Biggest World Series of Poker begins - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

With a first place prize jackpot of roughly $7.5 million awaiting the winner, the World Series of Poker kicked off its nine-day championship run Thursday at the Rio with the first of three preliminary rounds.

With each player (or sponsor) paying a $10,000 buy-in, the World Championship no-limit Texas holdem event is expected to have the richest prize pool in the tournaments 36-year history.

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Entries for the game are expected to exceed 6,000, so World Series of Poker officials decided the opening day will be stretched over three days, with roughly 2,000 players for each session. By Tuesday, the field should be pared down to between 200 and 400 players.

A specially built 60,000-square-foot poker room inside the Rios convention center has housed this years World Series. The final two days scheduled for next Thursday and Friday will be held at Binions.

The 36th World Series of Poker has been the most popular ever, with nearly 20,000 participants taking part in 41 events before the world championship match and a prize pool exceeding $50 million. Last year, a record 14,054 players, including a record 2,567 in the world championship event, took part in the World Series.

World Series officials have said the total jackpot purse in 2005 would exceed $100 million.

The booming popularity of poker, fueled by play on the Internet and numerous television poker events, helped to expand awareness of the World Series and substantially increase its attendance. The growth forced Harrahs Entertainment, which purchased the World Series brand last year, to move the event away from its downtown home at Binions into its new location at the Rio.

"Players are contributing to a prize pool that will draw such events as the Indy 500, the Kentucky Derby and the Masters (golf tournament)," said World Series of Poker Director of Operations Gary Thompson.

To understand the magnitude and growth of this years World Series of Poker, the ninth-place finisher will win $1 million. In 1991, the world champion, Brad Daugherty, was awarded $1 million.

Many of the previous World Series of Poker champions were expected to participate over the next few days, including last years champion, Greg Raymer, and 2003 winner Chris Moneymaker.

During the 41 events that began in early June and that preceded the world championship match, the World Series has had some memorable moments.

The only living two-time world champions, Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson, won a preliminary event four days apart and each earned their record 10th gold bracelets, coveted jewelry that is presented to each World Series event winner along with the cash prize.

Actress Jennifer Tilly captured national media exposure by winning the ladies championship, a no-limit holdem event, and the $158,335 first prize.

Brunsons son, Todd Brunson, won his first World Series championship, and the pair became the first father-son combination to win gold bracelets.

In addition to Tilly, several Hollywood celebrities were expected to play in the world championship event, including actors James Woods and Brad Garrett and actress Shannon Elizabeth.

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