TV star and poker player Gabe Kaplan (of "Welcome Back Kotter" fame) will return as an analyst at this year's National Heads-Up Poker Championship (NHPC), it has been announced. As a result of his official duties, Kaplan is prohibited from entering the exclusive event, which will see 2005 champion Phil Hellmuth defending his title against a field of some of the world's best players in Las Vegas this March.
The 2006 NHPC will run in the new poker room at Caesars Palace from March 3-6, and will pit sixty-four of the pro circuit's top players in a heads-up competition for a $1.5 million prize pool. First place prize will be $500,000. NBC will broadcast ten hours of NHPC play in a six-episode special airing in April and May.
This year's format will see the pros settling down to play their first round matches on Saturday, March 4, in four different brackets: hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs. On Sunday, March 5, the series will continue until only 8 players remain. These players will advance to the final competition on Monday, March 6, when the new NHPC champion will be crowned.
Pros expected to compete in the tournament this year include Hellmuth, T.J. Cloutier. Initial heads-up matches will be determined by draw at the GQ Magazine opening night draw party on March 3. All sixty-four participating pros will be in attendance.
The first National Heads-Up Poker Championship was held last March at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, and saw Hellmuth defeat Chris "Jesus" Ferguson in a three-hand match. The tournament was viewed by over four million homes when it was broadcast on NBC later that spring. It is estimated that six million viewers tuned in for the final episode - a two-hour heads-up battle between Hellmuth and Ferguson.