Heat four: the contenders

Jody Thompson, Canada
For Jody Thompson, 25, of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, poker is a great way to travel the world and have a great time. The electrical engineering student took a break from college to focus on poker and has already made it to Melbourne for the Aussie Millions, a holiday in the Dominican Republic as well as here in Barcelona. He owes his place in the World Cup team thanks to topping the TLB for Newfoundland. He usually plays multi-table tournaments and sit and gos, and has cashed several times in $50-$200 buy-in events. He said: “I’m going back to college in January because I want my degree as a back-up but I’ll carry on with poker. It gives me a great life. I even bought my car thanks to poker.”

Richard Rios, Mexico
Richard Rios is a 22-year-old communications student at the University of Monterrey. He plays a number of different sports and is preparing to graduate from college. Known as "Barandales" to his friends, Richard has been playing poker for five years. He said: “Coming to Barcelona for the World Cup is my biggest achievement in poker to date. It’s been very exciting and I'm very proud of myself. I never thought I could get here.“

Christian Tardea, Romania
Cristian Tardea, 29, qualified for the Romanian team as an FPP qualifier and says the World Cup is the biggest tournament he’s been in outside of his home country. He said: “I took up poker around three years and at first it was just a hobby, but then I started making money.” Cristian, who runs his own timber company, is another heads-up specialist and has also won a PokerStars $200 Sunday heads-up tourney.

Noel Peare, Ireland
This is computer engineer Noel Peare’s second visit to Barcelona for the World Cup. He played for the Irish team last year after qualifying in a free roll but is hoping to improve on his 2006 fifth place finish. Noel took up poker some five years ago after watching it on television and won his place in this year’s team courtesy of being the second best Irish player on the PokerStars TLB. Other good results for the 38-year-old include second place in a $100 PokerStars tourney a few weeks ago for $6,500.

Andri Arnthorsson, IcelandIceland’s 26-year-old Team Captain hails from Reykjavik where he runs an Icelandic pizza restaurant with his younger brother Sygtryggur. (Icelandic pizzas are not as thick as American pizzas but slightly thicker than Italian pizzas.) Before that, Andri was a real estate agent but he gave this up at the age of 21 to go travelling. It was while he was holidaying in Denmark that poker first caught his attention. Gus Hansen, the Danish poker superstar, was being televised winning the WPT. A PokerStars ad came on and Andri immediately decided to sign up. Since then, he has been playing some 30-40 hours a week in No Limit multi-table tournaments – from $3 rebuy to $100. Last year he was Iceland’s top player on the tournament leader board.

Tyler Netter, USA
The USA’s Team Captain Tyler Netter is something of a PokerStars phenomenon. The 20-year-old from Gainsville, Florida, topped the TLB in 2006 after a series of astonishing tournament performances. This included final tabling in the £20 rebuy three times, the £10 rebuy three times, the $50 freezeout twice and the $100 freezeout an incredible 11 times. Unsurprisingly by the end of 2006 – and some 75 hours of poker a week - he felt totally burned out and took a break. His appearance at the World Cup today is his first time back after six months spent touring Europe. He said: “I haven’t touched poker for ages but this is a great way to return. It’s an incredible atmosphere and I can’t wait to play today.”

Katja Thater, Germany star player
Katja Thater, a member of Team PokerStars, started playing poker in 1999, when she unexpectedly stepped into a high-stakes pot-limit game for her husband Jan while he went to the bathroom. Although she had never played before, she won her first pot and has never looked back. She turned pro in 2005, initially in cash games in her home city of Hamburg. Two years ago she started playing in Europe's big tournaments with considerable success. She cashed twice at WSOP 2006, came fifth in EPT Warsaw in March, made two final tables in a week at WSOP 2007 and won the $1,500 Razz event. Last week she cashed again on the EPT in Barcelona.

Luiz Freitas, Portugal
Originally from Brazil, Luiz is a business attorney based in Lisbon who divides his free time between poker and his passion for contemporary art. The 44-year-old been playing poker recreationally since his teens but three years ago, totally by accident, he was surfing the internet reading about poker movies and came across PokerStars. Since then the married father-of-three has been playing online and says his game has improved a remarkable amount. He has found himself at several final tables. This year he came second at a $109 buy in tourney and fourth in a $55 tourney. He also came 2nd at a live tourney at the Grosvenor Victoria Casino in London, where the PokerStars.com EPT is held.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in