Players in NBC's 2009 National Heads-Up Poker Championship Named

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Field in prestigious annual event just keeps getting tougher and tougher

Get your tournament brackets ready! NBC's 2009 National Heads-Up Poker Championship, the granddaddy of all heads-up poker tournaments, will take place once again at Caesars Palace Las Vegas on March 5-8. Now in its fifth year, this year's event will feature an array of many of the greatest poker players in the world along with some celebrities known for their poker-playing prowess and a few amateur qualifiers. Each will battle for their share of not only the $1.5 million prize pool, but for the recognition and fame that comes with capturing the coveted title.

The NHPC has been an extremely successful venture for NBC over the years and this year's tournament promises to be no exception as the field is quite possibly the toughest yet assembled. Last year's champion, Chris Ferguson, will be there to defend his title and attempt to improve upon the success he has experienced in this event that has seen him win 84% of the matches he has played in over the last four years, compiling an unprecedented record of 16-3.

In all, a total of sixteen players will make their debut in this year's championship, including two Caesars Palace qualifiers and four others who qualified online. There will also be five celebrities in the field, four who have played in this event before, and newcomer actor/comedian Brad Garrett.

At the conclusion of the 2008 NHPC, event organizers and NBC executives came up with a list of criteria that would establish automatic qualifiers into this event for the first time ever in 2009. In all, nineteen players received bids to play in this year's event based on the list found below.

Previous four NHPC champions: Chris Ferguson (2008), Paul Wasicka (2007), Ted Forrest (2006), Phil Hellmuth (2005)

Previous two NHPC runners-up: Andy Bloch (2008), Chad Brown (2007)

Defending NHPC semifinalists: Huck Seed, Phil Ivey

Four consecutive years of cashing in the NHPC: Scott Fischman, Huck Seed (2)

Previous three World Series of Poker Main Event champions: Peter Eastgate (2008), Jerry Yang (2007), Jamie Gold (2006)

Defending WSOP Championship runner-up: Ivan Demidov

Multiple WSOP bracelet winners in 2008: John Phan

Defending WSOP Player of the Year: Erick Lindgren

Defending WSOP Heads-Up champion: Kenny Tran

Defending World Series of Poker Europe champion: John Juanda

Reigning World Poker Tour Player of the Year: Jonathan Little

Reigning European Poker Tour Grand Final Monte Carlo champion: Glen Chorny

Reigning Card Player magazine Player of the Year: John Phan (2)

Reigning Bluff magazine Player of the Year: John Phan (3)

Barring any last minute changes, the following is a list of all 64 players. The names of the four amateur qualifiers not listed will be released as soon as they have all been determined, and will be posted on http://www.nbcsports.msnbc.com/poker, along with bios and past performance records of all players participating. Those players with an asterisk (^) by their name are competing in their first NHPC.

1.    David Benyamine
2.    Andy Bloch
3.    Chad Brown
4.    Doyle Brunson
5.    Johnny Chan
6.    Don Cheadle
7.    Glen Chorny *
8.    Allen Cunningham
9.    Ivan Demidov *
10.    Annie Duke
11.    Tom Dwan
12.    Peter Eastgate *
13.    Eli Elezra
14.    Antonio Esfandiari
15.    Sam Farha
16.    Chris Ferguson
17.    Scott Fischman
18.    Layne Flack
19.    Ted Forrest
20.    Brad Garrett *
21.    Jamie Gold
22.    Clonie Gowen
23.    Barry Greenstein
24.    Gavin Griffin *
25.    Bertrand Grospellier *
26.    Joe Hachem
27.    Gus Hansen
28.    Jennifer Harman
29.    Phil Hellmuth
30.    Orel Hershiser
31.    Jeffrey Ishbia * (Caesars qualifier)
32.    Phil Ivey    
33.    John Juanda
34.    Gabe Kaplan
35.    Phil Laak
36.    Howard Lederer
37.    Erick Lindgren
38.    Jonathan Little
39.    Mike Matusow
40.    Dario Minieri *
41.    Chris Moneymaker
42.    Daniel Negreanu
43.    Scotty Nguyen
44.    David Pham
45.    John Phan *
46.    Greg Raymer
47.    Vanessa Rousso
48.    Ilari Sahamies *
49.    Huck Seed
50.    Vanessa Selbst *
51.    Erik Seidel
52.    Mike Sexton
53.    Gavin Smith
54.    Jennifer Tilly
55.    J.C. Tran
56.    Kenny Tran
57.    Paul Wasicka
58.    David Williams
59.    Jerry Yang
60.    Leon Yanovski * (online qualifier)
61.    Caesars qualifier *
62.    Online qualifier *
63.    Online qualifier *
64.    Online qualifier *

This tournament also has a strong international flavor, with 15 different countries of origin represented among the 64 players. And just to underscore the difficulty that each of the players will face in winning six straight matches en route to collecting the $500,000 first place prize, the field has collectively won 14 World Series of Poker Championships, 119 World Series of Poker bracelets, 27 WPT open titles, and amassed more than $290 million in live tournament winnings!

The 2009 National Heads-Up Poker Championship kicks off with a drawing party on the evening of March 5 at the Pure Nightclub located inside Caesars Palace. Opening round play begins March 6, and will continue for three days until the 2009 champion is crowned. NBC will air twelve hours of coverage on six consecutive Sundays beginning on April 12. Craig Hummer joins Ali Nejad this year to provide commentary, while Leeann Tweeden will again serve as the host and sideline reporter. Check your local listings for the exact times in your area.

This press release was written by Dennis Oehring, who serves as the Public Relations Coordinator for the firm POKER PROductions.

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