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Matt Showell: Right now in Las Vegas Vancouver poker players are making a run in the biggest poker tournament on the planet, the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker Main Event.
6,737 players bought in this year and by Day 5 that number was cut down to just 251. Among them were five poker players from Vancouver, Canada.
Ami Barer is in the top 20 highest-earning Canadian poker players and took down the Aussie Millions Main Event in 2014 for $1.4 million.
Barer has played the Main Event before but this is his first time making the money.
Ami Barer: This is pretty exciting. The Main Event is unlike any other tournament that exists on the planet at any time of the year. It's pretty fantastic and it's awesome we have a couple Vancouver boys trying to make a showing.
Matt Showell: Michael Niwinski plays online poker professionally but this is his first time playing the WSOP Main Event.
Michael Niwiniski: When I first entered the Rio and I saw the lights, the banners, the feature table, it definitely felt surreal. This was my dream, to come down to the World Series. To actually get to this point where I'm one of the chip leaders on Day 5, I wasn't even thinking that. It would have been insane for me to think that on Day 1. So the feeling of getting this deep is just purely indescribable.
Matt Showell: Like so many poker pros, Niwinski made the decision to pursue poker instead of a more traditional career path.
Michael: I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BA in psychology and when I graduated I kind of had two options. I can pursue this degree because I need more to actually get a job, or I can do this poker thing. Poker was going well enough at the time that I was said, "Hey, let's give it a shot." It's been going well ever since.
Matt Showell: The Vancouver poker scene has changed a lot over the last decade. Where there used to be big live tournaments, now most of the poker is played on the internet. After online poker was banned in the US in 2011, American poker pros flocked to Canadian cities in order to keep playing online. But, despite the influx of players, live poker in Vancouver has all but died out:
Ami Barer: It's good playing poker in Vancouver. The live scene is a little bit dead. I think we all wish someone would step in and liven it up with a big tournament or two in the year. But there's a vibrant poker community ever since Black Friday and all the Americans decided to take our fine city up as their home.
Matt Showell: When Day 5 ended Michael Niwinski was the only Vancouverite still in.
First place for this year's Main Event is $8 million but the first step is making the final table. When the Main Event reaches the final nine players on Tuesday it will take a three and a half month break before returning to Las Vegas at the end of October to decide a champion. Michael Niwinski hopes to be a part of it.
Michael Niwinski: I would have so much fun being part of the November Nine but honestly I'm having so much fun now that anything that happens from now on doesn't matter. If I start downswinging and I'm out tonight, tomorrow, I'm still having so much fun. This World Series has exceeded my expectations so much that whatever ending happens just happens and I won't be upset at any result.
Check out the live coverage on PokerListings.com to see how far Michael Niwinski goes in this year's World Series of Poker Main Event.