The World Poker Tour, or WPT, is to the regular season of football what the World Series of Poker (WSOP) is to the Super Bowl. In other words, the WPT is a regular series of poker tournaments united under one name for TV. Whereas other poker tournaments are rarely televised and lack the technology to become “fan favorites,” the WPT has become a classic among poker fans worldwide. That’s because WPT shows TV viewers the hole cards each player has, and the action unfolds before a live audience and with informative commentary. The result has been that the WPT is like any other mainstream sporting event. And it should be, since more people play poker than golf, billiards or tennis.
As with the World Series of Poker, anyone can enter the WPT. You just have to be able to ante up and pay the buy-in. Of course, it’s possible to win so-called “satellite tournaments” as well—which are often found on online poker rooms—thereby skipping the normal entrance procedure (and the bigger buy-ins). Some of the most famous names in poker today got their starts through online poker rooms, so the satellite tournaments are well worth a try. Check with your online poker room for how to get in on the action.
Now for those of you who are just interested in watching: the WPT is broadcast on The Travel Channel every Wednesday night at 9:00 pm Eastern time, and every Saturday at 6:00 pm. The Travel Channel snapped up rights to the program and has since enjoyed viewership of up to 5 million people for some of the bigger tournaments. Currently in its third season, the WPT is one of the best-loved programs on The Travel Channel.
Here are just a few of the fascinating poker faces you will see during the tournaments of Travel Channel’s World Poker Tour. As these quick personality sketches attest, the competitive field is definitely changing. It’s not just a man’s world, and if you thought the game was an all-American pastime, take a look at the talent from Costa Rica, Switzerland, Vietnam and England.
DOYLE BRUNSON, a Texas native who now calls Las Vegas home, is a poker Hall of Famer with eight world championship bracelets in his collection. One of the elder statesmen of the sport, he intends to keep playing until he’s 80 — and that gives him ten more years until retirement.
ALAN GOEHRING has played in a number of major final tables, but always seems to come up short of the title, finishing as a runner up at 3 major tournaments. Alan is a retired junk bond analyst and trader who says his motivation for playing tournament poker is for the fun, not the money.
KIRILL GERASIMOV had only 18 months of poker experience before the World Poker Tour Championship, though he must be a prodigy as he won the European Heads Up title last year. From Moscow, Russia, Kirill earned his seat in this event by winning a $180 satellite. A former insurance agent, he learned to play by reading fellow final table player Doyle Brunson’s book.
PHIL IVEY is originally from California, but he now calls Atlantic City home. Phil is sometimes called the Tiger Woods of poker, though it is a moniker he is somewhat uncomfortable with. “Tiger is the best at his game. I’m not there, yet.” But his intense focus and an uncanny ability to read opponents and “feel” hands might make the comparison to the golf master an eventual inevitability.
JAMES HOEPPNER is a Las Vegas CPA and an accomplished player on the tournament circuit. He most recently won the No Limit Hold ‘Em event at the Legends of Poker championships last year. James only learned about the WPT Championship 2 weeks prior to the event and split the entry fee with a buddy.
TED FORREST is well known in the professional poker circles as an ultra-high stakes player. He has both won and lost over a million dollars in single sessions of poker. Ted is a very aggressive player at the table, and is notorious for taking bets on dares away from the table as well. Ted lists Doyle Brunson as one of his idols.
CHRIS BIGLER of Fislisbach, Switzerland, was a businessman until he discovered his true calling — poker — just five years ago on a trip to Vegas. He’s already made it to more than one World Poker Tour final table.
HUMBERTO BRENES has been called the “godfather of the Costa Rican players.” Known for his Latin charm and grace, Brenes has an outstanding tournament record including two world championship bracelets.
T. J. CLOUTIER of Richardson, Texas, literally wrote the book on poker; well, make that three books. He has won 51 major tournaments and is the leading all-time money winner at the world championships. He’d like to “bar all bad actors at the table.”
ANNIE DUKE is a familiar face at final tables. This Montana mom of three is a doctoral candidate in psychology who just happens to play high-stakes poker for a living.
CHRIS FERGUSON, a Ph.D. in computer science and the 2000 World Champion, calls Pacific Palisades, Calif., home. Instantly recognizable with his trademark long black hair, Chris says he aspires to be a “professor of game theory at a major university.”
LAYNE FLACK of Las Vegas is the blond, 30-something player on the tour and is said to have no fear at the table. At the 2002 World Championships, he won two gold bracelets back-to-back.
JULIAN GARDNER hails from Manchester, England. With the magic he works at the table, he might as well be called the “Harry Potter of Poker.” He turned pro the moment he left high school, and is the youngest millionaire in the sport.
PHIL GORDON, originally from Texas, has recently taken up residence in Las Vegas. A tall, dark-haired, millionaire, “child prodigy,” Gordon graduated from college at age 20, worked on artificial intelligence projects for the military, and cashed out of the dot.com bubble for a cool $96 million.
JENNIFER HARMAN, age 24, may be diminutive at 5 feet 2 inches, but she’s not demure at the poker table. To many, she’s not just the best female player on the planet, but one of the best players — period. She’s a regular at the biggest poker game in the world at Las Vegas’ Bellagio. Harman says she’s “a perfectionist when it comes to poker. The hard part is realizing that it’s a game that you can never play perfectly.”
PHIL HELLMUTH JR., of Palo Alto, Calif., has a jewelry collection that includes six world championship event bracelets. He is a staple at final tables, and his fondest wish is to develop a greater understanding and enthusiasm for poker in the general public.
JOHN HENNIGAN, a former pool hustler from Philadelphia, is a top player who’s made it to at least one World Poker Tour final table. He’s known as one of the coolest guys in the game.
PHIL IVEY is the first black poker superstar in a sport traditionally dominated by white males. With this young, handsome, quietly elegant player, poker may have found its Tiger Woods. Ivey will appear in at least two World Poker Tour final tables.
HOWARD LEDERER is a top-line action player who happens to be the brother of another elite player, Annie Duke. He’s a frequent tournament winner, who dropped out of college to become a chess master.
KATHY LIEBERT grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and has a B.S. degree in business. She briefly worked as an analyst for Dunn and Bradstreet and studied law before finding her true calling, professional poker. Since then, she’s become a major player in big-league tournament poker and ranks high on the money list for women.
DANIEL NEGREANU is a young Canadian who moved to Las Vegas to play poker full-time. In 1998, at 23, he became the youngest world championship event winner in history. Negreanu is considered one of the most eloquent spokespersons for the sport.
MEN NGUYEN escaped by boat from Vietnam, living in a refugee camp before arriving in Los Angeles in 1978 not knowing a word of English. He discovered poker on a trip with friends to Vegas, and the rest is history. He’s made final tables hundreds of times and been in the winner’s circle more than 80 times, including two Hall of Fame tournaments. Nguyen is a Buddhist who donates part of his winnings to building orphanages in Vietnam.
SCOTTY NGUYEN also escaped Vietnam by boat. He’s the consummate cool guy at the
tables, and you’ll see him at more than one final table in the World Poker Tour.
AMARILLO SLIM PRESTON of Amarillo, Texas, is the last of the great old-time poker stars. This tall, thin Texan wears a cowboy hat and is always ready with a one-liner.