Celebrities, pros gather for WPT Invitational

David Ulliott and James Woods
Celebrities and poker pros will mingle during the WPT Celebrity Invitational beginning today.

After a day off to celebrate the thrilling victory of Phil Ivey in the World Poker Tour's L.A. Poker Classic, pros and celebrities alike will gather today for the start of the WPT Invitational.

The WPT Invitational is routinely one of the more relaxed events on the Tour's schedule. Because it is a freeroll tournament, with a $200,000 prize pool and a seat at the WPT Championship for the winner divvied up among the final table, both the professionals and the stars in attendance take a more laid-back approach to playing in this event.

It's not just one big love-in, though. Past battles at the felt here have featured many great players and delivered some well-played poker.

Since its inception five years ago, a solid roster of pros have taken the championship. Layne Flack captured the first rendition of the tournament in 2003, followed by Phil Laak in 2004.

The first "surprise" winner of the WPT Invitational was one of the Brenes brothers, but not the expected Humberto or Eric. It was Alex, who took the championship in 2005.

Barry Greenstein continued the professional onslaught in the Invitational in 2006 by battling his way to the title. Last year, advantage swung back to the amateurs again, with Adam Weinraub, who earned his seat at the WPT Invitational through a silent auction, defeating "Miami" John Cernuto and Tim West to win the championship.

Weinraub then demonstrated his devotion to charitable causes by donating the $100,000 he won to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Charity is a big focus for the Invitational, in fact. The last 10 celebrities in play will receive a cash donation to the charity of their choice, courtesy of event sponsor Harbor Private Funds, LLC.

WPT Ladies charity partner Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Harbor Private Funds' Harbor Foundation and Crocs, Inc.'s Soles United, will each receive a $2,500 donation from the WPT.

In the past couple of years the concurrent National Heads-Up Poker Championship has siphoned off some pros, but many still make their way to this event. The field has grown from 104 players in its inaugural year to 420 last year. Odds are it will be around that again this year, with some very familiar names in the battle.

Along with the professional players bellying up to the felt, a plethora of celebrities will likely make the attempt to take down a WPT championship.

Over the past few years, stars such as Vince Vaughn, Ben Affleck, Paris Hilton, Jason Alexander, Cheryl Hines, James Woods, Don Cheadle, Camryn Manheim, Pete Sampras, Hank Azaria, Laura Prepon, Jon Favreau, Shanna Moakler, Mekhi Phifer and Morgan Fairchild have taken part in the WPT Invitational, and the field is sure to be just as dazzling this year.

"Being the world's largest poker casino and so close to Hollywood, the Commerce Casino sees many pros and celebrities come through its doors each week, but the WPT Invitational tournament is by far and away the most exciting event of the year," said John Griffo, casino spokesperson and director of poker operations.

"What's great about the Invitational is you see them all come together for a tournament where they aren't just playing for cash, but for charity, respect, and overall, for fun."

PokerListings will be on hand for all the red-carpet frenzy and poker action as the WPT Invitational starts today. Check out the Live Tournaments section for all the details.

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