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8/07/2005 No.6
he Guardian Poker Column
Barry Glendenning writes for the Guardian News Group
Friday July 8, 2005
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Eyes down for the Big One

The main event of the World Series of Poker got underway in Las Vegas on Thursday, with around 6,000 players competing for over $60m in prize money.

A day to learn and a lifetime to master. The main event of the World Series of Poker, the No-Limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship got underway in the Las Vegas strip's Rio hotel yesterday. With around 6000 players playing for over $60m in prize money, the tournament has been forced out of Binion's Horseshoe, the landmark casino that's been home of the the Big One since its inception in 1970, and will only return for the final two days, when the field has been whittled down to the 27 players who will duke it out for the $6m+ first prize. This is just one 45 events in the World Series (which started on June 2 in the Rio's 60,000-square-foot exhibit hall) boasting a dizzying array of entry fees, poker games and prize money.

You could be forgiven for assuming the competitors are all men in big hats answering to names like Doc and Slim, but nothing could be further from the truth. Open to anyone who can lay down the $10,000 dollar entry fee in cash, the No-Limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship attracts punters of every stripe and shade. Among the celebrities slated to take part this year are Hollywood heavyweights James Woods, Toby Maguire and Matt Damon and the magician Penn Gillette. Actresses Jennifer Tilly comes into the the Big One on the back of a stirring victory, having seen off 600 rivals to trouser a little shy of $160,000 in the Ladies Poker Championship on June 27th. Tilly's poker-pro boyfriend Phiul "The Unabomber" Laak will be joining her in the main event, along with other recognisable buffs such as Chris Ferguson, former back-to-back winner Doyle Brunson and British contender Joe Beevers, and a whole host of would-be stars who have travelled to Vegas in the hope of making names for themselves.

The opening rounds of this year's big one will be played in three flights over three days, which will see the field slashed to around 2000 survivors. Not unlike its football equivalent the World Cup, "survive and advance" is the motto for the heavyweights in the nervy opening rounds, as the presence of so many players decrees that luck plays an even more role than usual. "Playing in the World Series of Poker makes you realize how good people are getting. They watch poker on television, read books. It's just tougher and tougher," explained Chicago-based management company CEO John Rogers to the Mercury News. After just three hours at the table, Rogers was down, out and ready to go home.