WPT Championship descends on Vegas

Mike Sexton
May all your cards be live, and your pots be monsters.

With its rich and storied history, and even richer $25k buy-in, the WPT Championship has emerged as one of the most important dates on the poker calendar.

"Every player wants to win this one badly," World Poker Tour Host Mike Sexton told PokerListings. "This is the kind of jewel in the crown of a poker resume that, chances are, will never be topped."

The Bellagio in Las Vegas is home to the coveted championship once again, which will begin Saturday and run through an April 25 final table.

With a fabulous story line emerging in each of the five previous WPT Championships, Sexton said he expects this one to be as exciting as ever.

Last year Gus Hansen made headlines plowing through a field of 545 players, knocking every single player out at the final table before getting heads-up with David Chiu holding a 5:1 chip lead.

Chiu fought back though, winning pot after pot until he rivered trips against the Great Dane's made two pair to snatch the title and $3.38 million prize from his clutches.

"To be honest, I don't know if we'll ever see another comeback like that again," Sexton said. "It was just fantastic and to do it against the winningest player in WPT history, Gus Hansen, is just amazing."

The year before, it was Kirk Morrison busting every player at the table before getting heads-up.

Carlos Mortensen and the Crew
Mortensen becomes the man.

But Morrison couldn't prevent Carlos Mortensen from cementing his status as one of the greats in the game and becoming the first player to win both the WSOP Main Event title and a World Poker Tour Championship.

In Season 4 it was Las Vegas' own Joe Bartholdi taking down a title that, at the time, included the richest prize in WPT history at $3.76 million.

Season 3 saw Tuan Le parlay the seat he'd won by taking down a WPT title at Foxwoods into an almost $3 million win.

Le had just 100,000 in chips of the 10 million in play three-handed, but mounted a miraculous comeback to take the title.

Sweden's Martin de Kniff became the first European-born player to take the title in Season 2, and it was Alan Goehring - coming off a second place finish at the WSOP Main Event - who won it all at the inaugural championship.

"We've had a pretty good line-up of champions," Sexton said. "There's really no question this is one of the biggest tournaments of the year. It's second to none."

With the poker world finally starting to see the effects of the worldwide economic downturn, Sexton admitted the numbers may be off from previous years, but he still expects anywhere from 350 to 400 players to make the trip to Vegas this week.

And for the first time ever, one of those players will be the WPT Host himself.

"I am going to play," he said.  "It would be great if I could make the final table. Maybe we'll get someone to sub for me in the booth - like Doyle Brunson."

However, Sexton is under no illusions it's going to be an easy road to the final. With $100k starting stacks and relatively short eight-hour playing days, the structure at Bellagio is sure to attract the biggest names in the game.

"People love this format," he said. "Even those from the old school will come out to play. You have to take your hat off to Jack McLelland. You talk about deep-stacked poker, and this is it."

PokerListings will have live coverage of the WPT Championship starting tomorrow at 12 p.m. PT in our Live Tournaments section.

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