World Cup of Poker: Viva Italia!

In the poker year that was 2008, Italy made a lasting impression. Luca Pagano was voted the EPT Player of the Year. Dario Minieri won his first World Series of Poker bracelet and Max Pescatori won his second. San Remo hosted their first EPT event, and though American Jason Mercier took down that title, three Italians went on to make the final table on the tour's most recent stop in Prague, where Salvatore Bonavena came away with the title, wrapped in Il Tricolore as he posed for his winner's photo.

Fittingly enough, in a year where Italy had such a significant impact on the poker world, it will represent the continent of Europe for the first time in the World Cup of Poker finals. Two freeroll qualifiers and two Tournament Leaderboard achievers will be heading down to the Bahamas to see if they can add one more title to Italy's till.

Leading the team into battle will be Team PokerStars Pro and EPT player of the year Luca Pagano. While this will be his first time at the World Cup, his live tournament experience is many years long and could serve his team exceptionally well.

Pennisi "Omaruccio" Omar is a self-described "nice boy from Sicily" who is no stranger to the gambling world. By day he works managing a firm that sells and leases slot machines and by night he feeds his online poker hobby, playing multi-table tournaments on PokerStars.

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Though he had a rough start when he first started playing in January 2006, Omar persevered and posted excellent tournament results in 2007, earning him the second spot on Italy's Tournament Leaderboard. Omar also loves to travel and is not only excited about getting to experience the Bahamas, but is especially intrigued by the World Cup format.

"What I find exciting in the Bahamas tournament is the fact that there will be a team work-- you play for your own nation and the win depends on every single member of the team. That is very different from other live tournaments," said Omar. "A World Cup win would be an indescribable emotion and a deep personal satisfaction."

Michele "mm-mh" Migliore is coy when it comes to his background, preferring to keep a low profile. A recreational player for the last decade, Migliore qualified for Team Italy via his TLB standing. Though he enjoys the online game, Migliore also comes to the table with some significant live tournament experience, having played three WSOP Main Events in addition to cashing in tournaments at the Orleans Open, the Foxwoods World Poker Finals, and the Master Classics of Poker in Amsterdam.

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Joining our TLB duo is freeroll qualifier Valeriano "BILLIKO" Bilancetti. In addition to playing online, the 32-year old often plays live in a private game at the Casino San Remo.

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Rounding out the quartet is Gerardo "gvilla2" Fabrizio, whose road to the World Cup Finals began when he finished in the top nine of a 552 player freeroll qualifier. The 23-year old electrician has been playing poker for three years, but began taking the game seriously only this year when he became an active participant in poker strategy forums. Aside from playing on PokerStars, he also plays frequently in local tournaments.

What's he looking forward to the most in the Bahamas? "Doubtless the beautiful place!" he replied.

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Will the names Migliori, Omar, Fabrizio, and Bilancetti be etched into Italian poker history alongside Minieri and Pagano? Stay tuned...

Kristin Bihr
@PokerStars in World Cup of Poker