WPT: bring on the millionaires

Apr 17, 2006 1:48 AM

This week, the Bellagio poker room will look like a John Beresford Tipton class reunion. For the younger crowd who haven’t a clue, Tipton was the mysterious philanthropist who each week gave away $1 million (tax free!) to a lucky recipient on the old "Millionaire" TV show.

With the World Poker Tour in town for its WPT Championship at Bellagio, it will be a case of Millionaires Are Us, likely seizing on the opportunity for the rich to get richer.

With an estimated field of 600 or more players, each of who will pony up the $25,000 buy-in, the pot should be worth $12-$15 million for the WPT World Championship purse.

If the prize pool reaches those lofty heights, three people will be bagging $1 million plus paychecks.

On the other hand, it could also be an opportunity for an unknown to spoil their day and snatch the estimated $3.5 million dollar prize.

In the largest gathering of WPT poker millionaires ever, fans will be looking out for their favorite when the event begins on Tuesday, and continues through Monday.

The showdown of the WPT’s Millionaire Poker Brat Pack (those who won their millions while under the age of 30) includes: Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari, Steve-Paul Ambrose, Michael Gracz, Erick Lindgren, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, Nick Schulman, John Stolzmann and $2.8-million winner in 2005, defending champion, Tuan Le.

Other WPT millionaires above the age of 30 include Paul Phillips, Daniel Negreanu, Gavin Smith, Doyle Brunson, Eli Elezra, Carlos Mortensen and Freddie Deeb, (all from Las Vegas); Alex Kahaner, Ming Ly, Hasan Habib, Barry Greenstein and Nam Le (all from Southern California); Al Ardebili (New Jersey); Hoyt Corkins (Las Vegas and Alabama); David Minto (New Mexico); Eric Brenes (Costa Rica); Tony Licastro (New Jersey); Patrik Antonius (Finland); Rehne Pedersen (Denmark); Mel Judah (England);and Paul Maxfield (England). Maxfield was the runner-up in 2005, with $1.6 million — not bad for a consolation prize!

Two other returning WPT World Championship winners are Martin DeKnijff ($2.7 million) and Alan Goehring ($1 million), both of Las Vegas.

Goehring is a retired junk bond analyst who says that poker is still a hobby for him. DeKnijff, a poker pro and professional sports bettor originally from Sweden, said he felt "the prestige of winning the WPT Championship was overwhelming."

"The challenge for these players and all the WPT champions is to show that that they are not a one hit wonder," says Steve Lipscomb, founder and CEO of WPT Enterprises. "There’s a lot of pressure on these guys. They have to fight through the toughest field in poker with a veritable bulls-eye on their backs."

Since the WPT went on the air in March 2003, more than 50 people have become WPT poker millionaires. Many of these were unknowns when they made it to a WPT final table.

Satellite tournaments for the WPT World Championship are being run by more than 49 land-based and online casinos, many with small buy-ins. For information on who offers satellites, go to www.worldpokertour.com.

Bellagio ran satellite tournaments this month, including two $2,500 Super Satellite Tournaments last weekend.