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Jeff Haney

Jeff Haney on how a tourney grew despite Web crackdown

21 December 2007

Out to re-energize poker

The main event at the World Series of Poker and the annual World Poker Tour Championship, two of the most anticipated and celebrated events in the game, rate as the world's richest regularly scheduled poker tournaments.

Right behind those behemoths, nestled at No. 3, comes the World Poker Tour Doyle Brunson Classic, which concluded Tuesday night at the Bellagio.

This year's Brunson Classic, won by Eugene Katchalov of New York, attracted a field of 664 players for a prize pool exceeding $9.6 million and a first-place payout of better than $2.48 million.

The 664 entrants surpassed the 583 last year's tournament drew, a field of 555 in 2005 and a field of 376 in 2004.

"And that was without Internet involvement," said Doug Dalton, director of poker operations at the Bellagio, referring to last year's government crackdown on online gambling, which has put a damper on the Internet poker scene.

There has never been a direct, sanctioned link between U.S. Internet poker players and land-based tournaments such as the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker. Especially before the government's online gambling legislation, however, major Internet poker sites helped beef up the fields of those events through "satellites," or qualifying tournaments.

Of the 555 players who competed in 2005, about 40 percent were Internet qualifiers, according to an estimate by Jack McClelland, the Bellagio's tournament director.

Of this year's field, at least one-third qualified through "super satellites," qualifying tournaments with an entry fee of $1,640 held at the Bellagio, McClelland said. The Brunson Classic carries a $15,400 entry.

"Since the loss of the Internet, poker's been kind of slipping a little bit," McClelland said. "A lot of tournaments have been getting a little smaller. We've seen other tournaments dropping to 400 players instead of 500, 300 instead of 400.

"We knew we had to come up with something different, some innovative ideas to make the main event larger."

McClelland decided to conduct six super satellites, instead of the usual two. He also placed tournament action directly on the casino floor, rather than hiding it away in a side room.

"That made the energy just incredible," McClelland said. "Some other casinos tolerate poker players. We embrace them."

Tuesday's six-player final table, which will be televised on GSN (Cox cable Channel 344) on a date to be announced next year, was the shortest in World Poker's six seasons at just 53 hands.

Katchalov, who entered the final day with a big chip lead, knocked out third-place finisher David "Devilfish" Ulliott ($674,500) when his ace-jack held up against Ulliott's ace-10.

Ted Kearly of Michigan finished second to collect $1.25 million.

Katchalov, who also earned a $25,000 seat in April's World Poker Tour Championship at the Bellagio with his victory, said he would need at least a week for the win to sink in.

"He's going to be a great champion," Dalton said. "He's surrounded by a good foundation of other poker players, friends and family. They talk about hands, they talk about poker and they support each other. That's important when you have this kind of life-changing win."

Dalton was impressed by the new champion's professional and low-key demeanor, a contrast to televised poker's camera hogs and their tiresome "wacky" antics.

"Just like any sport that's televised, you hope that the champion is going to be the kind of player who can be a mentor to other players, someone who people who follow poker can look up to," Dalton said. "Particularly those of us who are in the poker industry, you always hope that person is going to represent the industry well."

Jeff Haney on how a tourney grew despite Web crackdown is republished from