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Poker News: July 29, 2006

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Copyright © 2006 Chicago Sun-Times

HEADLINE: Hold'em players ready for poker's big event

BY John G. Brokopp

The biggest and richest high-stakes poker game in history gets under way today in the Amazon Convention Center at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 players from around the world are expected to ante up $10,000 each to compete for roughly $60 million in prize money, including between $10 million and $12 million to the winner, in the No Limit Texas Hold'em World Championship.

It's the main event in the 37th annual World Series of Poker, a gargantuan competition encompassing 45 individual poker tournaments that began June 25. More than 20,000 players from some 40 countries are on hand to compete for well over $100 million in total prize money.

I was in Las Vegas earlier this month to check things out and it's truly a sight to behold: There are 208 poker tables in the cavernous hall. What strikes you at once is the relative silence except for the incessant din of clicking chips, a self-orchestrated symphony from the hands of hundreds of gamblers held captive by their own powers of concentration.

And unlike the clandestine high-stakes poker games of another place and time, the 2006 World Series of Poker is an open window for all to see, thanks to a large contingent of journalists and up to 25 ESPN television cameras, including one overhead that travels the length and width of the tournament area.

Interview rooms and studio-set locations straight out of Hollywood serve as a reminder that this is no penny-ante entertainment experience but rather a major production that will fuel some 32 hours of primetime television and weeks of promotion and hype.

Poker is big-time, high-profile, mainstream and a veritable marketing juggernaut, qualities that Harrah's Entertainment foresaw when it purchased Binion's in downtown Las Vegas a few years back, not for the aging, neglected casino but rather the rights to the World Series of Poker.

The original field in the main event will be whittled down to around 3,200 players when the first round of play is completed on Monday. By Wednesday, the field will total around 1,400, and following a day off on Thursday, only about 600 will be left standing (or sitting, as the case may be) a week from today.

The grueling elimination process goes on for another five days until the nine players who remain will assemble at the coveted final table on Aug. 10 at high noon to begin the epic battle of nerves, know-how and, of course, luck.

You will be able to see edited coverage of the entire main event, including the final table, on ESPN every Tuesday evening in prime time Aug. 22 through Sept. 26. If you can't wait, final table action will be available as a pay-per-view "World Series of Poker Live" telecast ($24.95) starting with the first deal and continuing until the champion is crowned. How long that will take is anybody's guess.

The placement of cameras in the rails, allowing viewers to see the cards each player is holding, were to professional poker on TV what "talkies" were to the motion-picture industry. The specially constructed final table to be used throughout ESPN's coverage will include not only that technology but the added visual dimension of a "rabbit cam" under the table next to the dealer to reveal to viewers the card that would have been dealt next in the event a player folds.

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