- Bernard Lee, ESPN Poker
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In my last column, the 64-player field for the mock 2012 National Heads-Up Championship was selected. After a random draw, the matchups were determined and broken up into the four brackets: Clubs, Spades, Hearts and Diamonds. Here are the results of the Clubs Bracket.
Jennifer Harman versus Doyle Brunson
The patriarch of poker has made deep runs in this event over the past couple of years. However, the draw has been kind, as he has faced Don Cheadle in the second round in 2010 and Jennifer Tilly in the first round in 2011. He had no such luck in 2012, facing the only woman to hold two open WSOP bracelets, Jennifer Harman. After some early jabs back and forth, Harman gets the better of Texas Dolly when her pocket 7s hit a set on the turn versus Doyle's Kd-Js after a Ks-9c-3d flop.
Patrik Antonius versus Brad Garrett
This match was definitely a contrast in styles -- the quiet, deliberate poker pro against the entertaining, animated actor. Although Antonius was the clear favorite, he has not fared well in this tournament over the years. Having played four of the past five years, he has made it out of the first round only once (2011 into the second round) and lost to Gabe Kaplan in 2008. His unsuccessful run continued as Garrett plays up the "Beauty and the Beast" theme. The first major upset of the tournament occurred when Antonius gets it all-in after the flop with Kd-Jd versus Garrett's Qs-10d on a 10s-9d-4d board. After the turn (3s) and river (3c), the self-proclaimed "Beast" upset the "Beauty" to move onto the second round.
Bertrand Grospellier versus David Williams
This first-round match was a battle of two established poker pros who are masters of games off the felt -- Grospellier for "Starcraft" and Williams for Magic: The Gathering. Nevertheless, the bright haired "ElkY" outmaneuvers Williams for most of the match. Eventually, a short-stacked Williams shoves Qs-Jc into ElkY's 4d-4c and loses the race.
Barry Greenstein versus Gavin Smith
Greenstein has played in every NHUPC and is undefeated in the first round (7-0). Although Smith had a semifinal finish in 2007, he has lost in the first round three of the six years he has played. Slowly chipping away at Smith, Greenstein captured the match when his top pair, top kicker (As-10h on a 10d-8c-2s-7d-2c board) held versus Smith's busted flush and straight draws (Kd-9d).
Antonio Esfandiari versus Michael Mizrachi
Phil Laak versus Tom Dwan
Esfandiari was looking forward to a second-round match with his buddy Phil Laak. A perfect television matchup, both players were chatting to each other throughout their respective matches. Unfortunately, Esfandari and Laak may have been looking too far ahead as they seemed to be paying more attention to the other's match than their own. Mizrachi picks off a big bluff an hour into the match and finishes off the Magician when his Jh-9d outflops Esfandiari's Ks-Qc. Conversely, Dwan pulls off a huge semi-bluff on Laak, capturing a 3:1 chip lead in the process. In the end, Laak pushed his short stack in with Qh-9h on a Qs-6h-3s-8h board, but Dwan, holding 8d-6d, and his two pair sealed Laak's fate after a blank on the river.
Winners: Mizrachi and Dwan
Allen Cunningham versus Phil Ivey
The original poker crew consisted of four superstars of poker, and amazingly, they all faced off against each other in the first round of this year's event. (Daniel Negreanu and John Juanda played in the Spades Bracket.) After an extended absence from the poker world, Ivey has re-emerged and wants to get back on top. This first-round battle was anti-climatic as Ivey's Kh-Kd coolered Cunningham's Qh-Qc in the second level.
Andrew Robl versus Scott Seiver
Seiver, a first-time participant in the NHUPC, wanted to make his mark but earned a tough draw facing 2011 semifinalist Andrew Robl. Looking relaxed, Robl defeated Seiver thanks to one key hand midway through the match where he picked off Seiver's semi-bluff for a good portion of the chips in play.
Jennifer Harman versus Brad Garrett
The "Beauty and the Beast" theme continued for the actor as Garrett rode a wave of goodwill from the adoring audience. Harman's frustrations in this event continued, as once again she failed to make it out of the second round. She got it all-in at a great spot holding Kh-Kd against Garrett's 9s-9h on a rainbow flop (8s-5d-2c), but the 9d on the turn ended Harmon's tournament. An almost apologetic Garrett shook Harman's hand and surprisingly made it through to the third round - the first amateur to do so since Orel Hershiser in 2008.
Bertrand Grospellier versus Barry Greenstein
Since his semifinal run in 2009, ElkY has a record of 1-2. Greenstein used a slow-and-steady approach, which has allowed him get to the third round four of the seven years he has participated. This year was no exception. ElkY tried an ill-timed bluff, and Greenstein moves on.
Michael Mizrachi versus Tom Dwan
This was one of the most highly anticipated matchups in the event. After Dwan built an early lead, Grinder held true to his nickname and battled back with a combination of timely all-ins and great cards. After 100 hard-fought minutes, Grinder finally called Dwan's all-in with As-Jc and was ahead of the short-stacked Dwan, who held Ks-Js. The board ran clean, and Grinder made it to the third round for the fourth time.
Phil Ivey versus Andrew Robl
Since this event started in 2005, only two semifinalists from the previous year have made it past the second round: T.J. Cloutier (to the third round in 2006) and Huck Seed (2009 champion). Unfortunately for Robl, he could not buck this trend. Ivey thrilled the audience as he beat the 25-year-old holding 10s-10h to Robl's Ac-7c.
Brad Garrett versus Barry Greenstein
The cameras were buzzing around Garrett, who seemed relaxed as he enjoyed the moment. To parallel Greenstein's autographed book tradition for when he's eliminated in tournaments, Garrett brought a DVD box set of "Everyone Loves Raymond." Garrett seemed omniscient as his magical run came to an end at the hands of the wily veteran, as the actor could not get any cards during the match. Garrett signed the DVD set: "To Robin Hood, Thanks for 'stealing' my once-in-a-lifetime chance to shock the poker world."
Michael Mizrachi versus Phil Ivey
Both poker superstars headlined their respective WSOP November Nines. Both players have multiple WSOP bracelets and a WPT title. However, neither has a National Heads-Up Championship. The two came out of the gates extremely aggressive. Early in the match, Ivey lost a quarter of his chips chasing a draw, but he slowly battled back. Later on, Ivey made a nice call with Ks-8c on a Jd-8s-6s-6d-2c versus Grinder's 7s-7c to take a huge chip lead and eventually the win.
Barry Greenstein versus Phil Ivey
Not many people know Ivey better than his good friend Greenstein. However, personal knowledge about Ivey doesn't make him an easy opponent on the felt. Ivey seemed to be extremely focused as he dismantled Greenstein in only 25 minutes. After a couple of solid jabs, Ivey flopped straight and flush draws with his 8d-6d on a 9c-7d-2d board. After an innocuous 3s on the turn, Greenstein (holding 10d-9d) would call an all-in after the 10s fell on the river, advancing Ivey into the Final Four.
Ivey will face the winner of the Spades Bracket in the Final Four.
Bernard Lee plays out the matches in the Clubs Bracket of the mock 2012 National Heads-Up Poker Championship