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LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Allowing fans to select 20 of the 27 participants to take part in the World Series of Poker's Tournament of Champions initially drew a mixed response.
Message-board junkies trashed the idea as a made-for-television sell-out by the World Series of Poker.
After 40,000 poker fans registered their votes on the first day of online balloting, the naysayers quieted.
Harrah's Entertainment, which operates the World Series of Poker, decided to let poker fans choose the bulk of the game's field, similar to how fans select players in Major League Baseball's All-Star Game.
Harrah's Interactive Vice President Ty Stewart said the event has gained a following. Players compete in a no-limit hold 'em two-day free-roll, that pays $500,000 to the winner and $250,000 to the runner-up.
In the past, Harrah's selected the players.
The field has now been opened to the 521 living World Series of Poker individual event champion bracelet holders. Fans can select their 20 choices at www.wsop.com.
"We're thrilled to reinvent it around a model that should elevate the game by engaging millions of poker fans," Stewart said.
To guard against ballot stuffing, one vote per e-mail address is allowed.
The event takes place during the 41st World Series of Poker at the Rio. It will be part of a special ESPN two-hour telecast on Aug. 3.
Five seats have been given to Annie Duke, Mike Matusow and Mike Sexton (the previous Tournament of Champions winners), Joe Cada (the 2009 World Series of Poker champion) and Barry Shulman (the 2009 World Series of Poker Europe champion). Sponsors will fill two seats.
Poker fans will probably select popular players, such as Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, Scotty Nguyen and Doyle Brunson.
The most recent World Series of Poker champions belong in the field and fans should select eight-time bracelet winner Eric Seidel. Jennifer Harman, the game's best female player, belongs at the table.
I have two nominations for consideration.
Robert Wiliamson III won a bracelet in 2002 in a Pot Limit Omaha event. Williamson was one of the first players to embrace the tournament's player sponsorship opportunities, creating a logo-filled jacket worthy of NASCAR.
Williamson is media-friendly, ready and willing to provide a quote.
Last year, 24-year-old Steven Sung jumped into a special $1,000 buy-in no limit event and topped a field of 6,012 players to win a bracelet and $771,106.
I'd like to see how Sung does in a field of the game's best players.
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