televised this March on NBC.
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