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Premier League Poker

by 'Mad Marty' Wilson |  Published: May 01, 2007

With 12 of the top names in the game, added prize money, and a structure designed to enable more play, the stage was set for the PartyPoker Premier League Poker.

The players were: Phil Hellmuth, Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott, Juha Helppi, Roland De Wolfe, Tony G, Liz Lieu, Kenna James, Vicky Coren, Ian Frazer, Eddy Scharf, Andy Black, and Kirill Gerasimov.

Each player played six first-round heats, earning points and money for their finishing positions: first place, 8 points; second place, 6 points; third place, 3 points; fourth place, 2 points; fifth place, 1 point; and sixth place, 0 points.

Based on these points, the leading four players progressed automatically to the final table, with the next four battling it out in heads-up matches for the last two seats. Not only did each point equal 10,000 chips at the final table, but also $1,000. This meant that, potentially, one player could have won $48,000 before sitting at the final table, where the payouts of the $260,000 added prize money began.

With this format and these players, I had been looking forward to this event in particular, but hadn't anticipated just what an impact it would have. After the first day, you began to realise that you were involved in something very special, and believed it could be as significant for television poker as Late Night Poker had been. What made it even more exciting for me was that even though I wasn't playing, I was around people who had been there at Late Night Poker and thought the same. In fact, Late Night Poker 1 was when I first met Jesse May.

This level of excitement and anticipation continued from the studios back to the hotel, where instead of having only one opponent, Phil Hellmuth now had plenty who were willing to take him on at Chinese poker. I doubt if they were playing for $500 a point seven years ago.

I love gambling and I love poker, and never considered the two to be the same. Only those who play poker against me gamble, but even I know enough that to play Chinese poker against Phil would only be gambling for me. In fairness to Phil, he did tell every opponent before he sat down that he was the best player in the world.

The only people who could have been left a little disappointed were the crew, who found that their regular £20 sit-and-go was now a $5,000 sit-down pot-limit Omaha game, which they were welcome to join.

These select players brought not only a higher level of skill to the table, but also a constant stream of entertaining banter. It seems that most players now have grown up on TV and are used to the cameras. Another addition was the use of the players as co-commentators, and all seemed to take to it quite well.

With the points system in place, it wasn't a case of getting only one shot, and strategies began to form, especially in the later stages, when, with one heat left, a player could potentially make automatic qualification or relegation, depending on who finished where. Phil had looked on course to take a massive chip lead forward to the final table after winning his first three heats for maximum points. However, after earning no points from his fourth match, he went to the final table with 40,000 chips more than Eddy Scharf, who finished second in points. Juha Helppi and Ian Frazer made up the automatic places, leaving Liz Lieu to take on Kenna James and Vicky Coren to play Andy Black heads up for the remaining two final-table places. Despite having widely different experience in heads-up play - Liz specialises in it, and by her own admission, this was Vicky's first heads-up match - both came through to secure their places at the final table.

After nearly eight hours of play, Juha Helppi became the first champion of the Premier League Poker on his 30th birthday.

The excitement, which had surrounded the week, didn't end when a champion was declared. Discussions were already under way about how to build on this format. Tony G already had declared that this was by far his favourite event, and saw Premier League Poker as the only event he would want to play in. spade

Mad Marty Wilson is a professional gambler and poker consultant for Matchroom Sport.