Braving the fury of Hurricane Jeanne, 647 intrepid poker players made it to Aruba for the UltimateBet.com Poker Classic, the fifth stop on the World Poker Tour. They either won their entry online through a satellite or bought-in for $6,000, and tournament sponsor UltimateBet.com anted up an extra $118,000 to make the total prize pool a cool $4 million. The winner of the UltimateBet.com Poker Classic will take home $1 million, double what last year's victor claimed, and then advance to the WPT Championship when the tour's season culminates at Bellagio in April 2005.
A pre-tournament "Celebrity Aruba Home Game" featured Ben Affleck and a number of top poker players Annie Duke, Phil Hellmuth, David "Devilfish" Ulliott, European Player of the Year Marcel Lüske and Antonio Esfandiari. Each star hosted a table, and 15 lucky winners walked away with sets of WPT-embossed poker chips in sleek wood cases. Affleck also played in the main WPT event, but was eliminated on the first day.
The tropical destination has attracted players from Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, China, the Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, England, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.S.
The next and sixth stop of the Tour's 16-tournament season is the Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship, from October 19-22 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
The WPT continues to average a "poker millionaire a month" in its 16-tournament season. In Season Three the total prize money has already reached $15,194,470, a $6,631,590 increase over Season Two. Projected to reach a total of $70 million, Season Three's prize pool is rising with every stop on the Tour.
The World Poker Tour is the highest rated series in the history of the Travel Channel, airing in the US on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT.