WSOP Main Event: The new European force

wsop2009_thn.gifLas Vegas still hosts poker's flagship tournament series -- at least on this side of the Atlantic. But regular readers of PokerStars blog will know all about the European Poker Tour (EPT), which recently finished its fifth record-breaking season and is now preparing for its sixth.

Our friends in the United States would be wise to keep an eye on the EPT, as its winners often offer an indication of the emerging talents on the international scene. Seasons one through four were bossed by players from Scandinavia, for example, and then Peter Eastgate came to Vegas to become the new World Champion. No one should have been surprised. For the trend-watchers out there, the EPT's fifth season belonged to the Germans, with three victors and numerous other high-placed finishers heading back to Deutschland with pots of cash. Be warned: Germany is very well represented in the Amazon Ballroom today, and all seem equipped with formidable talent.

The standard bearer is Sandra Naujoks, who delighted home fans in Dortmund in March when she finished top of a German one-two-three and won more than a million dollars. She became only the second woman ever to win an EPT event, but remarkably the second from what were then known as ShootingStars to win in the same season, following Sebastian Ruthenberg's victory in Barcelona.

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Sandra Naujoks

Naujoks is sitting pretty in these early stages of day 1a, likewise her Team PokerStars Germany Pros (as those ShootingStars should now be known) George Danzer, Johannes Strassmann and Jan Heitmann, who you heard a little about earlier.

Also engrossed in day one action is Katja Thater, who needs little introduction in these parts. Thater has long been an integral member of Team PokerStars Pro and won a bracelet at the 2007 series.

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Katja Thater

Her husband Jan Von Halle, who has 12 WSOP cashes to his name, also played today, but was one of the early fallers. Then we have Benny Spindler (third at the PCA) and Marc Gork (second to Naujoks in Dortmund) also playing, the latter a PokerStars qualifier in this event.



The Jason Alexander and Nelly show has been split up by the breaking of their table. But the parties continue: Nelly is now sitting next to Jonas Klausen and Roland de Wolfe, while Alexander is no doubt exchanging sitcom tales with Brad Garrett, of Everybody Loves Raymond and 'Til Death fame.

And within the past hour, the empty seat at Team PokerStars Pro Steve Paul-Ambrose's table was finally filled ... By Johnny F'n Chan.



"I don't bluff. I'm English." -- John Duthie, Team PokerStars Pro. And Englishman.



"All in and a call on table 60." This came from the dealer, Doug, who as instructed announced this little pocket of excitement to the room. At first it seemed the only purpose was to attract Phil Laak from a nearby table short of a bit of action. But then the cameras arrived, and a woman with a clipboard. Maybe Laak knew this all along. What they saw was is likely to be among the first of the players destroyed by aces, not that those same aces won't self destruct once or twice. A traditional "bullets-against-ace-king" scenario to pump the adrenaline, between two players not on the list of notables. The aces held to shrink the field a little more.



But aces giveth and aces taketh away. "Did you get that?" asked Australian Mark Vos? He wanted a hand he'd just played written down and the events recorded, so he'll be remembered when he's gone. His stack just plummeted to around the 7k mark after his aces crumbled in front of his eyes.

It began by him raising to 500 only to get re-raised by the seat one player. Vos then made it 6,000 and was called for a 9♣Q♥3♣ flop. Vos made it 4,400 and was check-called for a J♦ on the turn which both checked. After a 7♥ river card the bet was 10,000 to Vos, two orange chips, which he reluctantly called. The headshaking began when the seat one player showed pocket jacks. Vos turned over his aces, then got ready to start explain to anyone who'd listen.



Men the Master Nguyen just sat down next to John Duthie. Duthie picked up Nguyen's nutrition drink and spied it suspiciously. It obviously was not Nguyen's normal drink of choice.

"What, are you looking for a new sponsorship?" Duthie cracked with the drink in hand. Where was the beer?

"Too early," Nguyen said. "After dinner."



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Jeffrey Pollack welcomes the world's media to the World Series 2009