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Can Chris Ferguson rise again at NHUPC?
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.
"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.
Don Cheadle vs. David Pham
Paul Wasicka vs. Nicholas Joy
Jennifer Tilly vs. Phil Ivey
Erik Seidel vs. John Phan
Ted Forrest vs. Orel Hershiser
Daniel Negreanu vs. Chris Moneymaker
Mike Matusow vs. Dario Minieri
Andy Bloch vs. Peter Eastgate
Kenny Tran vs. Antonio Esfandiari
Ilari Sahamies vs. Gavin Smith
Kenny Yeh vs. Phil Laak
Fred Collins vs. Bertrand Grospellier
Jeffrey Ishbia vs. Leon Yanovski
David Benyamine vs. Gus Hansen
Mike Sexton vs. Phil Hellmuth
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)