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Poker News: July 3, 2007

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Copyright © 2007 MSNBC

HEADLINE: Going All-In

If baseball is America’s pastime, then poker is its game. How fitting that both have a World Series.

Many of us learn to play poker shortly after mastering “Go Fish” and “Old Maid”, or maybe even before, when M&M’s could double as poker chips.

Our heroes play the game in movies, from the old west saloons inhabited by characters like Maverick and the Sundance Kid, to the modern day underground clubs portrayed in “Rounders.”

It has often been portrayed as a seedy game, a diversion for degenerates and low-life gamblers. And perhaps to a certain extent it is. But over the last four years poker has become so much more than that.

Everything seemed to change in 2003, when an accountant from Nashville named Chris Moneymaker won the main event at the World Series of Poker. He earned the $10,000 entry fee by winning a pair of Internet poker tournaments, thus turning $39 into $2.5 million.

He was a poker amateur, a complete unknown. But he had the perfect name and the perfect aw-shucks demeanor, and the ESPN cameras, along with millions of cable viewers, ate it up. Amateurs flocked to the Internet, and then on to Las Vegas, each one of them hoping to become the next Moneymaker.

The effect was stunning, with the main event field swelling to nearly 9,000 in 2006, with a grand prize of $12 million. The rise in popularity forced the tournament to move from tiny Binion’s, where it was born, to a revamped and much more spacious Rio. It has led to increased television coverage and a frenzy on the blogosphere. It has sent many professional players scrambling to cash in, supplementing their income by writing books and producing how-to DVDs.

And it has led many aficionados of the game to wonder how high the poker boom will rise, and how long it will last.

I have been pondering these questions as I prepare to head to Las Vegas to cover the World Series’ main event, which runs July 6-17. Like many Americans, I am a novice poker player myself, able to relieve my friends of a couple bucks on occasion, but smart enough to know my limits are substantial.

I’ve been hooked by the “Moneymaker effect,” and entranced by the show that the World Series has become.

I’m looking forward to taking you behind the scenes of this show, and I hope to give you a glimpse of the culture, introduce you to the colorful characters that make the game so interesting.

Characters like Bret Forsberg. An electrician who plays poker, Forsberg hopes to soon be a “poker player who used to be an electrician.” There are doubtless hundreds of others like him, amateurs hoping to be good – and lucky – enough to take home a life-altering prize of cash and fame.

You’ll also get to know Ciaran O’Leary. A longtime grinder of a pro, O’Leary finally hit a huge jackpot last month, winning more than $700,000 in a preliminary Texas hold’em event at the World Series. The first thing he did with his winnings was to give away a third of it to his friends.

Both of these men have granted me close-up access to their World Series experiences, and you’ll get to learn more about them a little later.

You’ll also get a chance to hear from Andy Wang, a fellow journalist who is actually competent enough to play in the main event. Andy will be providing daily posts to this feature, giving you insight from the tables only a player can provide.

So buckle up for what should be a wild ride over the next couple of weeks. Sit back, have fun, and enjoy the show.

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Related: See U.S.A. Online Poker

Article downloaded from the World Wide Web on July 3, 2007:

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