After almost a month of poker, the professionals are beginning to step to the felt at the L. A. Poker Classic, just in time for the World Poker Tour $10,000 Championship Event and the WPT Invitational which starts upon its completion. While the early action has been dominated by local Los Angeles and California pros at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, now the real action begins as some of the biggest names in the game today seem to be ready for the Championship Event, set to start on February 16th.
One player who has made his way to the Classic is the defending champion of the event, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi. Fresh off his second place finish at the WPT World Poker Open in Tunica and his dominating run over a difficult table in Atlantic City at the inaugural WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open, Mizrachi comes to La-La Land with the opportunity to make history on the tour. No one has ever come close to repeating as champion of a WPT event but, with his current hot streak running at maximum speed, Mizrachi cannot be counted out from accomplishing this feat. He already has shown that he is still playing his "A" game as he finished second in the $2,500 No-Limit Hold 'Em event to veteran professional Kenna James.
Mizrachi, who is becoming a huge crowd favorite whenever he steps to the tables, isn't the only professional in town, though. Canada's Gavin Smith, the early season leader in the WPT Player of the Year race, has also cashed in a couple of tournaments at the Classic. Lurking in the background as well is 2004 Poker Player of the Year Men "The Master" Nguyen, who has been active during the Classic with some smaller cashes as well. When you add in other players, such as 2004 POY runner-up John Phan and a host of the best players in the world, it promises to once again be one of the most competitive fields on the WPT. Expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 runners to step up to line for the Championship Event.
Following the completion of the Championship Event, the WPT starts the only invitational tournament on its schedule. The WPT Invitational will bring together nearly 100 celebrities from the film, television and sports worlds to compete against 200 seasoned poker professionals. Such notable celebrities (and some serious poker players as well) as James Woods, Mimi Rodgers, former California State champion Ben Affleck and current WPT Ladies' Night champion Jennifer Tilly have competed in the past and many should be back again to attempt to take down their part of the $200,000 prize pool, which includes a buy-in to the WPT Championship and a $10,000 charitable donation.
Some may remember last year's stirring tournament, which featured a final table that included former World Champion Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and veteran cash game expert Chau Giang. In a surprise, actor Tom Everett Scott became the first celebrity to ever reach the final table at the Invitational. He performed well before succumbing to the veteran poker pros at the table and finished third to European poker professional Johan Storakers and the eventual winner of the 2005 event, Costa Rica's Alex Brenes. This year's event promises to have just as many exciting moments when it begins on February 22nd.
With the crowning of Men "The Master" Nguyen as 2005 Poker Player of the Year (in a ceremony to be held on February 15th) and the dual action of the L. A. Poker Classic's WPT $10,000 Championship Event and the WPT Invitational, Los Angeles will be the poker capital of the world for the next couple of weeks. It should be very interesting to see if we'll have history made as well as "The Grinder" drives for his repeat championship at the Commerce Casino.
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