Can Chris Ferguson rise again at NHUPC?

The Money Shot

Despite making the final three out of four years at the NBC National Heads-Up Championship, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson sounds less than confident heading into his title defense this weekend.

"I don't like my chances to repeat," he told PokerListings. "There are a lot of good players in the field. I love the event though. It's a great event."

With superstars like Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, 2008 runner-up Andy Bloch and just about every big name in poker on the 64-person roster, it's easy to see why the returning champ feels his chances of back-to-back wins are slim.

Last year, Ferguson waded his way through one of the toughest heads-up fields ever assembled, beating Ivey in the semifinals to meet Bloch in the best-of-three final.

The Team Full Tilt pros split the first two before Ferguson shoved with an overpair that held against Bloch's top pair and flush draw in the final hand of the decisive match.

With Hollywood types like Brad Garrett, Don Cheadle and baseball legend Orel Hershiser also playing this year, it would seem there are some soft spots in this made-for-TV event.

However, Hershiser actually made the quarterfinals last year, and Cheadle beat Ivey in their first-round matchup back in 2007.

"Heads-up is a different form of poker," Ferguson explained. "You have to play a lot more hands and you really have to size up your opponent and adapt your style."

Including Ferguson and Hellmuth, there are 12 WSOP Main Event champs in the field.

Add in online phenoms Tom "durrrr" Dwan and Ilari "Ziigmund" Sahamies, plus veteran poker stars like Barry Greenstein, Gus Hansen and Erik Seidel, and Ferguson has a lot to worry about.

"I'm not worried about any specific player in the field," he said. "It's that you've got to beat six of them to win."

The son of a game theory professor at UCLA, Ferguson has his own Ph.D. in computer science from the school, and considering recent history, still has to be the favorite to bank the $500k first-place prize.

"I've studied the heads-up game a lot and I've played a lot of heads-up online," he said. "It's an easier game to analyze mathematically and in terms of game theory and I think it rewards my background in math."

The brackets for the single elimination tournament will be set at a draw party at PURE Nightclub at Caesars Palace March 5, and the event goes off March 6-8 inside Caesars' poker room.

PokerListings will be on the scene providing breaking news and live coverage throughout.

Update: The draw party has now come and gone, and in its wake the players have been matched up as follows.

Clubs Bracket

Hearts Bracket

Don Cheadle vs. David Pham

Johnny Chan vs. Eli Elezra

Paul Wasicka vs. Nicholas Joy

Erick Lindgren vs. Howard Lederer

Jennifer Tilly vs. Phil Ivey

J.C. Tran vs. David Williams

Doyle Brunson vs. Vanessa Rousso

Jamie Gold vs. Scott Fischman

Hevad Khan vs. Scotty Nguyen

Erik Seidel vs. John Phan

Ted Forrest vs. Orel Hershiser

Jerry Yang vs. Clonie Gowen

Daniel Negreanu vs. Chris Moneymaker

Allen Cunningham vs. Sam Farha

Mike Matusow vs. Dario Minieri

Andy Bloch vs. Peter Eastgate

Spades Bracket

Diamonds Bracket

Gabe Kaplan vs. Chris Ferguson

Kenny Tran vs. Antonio Esfandiari

John Juanda vs. Joe Hachem

Greg Raymer vs. Jennifer Harman

Ilari Sahamies vs. Gavin Smith

Kenny Yeh vs. Phil Laak

Fred Collins vs. Bertrand Grospellier

Vanessa Selbst vs. Layne Flack

Jeffrey Ishbia vs. Leon Yanovski

David Benyamine vs. Gus Hansen

Mike Sexton vs. Phil Hellmuth

Huck Seed vs. Jonathan Little

Gavin Griffin vs. Tom Dwan

Chad Brown vs. Glen Chorny

Barry Greenstein vs. Blandino Gines

Annie Duke vs. Brad Garrett

The winning players from the Clubs and Spades brackets will face each other in the semifinal round, and the Hearts and Diamonds Bracket winners will play each other in the semifinal round.

(With files from Owen Laukkanen)



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