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Doyle Brunson, poker's 78-year-old patriarch, received a warm ovation as he took part in the night's Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
As the festivities ended and the final three players for the Main Event took their seats, Brunson passed 22-year-old German college student Pius Heinz. In a matter of hours, Heinz would be crowned poker's newest world champion.
Brunson learned the game on the back roads of Texas. When in Las Vegas, he is often found playing in the high-stakes cash game rooms at Bellagio and Aria.
Heinz learned the game on the Internet at home in Cologne, Germany. A member of Team PokerStars Pro, Heinz spends much of his free time competing in online poker tournaments.
Brunson is never seen without his signature cowboy hat. Heinz wears a hoodie.
Brunson won the first of his 10 individual event championship bracelets at the World Series of Poker in 1976. "Texas Dolly" has cashed in 34 tournament events, earning more than $2.9 million over 35 years.
Heinz won more than $8.715 million early Wednesday morning.
Brunson owns two Main Event titles. His last came in 1977, 12 years before Heinz was born.
Heinz symbolizes the game's future.
Before winning the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em World Championship, Heinz cashed in one World Series of Poker event, earning $83,286 in June for a $1,500 buy-in no limit game.
His previous success came on the Internet. The activity is legal in much of Europe.
Internet poker -- or the lack of opportunity to play online legally -- could be a reason U.S. players seem to be losing their foothold on a game considered historically American.
Access to Internet poker shrank considerably in April when federal prosecutors indicted the operators of PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker and cut off their contact to U.S. citizens.
Full Tilt and Absolute Poker did not refund U.S. gamblers money they had on account with the websites. Both companies ceased operations.
PokerStars refunded Americans more than $100 million, and continues to flourish in Europe.
American poker players have a few options -- play on unregulated, shady poker websites; venture into traditional casino poker rooms; or try free-play poker platforms, such as Facebook and Yahoo.
The Internet, however, has become the training ground for poker champions.
Four of the past seven World Series of Poker Main Event winners are from countries outside the United States where Internet poker is legal (Joe Hachem, Australia, 2005; Peter Eastgate, Denmark, 2008; Jonathan Duhamel, Canada, 2010; and now Heinz). All got their start or found success on the Internet.
Even Michigan resident Joe Cada, the 2009 champion, said he learned the game on the Internet.
Only three Americans made this year's Main Event final table of nine players, which had representatives from seven countries. Of the overall starting field of 6,865 players, 66.6 percent were from the United States.
Ben Lamb was the only American player who began play Tuesday along with Heinz and the Czech Republic's Martin Staszko.
"I've played against Lamb, I don't know the other two," Brunson said, when asked about the final three.
Lamb, who was sponsored by Aria, is a regular player in the CityCenter resort's high-stakes poker games. So it figures he'd sat across the table from Brunson at least a few times. Before April, Lamb said he played Internet poker.
Brunson isn't what you would consider an Internet poker aficionado.
Several years ago, he licensed his name and likeness to DoylesRoom.com, an Internet poker website based in Cyprus.
However, according to Card Player Magazine, he was pulling his name from the site last May when a federal grand jury in Baltimore indicted the operators of DoylesRoom for allegedly running an illegal gambling business and money laundering. The domain has since been shut down.
Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns the World Series of Poker, has been the gaming industry's leading advocate for Congress to legalize Internet poker. Others, such as MGM Resorts International, Boyd Gaming Corp., Fertitta Interactive and developer Donald Trump have joined the effort.
If they fall short, an important learning tool for American poker players may be lost.
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