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Poker pros find road to big money harder to find

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Associated Press
July 2, 2009
— Many players entering the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold ‘em main event starting Friday in Las Vegas are hoping the game’s richest tournament will help them make up for lost winnings.

Poker players say it has gotten more difficult to make a living on the felt the past two years, and not simply because of a down economy and tight regulations on Internet poker.


Fewer players are taking up the game these days, and those who have remained are smarter than ever, much to the dismay of pros who feasted on the amateurs who flocked to the tables and Internet sites a few years ago when poker’s popularity boomed.


“I’ve never worked this hard and then my results aren’t what I want them to be,” said top pro Phil Hellmuth.


Hellmuth says he has been frustrated at this year’s World Series of Poker, which started May 26 with the first of 57 various poker events. Entry fees range from $1,000 to $50,000, and winners for each event get cash and a gold bracelet, poker’s most prestigious prize.


WSOP MAIN EVENT AT A GLANCE

A glance at the World Series of Poker main event, which begins Friday:


What: The 40th annual World Series of Poker main event, featuring no-limit Texas Hold ’em with a $10,000 buy-in. The main event is the final and most prestigious tournament of the series, one of 57 tournaments that began May 26 and award bracelets.


Where: Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas.


Who: As many as 7,000 players, including defending champion Peter Eastgate.


Prize Money: Not determined until all entries are final. First prize last year was $9.15 million with 6,844 entrants. The top 10 percent of most tournament fields usually wins money starting at about twice the buy-in amount.


Format: The field is split into four sections of up to 3,000 players each—one each starting Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Play each day runs about 10 hours. The fields remaining from the first two starting days will be combined July 7, while those from the second two starting days will play July 8. Those who survive July 7 and July 8 will join in one room July 10, playing each day until nine players remain, expected July 15.


Final table: Nine players begin Nov. 7 and play until two players are left. A winner is determined after heads-up play begins Nov. 10.


“I was hoping for something great to happen this trip but it just hasn’t happened yet,” said Hellmuth, who has cashed in four events this year for about $35,000.


Over the years Hellmuth has cashed 73 times for more than $6 million, and won the main event 20 years ago for $755,000. He has a record 11 gold bracelets.


Hellmuth said he’s confident he and other top pros will use their experience to keep raking in the chips, but other players say several circumstances surrounding poker have made games everywhere more difficult—meaning it’s tougher to bring home a steady income.


Peter Eastgate beat Hellmuth’s record last year by becoming the youngest main event champion ever at age 22, topping a field of 6,844 players to win $9.15 million. Since then, he says he’s had a losing year in cash games and disappointing results in tournaments, in part because he’s still adjusting against new, motivated opponents who want to take down the titleholder.


“As it is right now, I’m not doing well in poker,” Eastgate said.


Books, DVDs and poker Web sites give anyone who’s curious access to a library of no-limit Texas Hold ’em knowledge that wasn’t vailable 20 years ago.


“That means those people that are playing are getting better and better every day,” Raymer said. “It’s just everyone’s getting better and we don’t have new, inexperienced players joining our ra.


Cardplaying has declined in commercial casinos along with gambling revenues in general, leaving fewer fish at the tables for cash-game grinders and tournament regulars.


Chris Moneymaker, who famously parlayed a satellite buy-in into $2.5 million for the 2003 title, said he still thinks the $10,000 main event is the best tournament around for pros because it is filled with thousands of amateurs there for the experience.


“People are getting better but there are still bad players out there,” he said. The main event is the easiest tournament of the year by far. … If I could play at the main event every week, I would.”


MAIN EVENT CHAMPIONS

All-time winners of the World Series of Poker $10,000 No-Limit Texas Hold ’em tournament and money won.


2008—Peter Eastgate, $9,125,000; 2007— Jerry Yang, $8,250,000; 2006—Jamie Gold, $12,000,000; 2005— Joseph Hachem, $7,500,000; 2004—Greg Raymer, $5,000,000; 2003—Chris Moneymaker, $2,500,000 ; 2002—Robert Varkonyi, $2,000,000; 2001—Carlos Mortenson, $1,500,000; 2000—Chris Ferguson, $1,500,000.


1999—Noel Furlong, $1,000,000; 1998—Scotty Nguyen, $1,000,000; 1997—Stu Ungar, $1,000,000; 1996—Huck Seed, $1,000,000; 1995—Dan Harrington, $1,000,000; 1994—Russ Hamilton, $1,000,000; 1993—Jim Bechtel, $1,000,000; 1992—Hamid Dastmalchi, $1,000,000; 1991—Brad Daugherty, $1,000,000; 1990—Mansour Matloubi, $895,000.


1989—Phil Hellmuth, Jr., $755,000; 1988—Johnny Chan, $700,000; 1987—Johnny Chan, $625,000; 1986—Berry Johnston, $570,000; 1985—Bill Smith, $700,000; 1984—Jack Kellar, $660,000; 1983—Tom McEvoy, $580,000; 1982—Jack “Treetop” Strauss, $520,000; 1981—Stu Ungar, $375,000; 1980—Stu Ungar, $385,000.


1979—Hal Fowler, $270,000; 1978—Bobby Baldwin, $210,000; 1977—Doyle Brunson, $340,000; 1976—Doyle Brunson, $220,000; 1975—Sailor Roberts, $210,000; 1974—Johnny Moss, $160,000; 1973—Puggy Pearson, $130,000; 1972—“Amarillo Slim” Preston, $80,000; 1971—Johnny Moss, $30,000; 1970—Johnny Moss, winnings not available.



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