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Champions Aim for Poker Greatness This Week

Fourth WPT Championship Caps Biggest Season Yet


As soon as the World Poker Tour wraps up its fourth season later this week, workers will load up the set and drive it to a movie shoot in New Orleans where it will play itself. Burt Reynolds will be there. So will Vince Van Patten, Mike Sexton, and Courtney Friel. The script calls for the WPT Championship as the place where the movie comes to a climax, and there are plenty of poker players who can understand why.

The real WPT Championship starts today at the Bellagio. Last year, Tuan Le won $2,856,150 and the championship. He got into the event by winning the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods five months before the championship.

This week, 16 players have the chance to repeat Le's success, because the second-best perk of winning a WPT event (the first, of course, is the money), is receiving the $25,500 entry into the championship event along with the top prize.

It was a record-breaking year on the WPT trail. All 16 events generated a total prize pool of $67,951,405. Of that, the champions received $20,289,186. During season three, a little more than $70 million was won on the WPT, including the championship, and this year's championship is expected to generate a prize pool of more than $10 million.

Season four started last May when Gavin Smith won the Mirage Poker Showdown and the $1,153,778 that came with it. He would go on to make two more WPT final tables in season four, coming in fourth at the Gold Strike World Poker Open and third at the Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship.

The next two events had Roland "The Sheep" De Wolfe winning $599,600 for the Grand Prix De Paris and Alex Kahaner winning $1,150,900 in the Legends of Poker. Al Ardebili then won the Borgata Poker Open, a $1,498,650 prize he added to the handful of cashes he's had in recent years.

A few weeks later, Freddy Deeb won $1 million and a lot of sunshine at the Poker Classic in Aruba. Then, Minh Ly won the Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship for $1,060,050 a few weeks before 21-year-old Nick Schulman won $2,167,500 at the World Poker Finals held at Foxwoods.

Rehne Pedersen won the Five Diamond World Poker Classic, a $2,078,185 prize. Steve Paul-Ambrose won his first tournament when he finished first at the PokerStars Caribbean Poker Adventure and it was good for $1,388,600.

Another familiar name bobbed up to the surface when Scotty Nguyen won the Gold Strike World Poker Open at the end of January, taking home $969,421 and his first WPT championship after sitting at four final tables.

After finishing second to Nguyen in the World Poker Open, Michael Mizrachi won his second WPT title only a few days later at the Borgata Winter Poker Open, which was good for $1,173,373.

The L.A. Poker Classic was next, and Alan Goehring outlasted a field of 692 players to win $2,391,550. Of the three WPT final tables he has made in the last three years, he has won two of them and finished second in the other.

Barry Greenstein was next, winning the WPT Invitational and its $100,000 prize.

After that Nam Le won the Bay 101 Shooting Star, taking home $1,198,300. The World Poker Challenge in Reno was next, and Mike Simon was good enough to outlast 592 players and win $1,052,890 in this $5,000-buy-in event.

And then, only nine days ago, Annand "Victor" Ramdin won the Foxwoods Poker Classic and $1,331,889. Ramdin has many cashes, but this win was by far his best finish.

All these players, plus many others, want to put a the giant cherry that is the WPT Championship on top of their poker season, and the action starts today. To see how the tournament unfolds long before the episode airs this summer, keep an eye on