ANZPT Melbourne: Poker is part of this sporting landscape

Melbourne, Australia - it's one of the great sporting cities; it's home to Crown, one of the world's premier casinos; and it's the hometown of 2005 WSOP Main Event winner and Team PokerStars Pro Joe Hachem. Throw those elements into the blender and it's hardly surprising to find that Melbourne is regarded as one of the top poker destinations in this part of the world.

We like to do things differently here. Melbourne is the home of the Australian Football League, an indigenous game that attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators each weekend.

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One of the world's great sports stadiums, the Melbourne Cricket Ground

In Melbourne, you are not defined by gender, religion, race or social status - what matters is whether you are a supporter of the Blues, Magpies, Bombers, Hawks, Demons, Saints, Kangaroos, Cats, Bulldogs or Tigers.

And beyond football, Melburnians are mad for virtually all forms of sport. The city hosts the first leg of tennis's grand slam, the Australian Open,; each January, the Australian GP each March and has been the venue for the Olympics (1956) and Commonwealth Games (2006).

Each January, Melbourne's Crown Casino is the venue for the Aussie Millions, rightly regarded as one of the most prestigious tournaments in world poker. Throughout the year, Crown also hosts several fiercely contested tournament series, which is the reason we're here in this unseasonably warm three-day period in late-May.

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Melbourne's Crown Casino, home of the biggest poker room in the southern hemisphere

For the first time, two of the best-known gaming brands in this part of the world - PokerStars and Crown - have come together to host the third event in the first season of the PokerStars.net Australia New Zealand Poker Tour (ANZPT).

Players have already been contesting the preliminary schedule for a week as part of the 2009 Melbourne Poker Championships. For the budget-conscious, the Melbourne Champs features a low buy-in 'Morning Series' including No Limit Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Mixed Stud and Crazy Pineapple events.

On the main schedule, there are numerous No Limit Hold'em events including a three-day AUD $230 buy-in event, Terminator, Teams, Six-handed and Bounty events, an AUD $5200 High Stakes tournament and an AUD $100,000 winner-takes-all single-table challenge.

That all leads up to the AUD $1100 Melbourne Champs Main Event, which features a repechage format that allows players eliminated in either day 1A or 1B to rebuy for day 1C. As such, the PokerStars.net ANZPT Melbourne event has been scheduled as a 'feature event' rather than the 'main event', which is the reason this event is being played on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday rather than a traditional weekend schedule.

The Melbourne Championships started in 2002, when the schedule featured Draw, Manila, Limit Hold'em and Seven-Card Stud events. The Main Event was AUD $300 buy-in and attracted just 66 players.

In 2004, a slice of poker history played out in the 2004 Melbourne Champs Main Event when Stella Coe defeated Sam Khouiss heads-up to become the first female to win a major title in Australia.

Two years later, Joe Hachem made it to the last three but it was PokerStars Team Australia player Eric Assadourian who took home the top prize. So it's only appropriate that Assadourian and his PokerStars.net Team Australia teammates Grant Levy, Tony Hachem, Celina Lin and Emad Tahtouh are here for the AUD $2700 PokerStars.net ANZPT Melbourne event.

The man in the spotlight will be Joe Hachem's younger brother Tony, who leads the chase in the ANZPT Overall Points Championship after cashing in the two previous ANZPT events in Adelaide and Sydney.

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PokerStars.net Team Australia player and Melbourne's own Tony Hachem

Expect to again see the region's best players joining the PokerStars.net Team Australia pros in the battle for the ANZPT Melbourne title. Join us from 12.10pm on Monday (3.10am GMT) for the opening hand.