Few tournament fields are more exclusive than the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship. At this invitational event there are only 64 spots available, almost all of which are taken by the biggest pros and a few major celebrities.
The chances of getting a spot on the roster seem nonexistent, unless your name is Alisha Kunze.
Fighting her way through a freeroll program on PokerStars to pick up the seat, Kunze now has a chance to turn that zero-dollar investment into half a million.
First NBC HU Obstacle: Phil Ivey
The first obstacle in her way is a player she's seen before on television, if not in real life. He just took down one of the biggest WPT events ever less than 24 hours ago, adding $1.5 million to his pile of winnings.
If Alisha's road to get here was tough, things aren't getting any easier. Before she can even begin to dream about taking down this tournament she'll have to defeat Phil Ivey.
You made it here through a freeroll qualifier on PokerStars. What did you have to go through to make this far?
Well, in the first tournament I played there were 3,300 people and the top 200 qualified for the next round. Then there were 1,300 and the top 50 qualified for the heads-up tournament which was last Sunday, and I went through eight heads-up tables which landed me here.
Regardless of how well you play it's definitely a feat to make it through that many people. How were you feeling when you won that last table?
I never thought it would happen in a million years. I've been playing for a few years, pretty much all on PokerStars, but this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm just really excited.
What's your life like outside of poker?
I was a production scheduler up until a few weeks ago but I actually quit to go back to school to become a nurse. After winning this seat things are kind of on hold at the moment but I'll probably be heading back to school after this.
And if you win?
Well I won't really need school then. It would really be life-changing if I won.
It's not like there are many weak spots in this field but your first opponent, Phil Ivey, is definitely one of the best. How did you take it when you drew him in round one?
I'm glad to have this opportunity to play against a really good player. Like you said he is one of the best in the world but I do feel like my chances are as good as anyone's. It's all about how the cards are played and how you handle the situations.
I heard you say earlier that you feel you have some edges over Ivey. For one he's never seen you play and you've had a lot of time to study up on him. How much do you think that'll work to your advantage?
It's true that I've had the chance to watch him on television a lot and a lot of people have given me tips on how to handle him. I'm the unknown. I just hope I'm able to make it work for me. Heads-up is very aggressive but I'm hoping to catch some cards along the way.
He did just play a long final table yesterday when he won the Los Angeles Poker Classic. Do you think the fact that he just won $1.5 million and had to travel here is going to throw him off his game at all?
He's a very good player and I really don't think it's going to bother him that much. He might be a bit tired but I think he's still going to be ready for the match today.
Regardless of how you do today, how do you feel about your trip here and the opportunity to play in this event?
So far the best part of the trip was the party last night. I got to walk down the red carpet with Daniel Negreanu and he hung out at the Pure nightclub with us all night and introduced us to a bunch of people. It was pretty amazing. It was awesome.
Thanks Alisha and good luck today.
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Kunze and Ivey squared off in the fourth heat of the afternoon. Few gave her much of a chance against the Full Tilt pro, but in a heads-up match anything can happen. Kunze got off to a great start and built up a solid chip lead without much trouble.
The beginning of the end came when she was dealt pocket kings. The moment must have tasted terrific as Ivey moved all-in. Perhaps the taste soured somewhat when he turned over pocket aces. Losing that pot, Kunze saw Ivey begin to assert his dominance and not long after, it was over.
Although Alisha won't be leaving with the half million she will have the memories of her first trip to Vegas and a VIP party with the biggest names in poker, not to mention the confidence that comes with taking down the freeroll in the first place - a feat many would argue is harder than winning this 64-person event.