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Poker series moves to roomier casino

For nearly a year, poker fans, many of them recent converts, have been watching last year's World Series of Poker on television, following Connecticut patent attorney Greg Raymer's triumph over a record field of more than 2,500 competitors on his way to a whopping grand prize of million in the No-Limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship. And as Raymer's run has been broadcast over and over, poker rooms -- both actual ones in casinos and virtual ones on the Internet -- have been doing incredibly brisk business dealing to players hooked on gambling's runaway craze. With the poker frenzy roiling, participation records will be shattered in a couple of weeks when the 36th World Series of Poker opens in Las Vegas and tens of thousands of players compete in more than 40 events that will be held from June 2 to July 15. The world championship spans the final nine days. For the first time, the tournament will be held mostly away from its birthplace, the former Binion's Horseshoe Casino, now simply known as Binion's, in downtown Vegas. Harrah Entertainment, in its second year as owners of the tournament, will hold all but the final two days of the championship event in a new 60,000-square foot convention center at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, just off the Strip on Flamingo Avenue. When the switch to the Rio was made -- the Horseshoe had been bursting at the seams last year, and the crowds are expected to triple -- it was announced that the last two days of the championship would still be held at Binion's, a parting salute to tradition. While some close to the tournament have said there has been talk about keeping the entire event at the Rio, Binion's -- now owned by a West Virginia-based gaming company -- was still scheduled for its last hurrah in mid-July. Regardless of where the championship bracelet is handed out, organizers are bracing for a maximum field of 6,600 players for the World Championship, which will have a prize pool of more than $60 million, if all seats are sold, and an estimated first-place prize of $7. 

4 million. In fact, everyone who makes the final table will become a millionaire. However, in addition to the marquee event, the so-called preliminary tournaments, many offering millions in prize money, are also expected to max out on entries. Last year, Scott Fischman, then 23, became the youngest player ever to win two World Series events. Fischman won his two preliminary events in four days, a No-Limit Hold 'em championship that earned him $300,000 and a tournament called HORSE, which included several poker games, for an additional $100,200. TV viewers might remember Fischman as the player who jubilantly flopped backward on a cash-strewn table after one win. With some many players expected to descend on Vegas over six weeks for the tournament, Fischman says it's unrealistic to expect to win again so soon in such a crowded field. "It's going to be unreal," the former casino dealer said. "Whatever they had last year for any event, it will probably be double or triple that. It's really crazy when you think about it, because before last year, the largest tournament ever was the 2003 World Championship when (Chris) Moneymaker won, and that had about 830 players. "You have to be willing to change your goals. If you talk to 1,000 players, 995 will tell you that their goal is to win the World Series. You can't set a goal like that, because you're setting yourself up for a big letdown." Players gain entry to World Series tournaments either by buying a seat -- most preliminaries require a buy-in of $1,000 to $2,500 and the championship is $10,000 -- or by qualifying in so-called satellite tournaments. Satellites are held in either real casinos or on Internet poker Web sites, where players pay smaller buy-ins and vie for a World Series seat. Harrah's officials say checks, some of them in seven figures, have been arriving regularly as satellite tournament sponsors send in their fees for players who have won those stepping-stone events. The opening field for the World Championship will start in three flights July 7-9.


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