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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

World Series of Poker returns with 61 bracelet events

28 May 2012

by Howard Stutz

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- If the World Series of Poker holds true to form, the final table of this year's Main Event will include nine unknown players resembling a cross-section of the United Nations.

That's pretty much how the tournament has played out in the three of the past four years. (Although some will argue they're not sure what language Maryland logger Darwin Moon was speaking back in 2009 when he finished runner-up to Michigan's Joe Cada).

Last year, Germany's Pius Heinz defeated Martin Staszko of the Czech Republic to collect more than $8.715 million and the title of World Poker Champion.

In 2010, Jonathan Duhamel captured the World Series of Poker's Main Event, taking $8.9 million home to Montreal. In 2008, Denmark's Peter Eastgate bested Russian Ivan Demidov during heads up play to win $9.15 million.

Last year, 105 countries were represented at the tournament, which drew 75,672 players and awarded $192 million, in prize money, both all-time records.

World Series of Poker Executive Director Ty Stewart expects both marks to fall when the 43rd annual event that runs Sunday through mid-July at the Rio. The tournament will have 61 bracelet events, three more than last year, starting with the $500 buy-in no-limit hold'em event for casino employees.

The first full-scale no-limit hold'em event with a $1,500 buy-in is Monday.

The tournament culminates with the Main Event - the $10,000 buy-in no-limit Hold'em World Championship - which begins play July 7 and concludes when the final table is determined on July 16.

Stewart, now in his seventh year with the World Series of Poker, which is owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp., and managed by the company's interactive gaming division, said he won't be surprised if non-Americans continue to dominate play.

Last year, Americans were in only three of the nine final table seats.

"There is a tremendous amount of growth and interest in poker through out the world," Stewart said. "The boom we saw in the U.S. that happened in 2003 and 2004 is now worldwide."

The World Series of Poker, which began a European championship five years ago, is bringing a similar event to Australia in 2013. Stewart said its possible additional events could be launched in Latin America.

"Our goal is to create major championships," Stewart said.

But the annual Las Vegas tournament remains the company's focal point.

This year's World Series of Poker will feature a first-ever special bracelet event, a $1 million buy-in no-limit hold'em game in which 11 percent of the entry benefits the One Drop charity, which was founded by Cirque du Soleil creator Guy Laliberte to address global water issues. The event will take place July 1-3 and the final table will be televised by ESPN.

The field is capped at 48 players, which could lead to a top prize of $18.2 million. Through April, 30 players had registered, including hedge fund managers, a venture capitalist, several notable professional poker players, Laliberte, Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin, and MGM Resorts International executive Bobby Baldwin, the 1978 World Series of Poker champion.

"I think there is clearly a 'wow factor' in this event," said Stewart, noting the entry of Texas banker Andy Beal, who was the subject of the Michael Craig's 2005 poker book, "The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time."

"This will be the first time he ever plays on television," Stewart said.

The other event attracting some of the game's top professional poker players is the $50,000 buy-in Players Championship, which rotates eight forms of poker - limit hold'em, Omaha Hi-Low Split 8 or Better, Seven Card Razz, Seven Card Stud, Seven Card Stud Hi-Low Split 8 or Better, No Limit Hold'em, Pot Limit Omaha, and 2-7 Triple Draw Low Ball.

The five-day event, won last year by Brian Rast of Poway, Calif., determines the game's best all-around player. Rast won $1.72 million in topping a field of 128 players, including going heads-up with Phil Hellmuth, who was seeking his 12th individual event championship.

New this year is a $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold'em event that allows players who bust out on the first day to pay $1,500 to re-enter the game. Stewart said it could fuel a "staggering" prize pool of $8 million to $9 million.

"We wanted to give this type of event a try," Stewart said. "It's the first time we've ever allowed players to pay to re-enter a game at the World Series."

The World Series of Poker has also expanded its presence at the Rio, taking up three large ballrooms in the convention center while moving the casino's primary poker room there for the tournament.

"We have capacity to accommodate 5,000 poker players," Stewart said.

The 2012 U.S. presidential election has turned the World Series of Poker's November Nine into the October Nine.
The final table of the $10,000 buy-in no-limit Hold'em World Championship will take place Oct. 28-30 in the Rio's 1,200-seat Penn & Teller Theater, rather than the first weekend in November, to avoid conflict with the conclusion of the presidential campaign.
Voting nationwide takes place Nov. 6.
All the hands of the final table will be shown live on ESPN.