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Top-10 heads up poker matches actually worth watching

11 Mar 2013

By Aaron Todd
Yesterday, my Twitter feed blew up with tweets about the Team PokerStars win over the "The Professionals" at Full Tilt Poker in their heads-up matchup showdown. Of course, when I say it blew up, what I really mean is that @PokerStars and @FullTiltPoker blew it up with ridiculous trash talk.

A few years ago, when PokerStars and Full Tilt were owned by different people and the two online poker titans were competing against each other, this may have been at least a little interesting. But now that both companies are owned and operated by The Rational Group, it was really just a contrived marketing ploy that I couldn't have cared less about.

It's like if InBev decided to have a Canadians vs. Americans drinking contest with Labatt's Blue and Budweiser, except that's something I'd actually watch, because drunk people can be enormously entertaining (more on that later). But watching people play online poker – especially when it's really about bragging rights – is pretty damn boring.

So I decided to come up with my top-10 dream heads-up poker matchups. Of course these are matchups I'd want to see in person, not online.

10. Norman Chad vs. Phil Ivey in H.O.R.S.E.
If you follow @NormanChad on Twitter, you know that the ESPN poker commentator has been clamoring for a H.O.R.S.E. matchup against Ivey for some time. I say let's make it happen. Sure, Chad is likely to get slaughtered, but it would be entertaining. And I'd probably want to bet on the over/under line on the number of times Chad called Ivey "Jerome."

9. Vanessa Rousso vs. Greg Raymer
Call this one the "Math Up Matchup." These two players are famous for talking through their all-in decisions by doing the math out loud, and once the cards are revealed figuring out what the exact percentages are to win. I'd love to watch them debate the finer points of an extra 2 percent edge they failed to calculate, because they didn't realize the other player had a backdoor gutshot straight draw.

8. Phil Hellmuth vs. Sam Grizzle
Rumor has it that these two were once in a fistfight, so who wouldn't want to watch them renew the rivalry on the table? Really this could be Hellmuth vs. anyone, but it's best to pit him against someone who knows how to give him a hard time when he makes a bad play or gets sucked out on.

7. Antonio Esfandiari vs. Phil Laak
There's nothing better than beating your best friend, and these two have a long friendship and rivalry that's fun to watch. Whenever they play against each other, it makes for great theater, so this matchup is a no-brainer.

6. Barack Obama vs. Richard Nixon
Okay, so this one is theoretical, as Nixon won't be able to make it, but who wouldn't want to watch two U.S. presidents known for their poker prowess battle it out on the felt? And this matchup has the added cache of a partisan battle, too, so both Republicans and Democrats can have a rooting interest.

5. Pius Heinz vs. Dennis Phillips
This matchup has nothing to do with a renewal of World War II hostilities and everything to do with their respective cheering sections. Heinz, the young German pro who won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2011, and Phillips, the American amateur who was third in 2008, had perhaps the most boisterous and vocal supporters in the short history of the "November Nine." I say let's get them together and see who wins on the felt, but perhaps the more interesting battle would be the one taking place in the stands.

4. Mike Matusow vs. Shawn Sheikhan
These two don't like each other. As Chad says in the clip below, "If these two played in an alley I think they would draw a crowd." I say let's start this match at the table and watch its inevitable finish in the ring.

3. Daniel Negreanu vs. Annie Duke
Here's another pair of poker players who really don't like each other. Need proof? Watch the video below. Odds are that there wouldn't be as many fireworks in this match as there would be in the Matusow/Sheikhan pairing, but if there were, it would be "Epic."

2. Tony G. vs. Andrew Robl
In all honesty, you could put Tony up against almost anyone and I'd watch. I considered matchups against Ralph Perry, Hellmuth and dozens of others. But Andrew Robl seemed to get The G legitimately upset when he took a long time to make decisions in this episode of The PokerStars Big Game, and I'd like to see them face off against each other again.

1. Scotty Nguyen vs. Gavin Smith
Call this one "The Battle of the Michelob." Two famous drinkers face off to see which one ends up under the table first.

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