Shuffle up and deal!

May 29, 2007 1:18 AM

Poker players from around the world will descend on Las Vegas this week for the start of the World Series of Poker, the most anticipated event of the poker year.

Now in its 38th year, the six-week long World Series kicks off Friday at the Rio, where more than 20,000 players from 40 countries are expected compete for a prize pool in excess of $120 million.

The tournament will feature a wide variety of poker games — Texas Hold’em Limit, Omaha Pot Limit, 7-Card-Stud Hi/Lo, Pot Limit, No Limit, and other types of poker such as Razz and Lowball, ending with the grand finale — the $10,000 buy-in World Championship Event.

There will also be special events for ladies, seniors, casino employees and members of the media.

The winner of each WSOP event gets the most prestigious award a poker player can win — the World Series of Poker gold bracelet.

Overall, the World Series will stage 55 poker tournaments, an increase of nine from last year. New events include a $2,500 HORSE event, $5,000 HORSE, several $5,000 Mixed Hold’em events, $5,000 Heads-Up World Championship and a $2,000 SHOE event.

The championship event, which last year attracted an unprecedented 8,773 players, is set for July 6. Tournament officials said the buy-in would remain at $10,000, although they have discussed possibly increasing the buy-in in the future.

With online poker rooms no longer able to send satellite winners to the WSOP, it’s uncertain how the field will be affected this year.

Last year, about half the 8000-plus players won their entry over the Internet. And there’s already talk that some players who won the money online to enter this year’s event, are deciding to pass the championship event in favor of cheaper events or simply pocketing the cash.

Nonetheless, WSOP officials are still expecting a field close to last year’s. In fact, they’ve expanded the size of the poker room, which will feature 300 tables.

Keep in mind that when the World Series was conceived in 1970, there were only 70 poker tables in the entire state of Nevada. The prize pool in 1970 was about $30,000. Last year the main event winner, Jamie Gold, took home more than $12 million.

The World Series is now in its third full season at the Rio. Harrah’s bought the rights to the tournament in 2004 when it bought out Binion’s Horseshoe.

Moving the WSOP to the Rio from Binion’s downtown casino proved to be a boon as greater casino space meant that more tournaments could be added to the agenda.

The result has been thousands of poker players flooding into Las Vegas, where poker rooms around the city are expecting to be packed for the tenure of the tournament.

Of course, poker is perhaps at the height of its popularity, fueled by online poker rooms and a series of TV shows dedicated to poker.

In addition to the non-stop action in the poker tournament, the World Series will once again host the 3rd annual 2007 Gaming Life Expo.

Kind of cross between shopping mall and a bachelor party, the Gaming Life Expo will feature girls, gaming and gear and a variety of men’s lifestyle and gaming products.

Scheduled to coincide with the beginning of the WSOP Main Event, the expo exhibits more than 100 diverse company booths with countless attractions.

An indoor sand beach volleyball court will feature an all-ladies tournament, in which the women will compete for a cash prize.

A racing themed area and bar with racing simulators, will offer customers the chance to meet celebrity racers, view authentic racecars and participate in giveaways.

Rio Secco’s Golf World, an area dedicated to the sport, will showcase top retail products and instructors providing professional tips and free rounds.

There will also be beverage tastings, live sports, martial arts demos, tattooing, live stage performances and much more.

The increased participation of non-poker related exhibitors and the more than 100,000 attendees last year, indicate the growing popularity of the WSOP as the world’s biggest event.

The expo is free and open to the public (21 and over).