Ice, ice, Vegas, baby
It seemed like just another day at the WSOP. Four tournaments were winding their way towards conclusion, generating the usual large crowds of railbirds and the just plain curious. But while four bracelets were on the line, focus was beginning to centre on the corner of the Rio's Amazon room, where something remarkable had happened.
Gone was the usual final table stage area where scores of players have already bagged their WSOP bracelets this year. In its place there was an ice hockey rink. What? Well, it was not a real rink, but the whole area had been decked out fabulously to look like one.
The reason? PokerStars.net was presenting the NHL Charity Shootout, a special televised tournament featuring some star names from the NHL, Team PokerStars Pros and several lucky PokerStars qualifiers who won an online package to come to Vegas and play against the good and great of poker and ice hockey.
The poker table had a special new felt - white and overlaid with the markings of the playing area, the button was replaced with a puck, and the stage was surrounded by familiar ice hockey boards topped with glass panels (not that there was any real danger of a player launching the puck/button into the crowd).
To add to the atmosphere generated by this event, the Stanley Cup was on display, taking pride of place at the daily bracelet-winners ceremony to the delight of the audience.
NHL star and PokerStars ambassador Mats Sundin was there, along with Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers, Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canuks, former player Glenn Anderson who played for, among others, the Edmonton Oilers, and Kris Kersteeg of the Chicago Blackhawks. Many more big names joined the fun to raise money for their favourite charities.
First they had to get past some of our Team PokerStars Pros, including Dennis Phillips (wearing the kit of his home-town St Louis Blues), Chris Moneymaker and Vanessa Rousso, the last of whom made it through to the final. So, too, did one of our online qualifiers, Canada's Murray Ungurain, who had a day he'll remember.
The tournament was held to coincide the annual NHL Awards, staged just up the road at the Palms hotel - where all our WSOP Main Event qualifiers will be staying just a few weeks from now.
We won't reveal the results and spoil your enjoyment of the TV show when it airs, but here are the nine who made it through to the final
table ice hockey rink:
Murray Ungurain, PokerStars.net qualifier
Vanessa Rousso, Team PokerStars Pro
All photos © IMPDI