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Shuffle up and deal

Jeremy Evans
Photo Illustration by Dan Thrift/ Tahoe Daily Tribune
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STATELINE – Sunglasses were glued to a kaleidoscope of faces while the clinking of chips filled the air outside Hard Rock Cafe at Harveys Resort and Casino on Wednesday. That can only mean one thing: The World Series of Poker has returned to South Shore.

The final WSOP circuit event of the 2005-06 season began on Tuesday at the Harrah’s owned casino and will conclude with next weekend’s $10,000 buy-in, ESPN-televised main event. For the second straight year, the poker universe is focused on Lake Tahoe.

“It’s very exciting and we’re very pleased with the turnout we’ve had,” said Harveys’ poker room manager Vince Contaxis. “There’s a lot of poker excitement going on right now.”

During the first event of the 2004-05 WSOP Lake Tahoe Circuit Event, 542 players participated in the $200 buy-in, No Limit Hold’Em tournament, making it an Northern Nevada record.

On Wednesday, 343 players registered for the $300 buy-in, No Limit Hold’Em tournament, which is the lowest buy-in event of the nine scheduled.

While no first-day records were set this year, Harrah’s gaming officials expect the crowds to swell significantly leading up to the first day of the main event. Poker superstars Robert Williamson and Daniel Negrenau are scheduled to participate in the big-money tournament, which could award the winner $500,000.

“There is always a ton of buzz for the circuit events because poker has gotten more popular every year,” said Steve Schorr, Harveys’ full-service games manager. “Since the day poker was on television, every month business has improved. It’s kind of turned poker into a sport, and people are billing it as the world’s richest sport.”

That was certainly the case at this year’s WSOP Tournament of Champions main event in Las Vegas. In the event, Aussie Joseph Hachem beat out a record field of more than 5,600 players and won $7.5 million. Every player at the final table for that event became millionaires.

This week’s circuit event in Lake Tahoe is the final stop of the season before the 2006 Tournament of Champions is held at the Rio in Las Vegas. However, the 2006-07 WSOP circuit season will begin at Lake Tahoe as the first stop of the tour. It is scheduled for September at Harveys.

Schorr said there are advantages of being the final stop of the circuit before the mega-event TOC is held in Las Vegas. The winner of the $10,000 buy-in main event tournament at each of the 12 circuit events is awarded a seat at the $2 million free-roll tournament scheduled for June 25-26 in Las Vegas.

In addition to the 12 qualifiers from the circuit events, the 27-player field will also include all nine players from last year’s TOC main event final table and six invited players.

That means this week is the last chance for a player to qualify for that $2 million free-roll event, and then the 2005-06 season will conclude with the TOC in July in Las Vegas. But the end of the season is thousands of poker hands away and Harrah’s registration officials are gearing up for a busy week in Tahoe.

“For this poker tournament, we wanted to make sure it’s a seamless experience for the poker player,” said Jason Beard, Harrah’s project manager for corporate information technology. “We want to make sure people are registered quickly. Last year, there were lines and it took upwards of five minutes to register a customer. Now we have the registration process down to less than a minute.”


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