After sixteen tournaments, nearly a year of travel around the world and millions of dollars in prize pools, many highly prestigious titles are on the line for the WPT Championship, the $25,000 final event of the Fourth Season of the World Poker Tour.
The final event of the season, being conducted as the Championship Event of the Five Star World Poker Classic at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, should add another twelve to fifteen million dollars to what has already been a record-breaking season of prize pools for WPT events. With the WPT Championship, over $80 million will have been played for in Season Four of the Tour, the best in the history of the WPT. To put this in perspective, over the first three seasons combined the prize pools "only" cracked the $100 million mark.
The competition itself will bring the cream of the poker playing world to the tables. Defending champion Tuan Le faces a tremendous challenge as it is estimated that approximately 700 players will step to the felt this year. Every WPT champion from the current season is there on a freeroll (a seat at the WPT Championship is part of every package for the winners on the WPT) and the men who make up the list of champions from Season Four are all excellent contenders for the WPT Championship. Cash game specialists Freddy Deeb (UltimateBet Aruba Poker Classic), Minh Ly (Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship) and Barry Greenstein (WPT Invitational) will stake their claim for the title against tournament pros Scotty Nguyen (WPT World Poker Open), Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi (Borgota Winter Poker Open), Alan Goehring (L. A. Poker Classic) and the leader on the Season Four WPT Player of the Year race, Gavin Smith (Mirage Poker Showdown).
Smith, in fact, comes to the WPT Championship attempting to hold off Mizrachi for the coveted POY title. With his championship at the Mirage and a third place finish in the Doyle Brunson NAPC (and various other smaller finishes in other WPT events), Gavin holds a slim lead over "The Grinder", who has his championship and a second place finish, but not as many cashes overall. The competition between these two manically aggressive players should be interesting as they should be the players who will decide who is the Season Four Player of the Year.
The action has already been very intense during the run of the Five Star. Several professionals have demonstrated through winning preliminary events that they have their games in fine shape for the start of the $25,000 WPT Championship on Tuesday, including WSOP bracelet holder Anthony Reategui and former WPT Player of the Year Erick Lindgren. There are some other names to look for as well when you consider the contenders for the WPT Championship.
In the early going of 2006, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi has dominated the tournament world. With his win at the inaugural WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open, second place at the WPT Tunica event and several other excellent finishes, he sets himself up as a player to watch. While he has cooled off a little from his sizzling start, Mizrachi's "take no prisoners" aggression at the tables puts him in position to take any tournament he enters.
Another player who has quietly slipped up on Mizrachi is longtime poker veteran Kenna James. "The California Cowboy" has also been experiencing some early season success, with a win at the L. A. Poker Classic in February (over Mizrachi, of all people) and a second place finish during the PartyPoker Millions V. A victory by James in the WPT Championship would not be a surprise at all, as he is playing the best poker of his career in 2006.
Two women to look for in the event include excellent professional Kathy Liebert and the stylish Liz Lieu. Liebert continues to show why she is considered by many to be the best female player in the world today, as she regularly is the "last woman standing" when you look at many of the major tournament results. Lieu has continued to evolve in her No-Limit game from her debut in 2005 at the World Series and actually was one of the tournament leaders in the late going of the WPT Reno event. These ladies should be ones to watch as the tournament progresses.
There should be a strong foreign contingent at the WPT Championship and there are some players to keep an eye on there. Patrik Antonius demonstrated his ample skills at the tables the last time the WPT made a stop at the Bellagio when he came in second in a frenetic battle with fellow European Rehne Pedersen at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic in December. Antonius went from there to a nice season on the European Poker Tour and should be primed for action when the cards fly on Tuesday. Another European who should make some noise during the event is fan favorite Marcel Luske. "The Flying Dutchman" has already captured one of the $3,000 preliminary events during the Five Star and also was a force during the second season of the EPT. He always seems to bring his "A" game to major tournaments and has to be viewed as a favorite to take the WPT Championship.
This will be one of the most competitive fields ever to come to the felt on the WPT. Expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 players to vie for the coveted WPT Championship, with nearly every "name" professional to be at the Bellagio in Las Vegas along with a multitude of online qualifiers and other unknowns looking to make their mark on the poker world. The action will be intense as the WPT looks to crown a new champion starting on Tuesday at the WPT Championship and look for a "known" professional (perhaps one mentioned in this article) to capture the gold come the final table on April 24th.
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