2008 World Series: From small screen to major stage

One of the most appealing aspects of poker, especially for the recreational player, is the way the game levels the playing field between superstar professional and plucky amateur, between international celebrity and bedroom beginner. Sit anyone around a poker table and reputations count for little. No matter the size of ego, bank-balance or stature on the E! Celebrity Index, you're just another guy around the felt with a stack of chips, a couple of cards and shot at a different kind of big time.

So it is that lurking in the field today, alongside poker celebrities such as Team PokerStars Pros Barry Greenstein, Joe Hachem and Chad Brown, and amid a sea of tomorrow's somebodies, lurks the likes of Jason Alexander and Mekhi Phifer, sizeable stars of the small screen and sponsored by PokerStars as they seek to make a splash at the Series.

Alexander is most familiar to us all as the part-time marine biologist, owner of Jon Voigt's old car, member of the Latvian Orthodox Church, eater of kung-pao chicken, nemesis of George Steinbrenner, buyer of big salads, envelope poisoner George Costanza from "Seinfeld." Meanwhile Phifer regularly struts his way around County General Hospital as the flirtatious, controversial Dr. Gregory Pratt in "E.R." And although Pratt is missing, presumed exploded, in an ambulance bomb at the end of the last series, Phifer is present and healthy in Las Vegas. Call off the search.



The bombs, in fact, have been going off under Alexander's table, including one that sent him near to the early chip lead on this first day one. He was one of the players to double his stack within the opening level, profiting from a flopped set of nines surviving outdraw possibilities against pocket tens through turn and river. Alexander is actually no stranger to high-level poker competition, and cashed in last year's Ante Up for Africa charity tournament, made the final three tables of yesterday's similar event and survived several hours in his first World Series in 2007. "You know, sometimes you gotta play some hands," he said earlier, describing his elimination from yesterday's tournament, just short of the money. That sounds like a poker player.

Phifer has drawn a seat right next to the rail, much to the obvious delight of the spectators here in the Amazon Room. Most flock to watch the stars of "High Stakes Poker" or the ESPN World Series broadcasts, but plenty are also happy to see stars from another field out of their more familiar environment. But just like Alexander, Phifer fits right in. He is I-Podded up, game face on, and with a stack just more than the starting 20,000. There are no emergencies to report.


Among a strong line-up of Team PokerStars Pro today (when isn't it strong?) is Tuan Lam, last year's main event runner up returning to the scene of his greatest triumph to date. Yesterday, he spoke about that run to a multi-million dollar payday to our video blog team (see below) and today, he has already eliminated a player en route to a healthy early stack of more than 35,000.

Watch WSOP 08: Tuan Lam Interview on PokerStars.tv

A reminder, watch to the end of the video blog for the password to the PokerStars.tv freeroll. And another reminder that all our video coverage, including heaps from the World Series plus an archive of former event videos, can be found over there at PokerStars.tv.