The NBC Heads Up Poker National Championship should really be called the NBC Heads Up Celebrity Invitational, and I’ll tell you why.
A National Championship infers that it’s the best players in the nation playing for the championship. If three small schools in West Virginia decided to play a basketball tournament and call it the National Championship, they would be ridiculed for not inviting the best of the best. They just aren’t inviting the best players. There are lots of ways to qualify, many of which insure that many of the best heads up players get in every year. Check out the ways to qualify on the page we have dedicated to it – Qualification Page.
As you can see on that page, most of the people who make it in will be solid players, and many of them will be excellent heads up players, but there is a very good chance that the best heads up players in the world are not going to be invited. Let’s start by dissecting the current invite scheme.
The biggest problem with the current invite scheme, is that they invite celebrities who are not strong players, simply because they bring in ratings. At least they think they bring in ratings. I can’t remember ever hearing anyone say they were running home to watch Don Cheadle play poker, and Brad Garrett has caused me to turn the channel when the tournament coverage is usually captivating. Youtube views also show that people want to watch Hellmuth play against Durr, not Cheadle play against Woods. The tournament is interesting because we get to see the best players in the world test their skills directly against each other in an intimate setting, not because we get to watch a comedian get crushed by Jesus Ferguson yet again.
This also creates another problem. If one of the celebrities gets lucky and win it, the tournament not only loses credibility, but they may end up inviting a celebrity back for five years when their career goes right into the crapper. Just what we need, five more years of Jason Alexander!
If we wanted to fix this, we would have to look at who the best heads up players in the world actually are. The best heads up players in the world aren’t all household names, but they may very well be interesting personalities. Some of them would be very socially awkward because they are young online players. I can’t imagine better TV than watching uncomfortable, borderline autistic, math wizards who haven’t been out of the house in years playing against grizzled old poker pros who haven’t left a poker room in years. Now that would be good television!
It would be easy to find these guys, there are sites like SharkScope.com that keep records of online players results. Finding the best online heads up players would be easy, and inviting the top ten would really liven up the field and ensure that the strongest heads up players were represented. Having a few more feeder tournaments online would help too. Inviting the 200 best heads up players according to sharkscope to a qualifier where the top players gets a seat would generate interest in fighting for those top spots and give everyone whop plays those heads up sit and gos for a living a chance to play the biggest heads up tournament in the world on the big stage at NBC.
It’s unlikely that major changes will be made to the invitation system because the tournament already makes a lot of money for NBC, but maybe they’ll get around to inviting a few more online pros and a few less bad actors in future years.