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WSOP kicks off with $40k bonanza
The 40th Annual World Series of Poker kicks off in a big way this week with Thursday's massive $40,000 No Limit Hold'em special event.
The tournament is the second event of the 2009 WSOP (the first is Wednesday's Casino Employees tournament) and is among the most highly anticipated.
Its $40,000 buy-in was designed to commemorate the Series' 40th anniversary and is sure to attract many of the game's biggest names.
"We wanted a tournament to commemorate the 40th Annual WSOP in grand style and creating the $40,000 event was a great way to mark the historical significance," said Seth Palansky, Harrah's Sports and Entertainment Director, Communications.
"The event was created with only this year in mind and we expect it to be a similar field to the H.O.R.S.E. event: Big names, primarily professionals, but an event spectators and poker players alike would want to see."
To entice the pros, Series organizers made the tournament a four-day event, slowed down the structure and gave players plenty of chips to play with.
The tournament will be one of four filmed for broadcast by ESPN over the course of the summer.
"With ESPN cameras rolling, a slow structure and 120,000 in starting chips, all of the elements are there to have a terrific, well-played and well-attended event," said Palansky.
Among the pros who have expressed interest in playing in the biggest NLHE tournament of the summer is "Poker Brat" Phil Hellmuth.
"I'm not sure how many players there will be, but it is just one bracelet at stake," he told PokerListings.com. "Is it a special one? Yes, it is. So I really want to win it!
"Plus, I've always wanted to win the first event at the WSOP. I have won the first No Limit Hold'em tournament, and the first Limit Hold'em event, but not the very first one as yet."
Team PokerStars Pro Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier is also excited about the event.
"I'm definitely looking forward to the $40,000 event," he said. "I love slow, deep structures because they enable me to develop my game with more time to pick my spots efficiently."
ElkY also pointed to the tournament's prestige factor as a major drawing point.
"I also like the fact that with such a high buy-in, the field is usually more competitive, and I really enjoy competing against the best players in the game."
Palansky expects a star-studded field.
"With a buy-in at this amount, the winner will have bested likely the toughest No Limit Hold'em field ever assembled," he said. "The prestige of winning this event should be on par with the other more noteworthy events at the WSOP."
Series organizers used that prestige factor like a car dealership uses a top of the line sports car, positioning the most expensive NLHE tournament beside the WSOP's entry-level model as an added incentive to get people through the door.
"We purposely placed the event adjacent to our $1,000 "Stimulus Special" [Event 4], so the masses that play in that event will get to play alongside some of the game's greatest at the same time," said Palansky.
But for all of the attention due to be paid to the $40,000 event, Palansky doesn't see the new tournament overshadowing the Series' other marquee attractions.
The $10,000 NLHE Main Event, he said, will remain the Main Event.
"There was careful consideration when creating this event to ensure it wasn't mistaken as the new Main Event," he said. "The Main Event will always be the granddaddy of the WSOP.
"[It has the]hugest live tournament field of the year, biggest prize pool and the spectacle that only the Main Event can be. The Main Event has 39 years of history and we are adamant of keeping it as is with all of its glory."
Similarly, the H.O.R.S.E. World Championship will retain its standing among the world's most prestigious poker tournaments:
"The $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament has clearly become recognized as the players' championship won by the best all-around poker player, and deservedly so."
Palansky wasn't ready to project entry numbers for the $40,000 NLHE tournament, but did suggest that he thought Hold'em's popularity would push the number of registrants above that of the tournament's $50k mixed game cousin.
Whether the tournament attracts 100 hopefuls or 1,000, it will certainly command its fair share of attention from beyond the rail.
ESPN will broadcast the tournament in a two-hour special review on July 28th.
If you can't wait that long, the PokerListings.com team will have live coverage of the tournament in our WSOP section, starting with shuffle-up and deal at noon Vegas time, May 28th.