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NEW YORK – April 13, 2011 – The seventh annual National Heads-Up Poker Championship kicks off this Sunday at Noon ET on NBC with NFL all-time leading rusher and 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Emmitt Smith making his NHPC debut. The ultimate big stakes showdown from CaesarsPalace in Las Vegas, Nev. features 64 of the top players in the world competing to win six matches in a row and lay claim to the prestigious title of poker’s Heads-Up Champion. The National Heads-Up Poker Championship presented by features a record $1.8 million purse, with the winner taking home $750,000.

“Being in this tournament means that I’m playing against some of the best in the world,” said Smith. “I’m looking forward to the competition.”

The competition includes previous Heads-Up Champions Phil Hellmuth (2005), Ted Forrest (2006), Chris Ferguson (2008) and Huckleberry Seed (2009). Of the 64 players competing, 11 have won the World Series of Poker Main Event. Collectively the field has won 103 World Series of Poker bracelets and live tournament prize money in excess of $328 million.

Many other notable returning celebrities join Smith in his quest for the NHPC title. Actor Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven, Hotel Rwanda), actor Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), and actress Jennifer Tilly (The Fabulous Baker Boys) will also compete.

Similar in structure to the NCAA’s single elimination tournament in college basketball, the players are divided into four brackets – Spades, Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs. Sunday’s coverage features the Hearts bracket’s opening round. Both Cheadle and Smith see action this week, with Cheadle facing Tom Dwan while Smith battles 2004 WSOP Main Event runner-up David Williams. The feature table in the Hearts bracket showcases two of the game’s most recognizable players in Daniel Negreanu and Phil Laak.

“I haven’t missed an NBC heads up tournament and I don’t think I ever will, hopefully. Being a part of this club is something special,” said Negreanu.

NBC Sports’ Craig Hummer, Ali Nejad and Leeann Tweeden call the action. NBC continues its opening round coverage on Sunday, April 24, beginning at Noon ET.