World Cup of Poker: Team USA ready to defend title

What is the only thing harder than getting to the top?

Ask a top athlete, an A-list actor, a business tycoon, and yes, even a poker player this question and they'll all have the same answer.

Staying at the top.

Last year, Team USA came away from the World Cup of Poker live finals in Barcelona with the title, $100,000, and global bragging rights.

2007 World Cup Team USA: Greg Raymer, Randy Principe, Tyler Netter, Shaun Deeb & John Kenlan

This year they'll be looking for a repeat in an equally sunny seaside locale--the Atlantis Resort in the postcard-perfect Bahamas. The bar couldn't be set any higher for this American quintet, comprised of two amateurs looking for that first big score, one of the world's most recognizable poker names, and two of the online game's most successful professionals, one of whom must be feeling a strong sense of déjà vu right about now.

Shaun "shaundeeb" Deeb was one of the five members of Team USA who shared in last year's World Cup of Poker crown. Arguably the most dominating multi-table tournament player on PokerStars (as well as one of the most prolific), Deeb currently sits atop the 2008 Yearly Tournament Leaderboard; this after winning the 2007 TLB and finishing 3rd in 2006. Among his mind-boggling 24 PokerStars MTT wins in 2008 were victories in WCOOP Event #25 ($320 Pot-Limit Omaha with Rebuys) for $144,112, the Wednesday Quarter Million for $46,875, and the Sunday Warm-Up for $102,642. Now 22 years of age, Deeb has also emerged as a strong presence on the live tournament circuit, playing a heavy schedule at the World Series of Poker as well as winning a number of seats in EPT events.

Shaun Deeb at World Cup of Poker IV

Also no stranger to the tournament leaderoard is Xthesteinx. A high-volume tournament player, he finished 3rd on the 2007 Yearly TLB and 69th in 2006. This online pro has wins in the $109 Rebuy, the $215 Rebuy, the Nightly Hundred Grand, and the Wednesday Hundred Fifty Grand.

The most recognizable face on Team USA will be 2004 World Series champion and Team PokerStar Pro Greg Raymer. Raymer is back for his second straight year on Team USA.

As Raymer wrote for the PokerStars Blog this week, "The prize money for this event, while not chump-change by any means, was a lot smaller than the $5 million I won for the WSOP. Yet, winning this event carried with it just as much emotion. This was so mostly because I was representing not just myself, but my country and my team."

The first of Team USA's two freeroll qualifiers is 62-year old Michigan native Bruce "ba-detroit" Armstrong. Though he played stud back in the 1970s, Armstrong picked up hold'em only two years ago. He recently retired after a 43-year career at the Ford Motor Company and now has the free time to play poker that he always wanted. In addition to playing on PokerStars, Armstrong hits up Las Vegas about four to five times per year to play tournaments.

bruce-poker pic2.jpg

Bruce "ba-detroit" Armstrong

Armstrong tells us he is "glad to be part of this team, and (has) hopes of victory." But even if his team doesn't' come out on top, he's "just happy to play."

Jarred Gabin.jpgRounding out the foursome is Jarred "J@M0K3Y!"Gabin. The Los Angeles native has worked in the computer industry for the last ten years and makes his home with his fiancé and two children. Gabin learned to play poker about five years ago and due to work and family constraints, mostly plays online. A money finish in this event would mark his first-ever live tournament cash.

Gabin couldn't contain his excitement when asked about the prospect of competing live in the Bahamas.

"This whole ride has been just amazing. I have been floating on cloud nine for the last few days. I am excited that I am going to meet some PokerStars Pros and getting to play cards with any of them is a dream in itself. The fact that it is being held on a tropical island isn't such a bad thing either," he said.

We couldn't agree more.

Kristin Bihr
@PokerStars in World Cup of Poker