2009 WSOP: Champions Invitational

Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth
Phil Hellmuth (1989) and Johnny Chan (1987, 1988) will join fellow ME winners in the Champions Invitational

It's among the most highly-anticipated tournaments of the summer, but you've got no chance of finding a seat.

In fact, if you're not part of that select group of 33 players with Bobby Baldwin has reportedly already indicated he won't play.

Among the rest of the champs, however, there is palpable excitement.

"Of course I'm playing!" 1989 champ Phil Hellmuth told PokerListings.com. "It's one of four ESPN events, and I love playing with my peers."

Peter Eastgate
Likes his chances!

"I definitely intend to play," said 2004 winner Greg Raymer. "I love the concept and have suggested exactly an event like this to [WSOP commissioner] Jeffrey Pollack several times in the past."

Reigning champ Peter Eastgate, meanwhile, told PokerListings.com he thought he should be considered a favorite.

"I should be one of the strongest [players] as I have emerged from the second biggest field," he said.

"However, you can't disregard the champions like Doyle Brunson, Huck Seed and Phil Hellmuth, who have proven to stay on top ever since they won their championships."

By Eastgate's math, his primary competition should be 2006 champion Jamie Gold, who took a $12 million first prize for defeating the largest field in Main Event history - 8,773 runners.

In comparison, the young Dane's victory last November saw him defeat 6,843 other entrants to claim a $9,152,416 top prize.

Like most of the champions PokerListings talked to, Gold was excited about the prospect of facing off against his peers with little but pride on the line.

"There is a 40-year history of excitement and prestige surrounding the WSOP," he said. "This event will celebrate all of it and give us a once in a lifetime opportunity to compete with each other. We're going to have a great time."

Jamie Gold
Loves the competition!

Raymer agreed.

"I am very proud of my accomplishment in 2004," he said. "The group of champions is very select and it is an honor to compete with them in this event."

That said, though all of the former champions indicated their intention to play in the event, Hellmuth suggested his primary focus will be on the Series' bracelet events this summer.

"[The Champions Invitational] will be fun to play in, but there is no bracelet for first place," he said. "So I'll try my hardest, but I will be looking out of one eye for bracelet events while I'm playing it."

Dalla told PokerListings he thought the Champions Invitational would fill a void with the armchair poker fan.

"I think we can agree that the [WSOP events] in recent years have gotten to the point where all we are likely to see in most final tables is anonymous faces," he said. "That's not a bad thing.

"But the public wants to see the legends, too. And this is a great way to ensure that happens, at least once a year. Add Jack Binion's name plus a cool car for first place, and this should be a lot of fun."

The Invitational kicks off May 31st at noon Vegas time and will be broadcast on ESPN beginning August 4th.

Of course, you can catch all of the action live in the PokerListings.com World Series of Poker section as soon as play gets underway.

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