** National Heads-Up Poker Championship is flawed in conception and execution. The days when I wanted to watch all the poker on TV are over, and this is a show that I wouldn't choose to watch if I didn't write for this site. The other poker shows among the big four on US TV (WSOP, WPT, and Poker After Dark) are either important events or good shows. This is neither: what importance it has derives solely from having the best combination of network and time slot of any poker show. When it ceases to air, the tournament will no longer take place.
I don't know why NBC chose to commission this show: heads-up poker isn't widely played, especially in tournament form, and I find it a boring format to watch. The show is a made-for-TV invitational, and some of the players clearly don't deserve their invitations. I'd prefer if they'd chosen to broadcast an existing cash game, or even tournament.
The execution is weak as well. They suffer from some of the same problems as the ESPN and WSOP poker broadcasts, e.g. too much non-poker content and trying to show a bit of everything. It's my impression that they've cut down on the non-poker content since last year, but it's still too much and of too low value (and a segment on Scotty Nguyen was so badly produced that I couldn't tell what it was about for a while). They're still showing too little poker from too many matches, sometimes even just showing the bustout hand of a match.
They should be picking just a few matches and showing us enough of them so that we can get a sense of how they actually played. They flit from match to match, and aren't good at keeping us informed about the stacks and blinds. If they'd just show us one match at a time, from beginning to end, we'd be able to follow the story of the match much better. As it is, there's really no story to follow (just a selection of unconnected clips), so I get bored and my concentration drifts. To help in following the matches I'd like to see them show all the necessary information at the bottom of the screen throughout the match: hole cards, board cards, action, stack sizes, and blinds. Some of the onscreen information is shown in the upper left of the screen, where it's easy to miss (we look at the bottom of the screen for those things), and is too small to read easily on my TV. I think the results scroll at the bottom of the screen is a bad idea. On the plus side, this is one of the few shows on TV to show position.
I'm not a fan of Ali Nejad's shtick, and it sometimes seems like he's reciting canned analysis. The announcing team pronounced various players' names multiple ways.
National Heads-Up Poker Championship earns a rating of **, below average, because it's badly conceived and poorly executed. I'm glad to see NBC running poker in a relatively good time slot, but they could easily do better than this.
See also our review of the previous season and Can an Invitational Be a Championship?