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My Week at the WSOP

The 2006 World Series of Poker is halfway through its 46-day, 45-event schedule. With 27 events completed, over $30,000,000 has already been awarded to thousands of players. Everyone who’s been there, winner or loser, has stories to tell.First of all, just being at the WSOP is something every poker player or fan should experience. It is incredibly exhilarating to be in a huge crowd of people who all share your same fanatical interest. The immense hall itself, with over 200 poker tables, is breathtaking to behold. At any time of day or night, there are WSOP events, live-action games and qualifying satellites all going on simultaneously. However you like your poker, all you’ve got to do is plunk down the cash and you’re in the game. Or, for no money at all, you can simply watch the world’s best poker players test their skills.

Who’s who

Sprinkled amongst the thousands of no-names (any one of whom may be famous tomorrow), are those who are already legendary. Doyle Brunson, 73 years young and tooling around in his motorized chair; Howard Lederer’s towering presence; Phil “The Unibomber” Laak in his trademark hooded sweatshirt - are all there and accessible. It is truly poker heaven.

Love blossoms

And it was especially heavenly to a young couple from Missouri. They met at last year’s WSOP when they were seated next to each other at Table 201. They returned to Table 201 this past Saturday to be married at the felt altar. Applause rippled through the auditorium, and it wasn’t for a WSOP bracelet being awarded, but for wedding rings being exchanged. The newlyweds sealed their dream of lifelong full houses, and went on to play in the next day’s events.

Never too old to play

The Seniors Event (for those over 50) was especially poignant. Before the tourney started, all present stood silent with bowed heads as the names of the Seniors Hall of Famers who were now at the big poker game in the sky were read. Following that, the oldest of the 1,184 competitors was recognized - an 89-year-old fellow who happily stood and waved. Turns out he had just driven to Las Vegas from Oklahoma - by himself! I got knocked out early, but hung around to see the finals at which two of the top four finishers were women, including the winner, Clare Miller of New Mexico. The 77-year old grandmother cried unabashedly when accepting the bracelet and her $250,000 prize money, making for a truly memorable moment in a week full of them.

The stars came out

Event # 20, the $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. tournament, boasted the most star-studded poker field ever convened. Of course, entry is open to anyone who can put up the cash, but the heftiest entry fee in WSOP history significantly reduced the number of amateur players. The result was each of the 18 tables being jammed with a murderer’s row of the games most famous names. Phil Hellmuth, Barry Greenstein, John Juanda, Greg Raymer, Johnny Chan, Annie Duke, Scotty Nyugen, Chris Ferguson, Sammy Farha, Cyndy Violette, and Brunson father and son were all in. The mob of spectators excitedly pointed out their favorite stars. Because H.O.R.S.E. is a continuous loop of five different poker games - Hold ‘Em, Omaha, Razz, Stud, and Eight-or-Better, the winner will be considered the most skillful player in the world - the best of the best. On the third day of play, Phil Ivey took third place ($617,760), and Andy Bloch and stud specialist Chip Reese were left to grind it out for the coveted title. And grind they did - for seven hours of one-on-one play. 250 hands later, Poker Hall of Famer Reese emerged victorious. He won his third WSOP bracelet and $1.7 million in prize money. You will definitely be seeing this one on TV.All in all, although I didn’t compete nearly as well as I’d hoped, it was a fabulous experience. In the coming weeks, I will be closely following the continuing action, especially the World Championship Main Event which begins July 28, and has an expected prize pool of over $80,000,000.

If you’d like your crack at fame and fortune, it’s not too late to get in. For a few bucks you can play in an online satellite against thousands of other hopefuls. Or, if you happen to have an extra $10,000 laying around�.

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