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LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Tiffany Michelle spent the past three years as part of the large contingent of poker media covering the World Series of Poker.
This year she decided to get into the game.
Michelle didn't achieve her goal of becoming the first woman to ever win the World Series of Poker's main event, the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Texas Hold'em World championship at the Rio. But the 24-year-old aspiring actress from Los Angeles still made poker history on Monday.
Michelle busted out in 17th place, winning $334,534, the most money a woman has ever won in what is considered poker's signature event.
Michelle started Monday in third place in the chip count and the only woman out of the field's remaining 27 players. Contenders were vying for one of nine seats at the main event's final table, which will be played in November at the Rio. The winner will take home $9.12 million.
Michelle was attempting to become the highest female finisher in the main event since Annie Duke's 10th-place finish in 2000, which was worth $52,160. In 1999, Susie Isaacs also finished in 10th place. The best finish ever by a woman in the tournament's main event was by Barbara Enright, who finished fifth in 1995, winning $140,180.
Michelle said a sponsor paid her $10,000 entry fee.
"Someone asked me if I wanted to play," Michelle said. "I thought it was a great opportunity. I know my game was on par with everyone else. I was just hoping for an opportunity."
Michelle is well-known on the poker circuit. She worked as a media representative covering the tournament for various outlets. Last year, Michelle was the on-camera poker hostess for PokerNews.com, interviewing players.
As an actress, her most recent role this year was as a ballgirl in "Semi-Pro," a movie about the American Basketball Association that starred Will Ferrell.
Her parents, Richard and Merry Graham of Santa Clarita, Calif., watched their daughter wager several million dollars in tournament chips. Michelle's mother said being center stage at the World Series of Poker might be her daughter's ticket to stardom.
"Life has a way of finding a direction," Merry Graham said. "Poker could lead her to her ultimate destination. We're here to support her."
The main event started on July 3 with 6,844 players. Women accounted for almost 210 players, roughly 3 percent of the total field.
Michelle started out Monday on ESPN's secondary feature table. By 3:45 p.m., when the field had been whittled to 18 players -- two tables of nine -- Michelle was moved to ESPN's main feature table.
However, she lost about 1.6 million of her tournament chip total on two quick hands.
A few hands after a 20-minute break, Michelle pushed her $3.8 million in chips all in with an ace of diamonds, nine of clubs and 10 of hearts showing on the table. Peter Eastgate of Denmark called and showed a pair of aces. She turned over an ace of spades and jack of diamonds and was drawing dead after a five hearts came on the turn.
"I was short stacked so I've been playing somewhat cautious," Michelle said during the break. "I have good reads on people, and I think I have a pretty good control over my emotions."
As a poker player, Michelle had never cashed in a World Series of Poker event. However, she had made several appearances in various charity and celebrity appearances.
According to her Web site, earlier this year she placed first in an event at The Orleans, eighth in a celebrity-charity tournament hosted by poker standout Jennifer Harmon, and first at the Velvet Margarita Annual Celebrity Charity Tournament in May.
"I play a lot online and in cash games," Michelle said. "People didn't really know much about me."
Lisa Parsons, a Franklin, Tenn., poker player, was the last remaining woman in the field with Michelle on Sunday before busting out in 76th place, winning $77,200. She came back Monday to root for Michelle, even though she didn't know her and never played against her.
"Of course I want to see her win," Parsons said. "It would be great for poker."
Michelle said she found support not only from her parents, but a small group of friends and her boyfriend, "Hollywood" Dave Stann, a constant figure on the rail with his heavily moused orange hair. She said a lot of the male professional players gave her moral support. She also was in contact with Duke, with whom she has become friends.
"She told me to play a cool game," Michelle said. "She was very encouraging."
By 7 p.m., the main event was down to 14 players. The only remaining World Series of Poker bracelet winners who were still in the event on Monday were quickly eliminated, Phi Nguyen in 26th place and Brandon Cantu in 20th place.
The 2008 World Series of Poker is officially the largest and richest in the tournament's 39 years. A record 58,720 entries -- an 8 percent increase from 2007 -- were taken for the 55-event, 47-day poker tournament at the Rio. The total prize pool was a record $180.7 million, a $20.8 million increase from a year ago.
The final table was to be determined early this morning.
Players will return to the Rio on Nov. 9 and pare down to the final two players, who will play head-to-head starting late Nov. 10.
The winner will be determined in the early morning hours of Nov. 11, and ESPN will broadcast the final table in a two-hour special that evening.
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