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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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NBC Heads-Up Draw Party provides plenty of juicy storylines

5 Mar 2010

By Gary Trask

LAS VEGAS -- The NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship annually draws some of the biggest and most popular names in the game, but sometimes it's the players who aren't exactly household names who make for the best stories.

Take Richard Edwards, for example.

When the 61-year-old Illinois native sits down for his first-round match with poker icon Scotty Nguyen on Friday he will be playing poker for the first time while actually handling real chips. In fact, Edwards – one of five online Heads-Up qualifiers – has been playing poker for less than a year.

"I just started playing in May," Edwards told us matter-of-factly at the annual Heads-Up Draw Party on Thursday night at PURE nightclub inside Caesars Palace Thursday night. "I always played blackjack, but never poker. I used to always like to watch it on TV and last year I just decided I should try it out. I guess it's come naturally to me."


Jennifer Tilly shares a laugh with Phil Laak on the red carpet, but the actress-poker player wasn't happy with what she read in her Casino City Times last week. (photo by Gary Trask)

Yes, it does indeed seem like the game of poker is a great fit for Edwards. Despite his inexperience, he managed to qualify for his Heads-Up seat by playing through three fields of players on Full Tilt that consisted of 360, 3,500 and 321 players. Now, the first time he will ever play live poker, Edwards will be doing so under the hot camera lights of NBC and sitting across the table from The Prince of Poker, a WSOP Main Event champ and one of the most accomplished players in the game.

"Whatever happens, I feel like I already won," said Edwards, who brought along his brother Robert McMillan, to join in on the fun this weekend. "One edge I will have is that I've seen Scotty play many, many times on TV. He doesn't know anything about me."

If Nguyen did have some sort of media guide with a personal history of Edwards, one element of his life that might stand out is the fact that he grew up in Dowell, Illinios (population 450) next door to none other than Rudolf Wanderone, Jr., better known as "Minnesota Fats," who is regarded as the best billiards players in history.

Edwards, who was 35 years younger than Fats, used to mow the pool legend's lawn and wash his cars. He also used to spend a lot of time at Fats' house playing pool.

"He was so good it was like magic," smiled Edwards of Fats, who got his nickname from the character in the 1961 film "The Hustler" and passed away 1996. "He had a lot of bravado; he loved to talk. But he was the nicest guy in the world.

"But as good as he was at pool, he was a horrible card player. He used to go out all the time and play cards and come home without one of his Cadillacs. But I think he made up for it at the pool table, that's for sure.

Another online qualifier in this year's field is Annette Dworski of Germany, who saw the ping pong balls at Thursday night's random draw take an unlucky bounce when she drew Chris "Jesus" Ferguson in the first round. Not only is Ferguson the 2000 WSOP Main Event champ, but he is also the 2008 Heads-Up Champion and comes in with a sparkling 16-4 record.


Richard Edwards -- who used to live next door to billiards legend Minnesota Fats -- qualified for a seat at the NBC Heads-Up after taking up poker less than a year ago. (photo by Gary Trask)

"I'm going to need the help of God to beat Jesus," laughed Dworski, who, like Edwards, will be playing in her first live poker event in Friday.

Ferguson was one of the few players in the field of 64 not to be in attendance for the Draw Party, but Dworski –- who has only been playing online poker for two years -- knows full well what to expect when she sits down across the table from him on Friday.

"I know from watching him on YouTube that he doesn't say much and just sits there with his arms folded," she smiled. "But I can't be concerned with who he is and what he's done in the past. I just have to go out and try to beat him."

'Unabombshell' calls out Casino City
One highlight of the red carpet event before the Draw Party at PURE was to hear the news that Jennifer Tilly is a reader of the Casino City Times.

As the dazzling Academy Award nominee walked down the carpet in a low-cut green dress along with boyfriend Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, she mentioned to the press gathering that she was unhappy that, "there was one journalist out there who made it a point to write that I am 0-for-4 in [the Heads-Up event] and I didn't think that was very nice."

Of course, the piece Tilly was referring to was our Heads-Up preview that appeared in last week's Casino City Times.

"I just want that writer to know that all four times I got all-in with the best hand and lost," she said. "So it's not that I've played that bad. I've just had some real bad luck."

Tilly drew Jen Harman in Friday's first round, the lone match featuring two women. Overall, there are seven women in the field, including last year's runner-up Vanessa Rousso, who brings a 7-3 career-record into her first-round match against Barry Greenstein. Rousso was eliminated in the second round of the 2007 event by Greenstein.

Wild ride for Moon, New Orleans Saints
Darvin Moon was in the house –- along with his wife Wendy -- on Thursday night wearing his customary black New Orleans Saints hat. Moon has become friendly with Saints Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel and was in attendance for the team's Monday Night Football showdown against New England in November as well as all of the playoff games and the Super Bowl. Moon was issued a sideline pass for the games and got to roam the field before the game. During the games he was seated in a luxury box.

Moon said that many of the Saints players recognized him and introduced themselves.

"A lot of them are poker players so they saw me on TV," shrugged Moon, who drew Caesars Palace qualifier Bill Huntress in the first round. "So that was kind of cool."

Moon, who was the 2009 WSOP Main Event runner-up to Joe Cada, said he has not played heads-up poker since losing in that final table match.

"That's why I'm here; I need the practice," he said with a laugh. "When I saw all of the names in the field I just knew I had to be here. It'll be fun."

Moon said he plans on coming back to Las Vegas for the WSOP, but don't expect him to be multi-tabling a bunch of different events. He plans on just playing the Main Event. He also said that he still plays in his regular weekend $30 buy-in tournament every weekend back home in Oakland, Maryland.

