Ready for the World Cup? We are
Arguably the last place you expect to see a clutch of online poker maestros is on the beach.
But earlier this evening in Barcelona, within a seagull's swoop or a volleyball's spike of the Meditteranean Sea, about 15 of the world's most celebrated internet poker players gathered for the official table draw for the opening round of the PokerStars.com World Cup of Poker.
As the waves lapped quietly over the shores of Catalonia, and the champagne arrived on tiny red trays, the eight captains of Teams Ireland, Iceland, Romania, Canada, United States, Mexico, Germany and Portugal decided who would be playing whom in the first heats of the World Cup tomorrow and Wednesday.
It was a grand affair. Slivers of paper bearing players' names were torn up and rustled in a baseball cap, before they were pulled out and allocated a seat on one of the five tables that will comprise the opening heats.
Included in the mix were Team PokerStars members Greg Raymer (USA, pictured below), Daniel Negreanu (Canada) and Katja Thater (Germany). They might enjoy a healthy and friendly rivalry when they're bearing the PokerStars livery in the major tournaments of the world, but here they are adversaries, pitted against one another with national pride at stake.
The celebrity players are kept apart for the first round, but the gloves will come off as we progress. And let's not forget, they're just one member of a five-person team who will contest the ultimate in team poker events.
The qualifiers, all of whom won events on PokerStars to book their passage to Barcelona, arrived today. They previously knew one another by screen-name only, but soon made one another's acquaintance at a welcome dinner this evening. The talk was of poker, of course, but also of their countries, their family life, their jobs, ambitions and expectations. The World Cup is really an event like no other. It's poker and there's money, but there's something else in the air.
Later in the evening, the players took other on for the first time in a PokerStars-sponsored freeroll tournament at the Gran Casino, Barcelona. Adding to the excitement was the chance to see poker star Daniel Negreanu in action - not as a player, but as a dealer!
Follow all the action here from tomorrow (Tuesday) where we'll have full details of every move made. Heat one, essentially an eight-player live sit and go, begins at 3.30pm central European time. Heat two will be shuffled up and dealt at 9.30pm. You can watch all the action from Barcelona live on your computer from 16.30 local time - more info at www.pokerstars.tv/wcp/.
Time to get patriotic.