Friday, October 14, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust: NBC Nixes Heads-Up Championship

NBC National Heads-Up Poker ChampionshipLike a teeny, belated aftershock to the earthquake that was Black Friday, NBC announced this week it would not continue with its popular National Heads-Up Poker Championship next spring. Thus ends a seven-year run for the annual event, sort of poker’s version of “March Madness.”

In the days following the unsealing of the indictment and civil complaints against PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/UB, there was much talk that most televised poker would likely soon be disappearing thanks to those sites’ heavy sponsorship of many shows.

While no one was particularly thinking much about the 2012 NBC Heads-Up event back in mid-April, if asked then most would’ve probably assumed the show would be a casualty thanks to the fact that both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were prominent sponsors, not to mention that the sites likely handled entry fees for many of their pros who were selected to participate.

A few sidenotes: GoDaddy had sponsored the NBC Heads-Up event for the last couple of years of its run, but the web-hosting service has moved over to the WSOP now. Also, a few weeks ago NBC stopped airing the Full Tilt Poker-sponsored “Poker After Dark” following the release of the DOJ’s amended complaint that included new allegations against Full Tilt and some of its pros. Going back to April, it was just a little over a week after Black Friday when the Fox network cancelled PokerStars’ “Big Game” and “Million Dollar Challenge” shows, although I know at least new “Big Game” shows continued to be produced and can be viewed over at

While the heads-up tourney did fill a gap there in the poker calendar, often generating a lot of buzz both over the selections and the matches themselves, I don’t think too many are going to fret too greatly over the loss of the NBC Heads-Up. And while winning the sucker was something of a feather in a player’s cap, usually the win would subsequently only be mentioned in support of some other, more substantial success when rattling off a poker player’s résumé.

Of course, it was a show that tended to capture a number of non-poker folks among its weekend audience, which Wicked Chops notes achieved ratings high enough to make it “consistently the game’s top rated program.” Thus when looked at from the broader “good for the game” perspective, it may well have helped expand poker’s appeal beyond those of us who are already immersed in the game.

Hellmuth loses to Dwan in 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Poker ChampionshipI enjoyed the show. Brought us more than a few memorable moments, including that 2008 first round match between Tom “durrrr” Dwan and Phil Hellmuth that ended in a flash when Dwan spiked a set of tens to crack Hellmuth’s pocket aces.

So it goes. As that hand demonstrated, disappointment is part of life. That said, we’ll probably forget about this little footnote soon enough, which will probably rank outside the top 30 disappointments in poker in 2011. One of several moments symbolizing the end of an era.

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