In my last column, the 64-player field for the mock 2012 National Heads-Up Championship was selected. After a random draw, the matchups were determined and broken up into the four brackets: Clubs, Spades, Hearts and Diamonds. Here are the results of the Spades bracket.
This bracket was clearly the toughest, as seven of the 11 WSOP champions in the field were in the Spades bracket. Poker superstars Daniel Negreanu, John Juanda, Eugene Katchalov, David Sands and Sam Stein filled in remaining spots.
Joe Hachem versus Marvin Rettenmaier:
Hachem has a poor record (2-5) in this event, having never made it out of the second round. Nevertheless, the 2005 WSOP champ seemed extremely motivated this year. He flew in a few days early to get accustomed to the time change and focus solely on poker. On the flip side, Rettenmaier seemed a little disoriented in his first NHUPC appearance. During the match, the Australian played almost every pot in position aggressively and chipped up. Eventually, he got it all-in with Ad-Qs against Rettenmaier's Ac-6c, and the board ran clean.
Martin Staszko versus Chris Moneymaker:
This was a very interesting matchup with the 2011 WSOP runner-up facing off against the 2011 NHUPC runner-up and 2003 WSOP champion. Although poker pundits believed Moneymaker might have a tough time with Staszko's unorthodox style, Moneymaker dispensed of him quickly when he called an all-in on the turn with his top pair, top kicker to Staszko's third pair and flush draw. The river blanked, and Moneymaker moved on to the second round.
David Sands versus Steve O'Dwyer:
Sands was not pleased to find out he was playing O'Dwyer, one of the hottest players on tour. This match was fiercely contested as the chip lead changed often between the two, but one critical hand ended the match in a heartbeat. After a flop of Qs-10s-4h, "Doc" shoved all-in with a flush draw and one over card (Ks-6s). O'Dwyer tanked and eventually made a great call with second pair (Ad-10h). Although he had the best of it at that point, O'Dwyer couldn't fade the draw and was knocked out in the first round as the 2s fell on the river.
Daniel Negreanu versus John Juanda:
These two friends used to make up part of the original young crew in poker and have had history at the tables for decades. Negreanu hoped to extract some revenge for the 2008 WSOP Europe main event, in which he finished fifth to the champion Juanda. Negreanu got his way by slow-playing a set of 6s and enticing Juanda to call all-in with just top pair.
Phil Hellmuth versus Greg Raymer:
This matchup pitted two colorful former WSOP champions: the "Poker Brat" and "Fossilman." Not short on words, both players chatted away during the entire match. Their conversation was cut short as Hellmuth consistently chipped away hand after hand, eventually dispatching Raymer in about 30 minutes.
Joe Cada versus Paul Wasicka:
These two players made their marks at the WSOP main event; neither plays regularly on tour. Nevertheless, the 2007 NHUPC champ could not get anything going against Cada, and on the final hand, Wasicka lost a race holding 5-5 to Cada's K-Q.
Johnny Chan versus Sam Stein:
Chan has never made it out of the second round in this event and was eliminated in the first round the past two years he played (2009 and 2010). The trend continued as Stein steadily beat the former back-to-back WSOP main event champion.
Eugene Katchalov versus Scotty Nguyen:
During the match, the "Baby" meter registered 37 times. Nguyen played well at the beginning but had difficulty finishing off the reigning 2011 Bluff Magazine Player of the Year. The pivotal hand came when Katchalov called with only ace-high, catching Nguyen making a big bluff on the river. From that point on, Katchalov sailed and earned his way into the second round.
Joe Hachem versus Chris Moneymaker:
Back in 2010, Hachem told ESPN that he felt Moneymaker was "one of the most underrated players in the world." Listening to himself, the 2005 WSOP champion played numerous pots in position and did not allow Moneymaker to gain any traction. Finally, a short-stacked Moneymaker called all-in with Ks-10d and was dominated by Hachem's Kd-Jh. The board did not help Moneymaker, and Hachem moved on to the third round for the first time in his career.
David Sands versus Daniel Negreanu:
Both players are very cerebral, and each constantly adjusted to the other player's style. The chip lead changed hands six times during this almost 2-hour match, and with all the other matches completed, the entire focus was on this table. With the blinds edging higher, the two left it all to a race with Negreanu's As-Jh catching an ace on the flop to defeat Sands' 4h-4d.
Phil Hellmuth versus Joe Cada:
What an incredible made-for-television matchup. Hellmuth, the original youngest WSOP main event champion, versus the current youngest main event champion in history. While Cada tried to be uber-aggressive, Hellmuth used his experience to wait and spring his trap. With the board reading Ad-Jh-4d-10s, Hellmuth called an all-in with top and bottom pair (Ah-4s) versus Cada's middle pair and gutshot straight draw (Qh-Jd). When the river blanked (7s), the original young gun advanced to the third round.
Sam Stein versus Eugene Katchalov:
Both 2011 WSOP bracelet winners were fighting for a place in the third round, which would also mean making the money. The match started off slow, but a huge pot developed about 40 minutes into the match when Katchalov shoved with 6c-3s with straight and flush draws on a Kc-6s-5c-4c board. Stein called holding Kd-5s, but his two pair was beaten when the Qc fell on the river. Katchalov took a commanding lead and finished the match three hands later.
Joe Hachem versus Daniel Negreanu:
The crowd had difficulty choosing whom to root for as these personable players battled, but Hachem's run came to an end when he was semi-coolered, pushing all-in with 9s-9d against Negreanu's 10s-10h.
Phil Hellmuth versus Eugene Katchalov:
Having had two relatively straightforward early matches, Hellmuth looked primed for another deep run. Katchalov, who made his second consecutive cash in this event, had other plans. The match was relatively short, and Hellmuth was on the wrong end as his top pair was outrun by a runner-runner flush.
Daniel Negreanu versus Eugene Katchalov:
Negreanu's revenge tour continued as he battled Katchalov; it was pitted as a rematch of the 2010 PCA Super High Roller event. Once again, Negreanu earned payback, beating Katchalov by playing his small-ball style to perfection. Negreanu advanced to the final four of the NHUPC for the first time in his career.
Negreanu will face off against the champion of the Clubs bracket in the final four.