Your mind may be on one bracket this week, but March Madness is not the only tournament you should be paying attention to this month. After a more than year-long absence from the tournament calendar, the National Heads-Up Poker Championship presented by WSOP.com is back on the calendar and the action premieres Thursday night on NBC Sports Network. On April 6th, the poker play moves from NBC Sports Network to NBC itself for three weeks of broadcast television coverage.
This week's episode is the first of six weeks of two-hour episodes. The opening week highlights Round 1 action from the Hearts and Spades bracket and the line-up can't be beat. These 32 players have a combined $159 million in tournament earnings, not to mention dozens of WSOP bracelets and major tournament titles. Three Main Event Champions are in the line-up, including 13-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth, who squares off against Hall of Famer Mike Sexton at the feature table in the Hearts bracket. In the Spades bracket, the two matches to watch are the battle of the Mikes, with two-time Poker Players Champion Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi taking on Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, and the battle of the Phils with Phil "The Unabomber" Laak matching up against eight-time bracelet winner Phil Ivey.
Ivey is one of nine players who have taken part in all seven years of this event. Other familiar faces include Big One for One Drop winner Antonio Esfandiari and past Heads-Up Champs Erik Seidel and Huck Seed. Seidel and Seed are also both bracelet winners, a characteristic common among Heads-Up champions. All but one of the seven champions are bracelet winners and the lone exception, Paul Wasicka, does have an impressive second place finish in the 2006 WSOP Main Event on his resume.
This year's Heads-Up field features plenty of notables like Mizrachi, Hellmuth, Laak, and Ivey, but also features a ton of up and coming poker talent. Almost half the field is comprised of rookies in the event, including reigning WSOP Main Event Champ Greg Merson, November Niners Rob Salaburu and Ben Lamb, and bracelet winners like John Monnette, Andy Frankenberger, and Matt Matros.
Here is the complete broadcast schedule for the 2013 National Heads-Up Poker Championship:
Thursday March 21 8:30-10:30 NBCSN
Thursday March 28 8:30-10:30 NBCSN
Thursday April 4 8:30-10:30 NBCSN
Saturday April 6 1:00-3:00 NBC
Saturday April 13 2:30-4:30 NBC
Saturday April 20 2:00-4:00 NBC
*All times Eastern Time