It was like the old glory days of poker before the dark cloud of Black Friday 2011 rained on poker’s parade, as the final players in this year’s 2013 National Heads-Up Poker Championship locked horns for a total prize pool of well over a million dollars this week. Semi-reformed bad boy Mike “The Mouth” Matusow faced off against poker’s official “Brat,” Phil Hellmuth, for an exciting three-match heads-up battle between the poker giants.
Matusow beat Hellmuth in a best-two-out-of-three heads-up match structure to take home the $750,000 top prize. Hellmuth had defeated Mike Sexton, Justin Smith, David Sands, Eugene Katchalov and Joe Serock for a second attempt at the championship in his poker career; his second-place finish earned him $300,000. Also finishing in the money were renowned poker players Tom Dwan, Joseph Cheong, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Phil Ivey and Vanessa Rousso.
In a game that has become more and more the victory gardens of the 20-something players, it was proof that age and treachery can still defeat youth and skill. As a generation of poker players who have grown up playing online have come of age, the divide between “old school” champions and “new school” mavericks has deepened, and this final match was proof that the old guard still has game. From a television viewing standpoint, it may be a ratings boon for NBC, whose older demographic could be more drawn in to watch their ESPN World Series of Poker favorites over some internet kids they’ve never seen or heard of.
The final three matches were fairly classic playdowns, with near toss-up hands being made or broken on the board. Matusow took down the first match in just over an hour when his A-Q hit the flop and crushed Hellmuth’s hole card 5-5s. The second match stretched longer, to 90 minutes, then went to Hellmuth when his A-K crushed Matusow’s made K-Ks, and the coup de grace when Hellmuth’s pocket 10-10s held up against Matusow’s 2-2. The 25-minute final round of three had Matusow covering Hellmuth with a 2-1 chip lead when Hellmuth pushed all in on the turn with top pair with his K♠-10♥; Matusow decided to call with no outs save rivering his four-card diamond flush draw, which he did when Q♦ hit the board and gave him the championship.
Matusow, 44, earned his nickname “The Mouth” for his trash-talking poker table manners. The four-time WSOP bracelet winner has had a colorful life and checkered past, including a six-month jail stint from 2004-2005 after being caught in an undercover drug sting. Matusow’s previous first-place poker finish was in 2010 at the Florida State Poker Championships. The heads-up purse was his largest take since his 2005 WSOP Main Event final table finish for $1,000,000.
The 2013 National Heads-Up Poker Championship will be televised in March on NBC.