"I've been holding my own," smiled Moon, who will play in a Main Event qualifier in Florida in May at the Daytona Beach Kennel Club. "But I do have a target on my back all the time because everybody wants to be in a pot with me. But that's OK. I like it."


Kara Scott is primed to pull off an upset over Dennis Phillips in Round 1 of the NBC Heads-Up event. (photo by Gary Trask)

Moon said that one of the best things he did with the money he won from last year's Main Event was buy equipment for his nephew's Little League, including new helmets and catcher's gear from every team. He's also chipping in to help build a new concession stand. But one item he hasn't bought that he promised he would after the final table in November is a new lawnmower for his wife, Wendy.

"I made the mistake of bringing her on the field before the Saints-Patriots game at the Super Dome and she decided that instead of a lawnmower she wants to put in Astroturf," he said as his wife nodded and smiled. "I should have just bought her the damn lawnmower. That would've been a heck of a lot cheaper."

Breaking down the bracket
Must-See First-Round Matches:
Erik Seidel vs. Huck Seed: Seidel, who is 0-for-5 in this event, was quite serious and focused during the Draw Party, looking like man intent on breaking his winless streak. But he got a bit of a bad break when his ping-pong ball popped up just before that of defending champ Huck Seed in the first round. If Seidel wants to break his 0-fer streak, he's going to have to earn it.

Daniel Negreanu vs. Jason Mercier: Negreanu was all business at the Draw Party, saying he was drinking bottled water all night and going home early. We can't say the same for Mercier, who was having a good time at the party, but, even still, this is a contest between two of the very best in the game.

Peter Eastgate vs. Bertrand Grospellier: We're sticking with Eastgate as one of our Players To Watch this weekend, but this is a brutal first-round draw for the 2008 WSOP Main Event champ. In addition, Eastgate told us last night that he hasn't prepared for the event at all and is just going to lean on his heads-up skills. Mark my words, the winner of this match will make a deep run, despite the fact that the Clubs Bracket is probably the toughest one out of the four with these two sharks, as well as Patrik Antonius, Seed, Seidel, Erick Lindgren, Dario Minieri and Ted Forrest.

Mike Matusow vs. Jerry Yang: After these two players were called up to the stage at the Draw Party, "The Mouth" jumped up in the air, pumped a fist and screamed, "Thank you God! I'm playing Jerry Yang!" in a blatant sign of disrespect. He then told Yang –- the 2008 WSOP Main Event champ –- he was "only kidding…but not really." Yang, who has won both of his first-round matches at the Heads-Up, was not amused. Matusow was also popping off about the lack of heads-up talent that Moon will bring to the table. "Moon is playing an online qualifier. I'd say that's a pick'em at best," The Mouth roared.

Vanessa Rousso vs. Barry Greenstein: Something has to give here as neither player has lost a first-round match with Rousso 3-0 and Greenstein 5-0. Overall these two players have a combined 16-8 record in this event.

First-Round Upset Picks:
Gabe Kaplan over Johnny Chan: On paper this is a mismatch, but Chan has struggled in this event (3-5) and Mr. Kotter has never lost a first-round match in three tries.


Antonio Esfandiari hasn't won a match at the NBC Heads-Up since 2005, but we're calling for him to return to his magician ways and make the Final Four this year. (photo by Gary Trask)

Kara Scott over Dennis Phillips: Scott, who had heads turning all night with her wide smile and red cocktail dress, showed she's much more than just a pretty face at the 2009 WSOP Main Event when she was one of the last women standing. And we're not sure just how much heads-up Phillips plays, so we'll take a shot with the popular TV hostess.

Jennifer Tilly over Jen Harman: Maybe this is a case of us trying to bet the bounce and not the streak. Or maybe we're trying to make peace with Tilly after she announced he displeasure with our Heads-Up preview. Either way, Tilly – who does own a WSOP bracelet in a Ladies Event – is overdue for a win here. Harman is a subpar 2-4 in her career so this does has upset potential.

Brock Parker over Doyle Brunson: The average poker fan probably doesn't know Brock Parker, but the 27-year-old online phenom who is best known as "t_soprano" made a big splash at last year's WSOP by winning back-to-back bracelets. Doyle is one of the many star players that has struggled at the Heads-Up event (3-5 overall) and we're not sure he's feeling 100 percent healthy after undergoing extensive dental work about a month ago. Youth will be served in this match on Friday.

Most Intriguing Potential Second Round Match:
Cada vs. Seed: This would pit two WSOP Main Event champions who obviously excel at heads-up play.

Final Four Prediction:
Eastgate, Tom "durrr" Dwan, Eli Elezra, Antonio Esfandiari: It's certainly not going to be a walk in the park for Eastgate as he not only has a tough first-round draw in "ElkY" but brutal road beyond that as well.

Negreanu seems focused and intent on making a deep run and is 7-5 in his career. We're sure NBC wouldn't mind seeing a Negreanu-Phil Ivey match in the Club Bracket finals, but we're calling for "durrr" to blow that dream up and get through a tough lower part of the bracket.

From top to bottom, the Hearts Bracket is the weakest in the field and that's where we see Elezra, who has a tough first-rounder against Greg Mueller, coming through with a potential quarterfinal match against Hellmuth.

Before the Draw Party we were calling for Greenstein to make a deep run, and he still could. But after looking at the Diamond Bracket that he has landed in, we're now thinking it may be too difficult. Not only does he have Rousso in the first round, but a second-round match against either Sammy Farha or Antonio Esfandiari awaits. The Magician hasn't won a match at Heads-Up since he made the semifinals in 2005. But judging from his performance at last year's Main Event, we think this is a new and improved Esfandiari and we'll call for him to make it out of the brutal Diamond Bracket.

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