The old saying that poker can't be all about luck or there wouldn't be so many of the same faces at final tables holds true in the heads-up format as well. Freddy Deeb, to reserve his spot in the quarters. But he was clearly no match for the math and poker skills of MIT and Harvard Law grad Andy Bloch, bowing out rather unceremoniously.
Big-time cash game player Jonathan Little had about as good a year as anyone in poker in 2007. But despite rushing out to an early lead against Chris "Jesus" Ferguson in their match, he eventually got beat by the man NBC has dubbed the most prolific player in the history of the National Heads-Up Championship. Those previously mentioned two second-place finishes out of the first three years of this event were all the evidence needed to prove that, but it got better for Ferguson.
The marquee match-up of the great eight featured none other than recent LAPC champ and the most feared poker player in the world, Phil Ivey, against fellow Full Tilt pro and big-game regular Gus Hansen. The match began as a tight affair, but when Hansen pushed all-in facing an Ivey raise on a board full of hearts, he figured out what a lot of us already know: if you play back at him, Ivey always has it. This time Ivey had just the second nut flush, but he also had the Great Dane drawing dead on the turn and moved on to the semis with a shrug.
The semifinals set up looking like two solid match-ups, with Phil Ivey meeting Ferguson and Bloch matching up with Huck Seed. But while the Ivey-Ferguson match-up took up residency at the feature table on the NBC set, it did not do so for very long. Ferguson got out to a quick lead before making a hero call with eights when Ivey pushed in on a 9-5-4-3 board.
Phil's sixes needed help and when the river bricked, he was finally proven human, while Ferguson cemented his reputation as one of the best heads-up players on the planet, waltzing into the final for the third time in this heads-up event's four-year history.
The final would end up being a battle of game theorists as Andy Bloch built a chip lead on Huck Seed in the second semi, then got it in with ace-queen against Seed's pocket nines, waiting until the river before snapping off an ace and burying Huck.
With Ferguson's Ph.D. in computer science from UCLA and Bloch's two MIT engineering degrees and a Harvard Law degree, the heads-up final looked to be a meeting of great minds and it did not disappoint.
We were more than an hour into the extremely tight first match in the best-of-three final and Ferguson had built a lead before Bloch doubled, turning a flush against Ferguson's slow-played flopped set. Then just a few hands later Ferguson turned big slick into a loser, raising small enough to keep Bloch around before the flop, then hitting an ace and quickly finding out Bloch had flopped trips to take him down.
Bloch's luck would not continue in the second leg of the final, however, as Ferguson took a huge chip lead getting all-in with jacks and dodging Bloch's open-ended straight draw, before making quads a few hands later to book the win and send it to a decisive third and final heads-up match.
The death match to decide it all was the quickest of the three as Ferguson got out to an early lead before picking up jacks again in the hand that would end it all. By the turn he got all his chips in the middle with the jacks as an overpair and Bloch holding the re-draw with top pair and a flush draw. When the river gave both players a full house, Ferguson's was bigger and it was all over.
We started three days ago with 64 and few will argue that the best player didn't win. Chris Ferguson proved that two out of three ain't bad but a win in the fourth is a whole lot sweeter, getting the monkey off his back.
From the set of the 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, that's a wrap. Cut and print it.