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World's Largest Poker Event Offers $9 Million Top Prize

World Series of Poker in Las Vegas

Thousands of players from more than 115 countries took part this year in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. And by Friday, only nine were left, the lucky finalists for the main event in November. The World Series of Poker has a 40-year history, but the advent of televised and Internet poker has sparked an explosion of interest in the game, and some believe the World Series represents the new American dream.

Ryan Welch beat nearly a thousand other card players to win a gold bracelet and a half million dollars in one of this year's 57 events at World Series of Poker. The month-long tournament in Las Vegas is what poker players dream about says Greg Raymer.

"This is it, this is the granddaddy, this is everything you can do bad all year long and if you do good in the main event, nothing else matters," he said.

Ramer won $5 million in 2004 in the series' main event . This year's top prize - more than $9 million.

Joe Cada
Joe Cada

That's how much Joe Cada won last year. Then 21-years-old, he is the youngest ever winner of the World Series of Poker. And he inspires others. With play lasting up to 12 hours a day, 22-year-old Nick Olivares is hoping he has an edge.

"I definitely can see how the younger generation, the younger man would have an advantage over the older men and I like that," he said.

Poker is increasingly popular on television. And that is bringing more people to the game. A plethora of online gaming sites is also boosting popularity. Tournament director Jack Effel says many card players use the Internet to hone their poker skills.

"I think poker has spread like wildfire," he said. "Obviously, the ability to play online, to learn about the game you know from the comfort of your own home is definitely, probably, increased it more than anything else."

Tournament hosts say attendance is up 20 percent over last year. And the game is wide open, with no guarantees. Phil Hellmuth has won 11 World Series events over the years - more than any other player - but he was eliminated on the first day.

"I'm kind of proud of where the World Series has gone, and I'm kind of proud of the fact that people really want to just play in the event, so on another note, I'm a little disappointed that I'm out on day one," he said.

There is both skill and luck involved in winning at poker. Only a tiny fraction of the world's 100 million poker players makes a living at the game. The World Series of Poker offers intoxicating possibility, if you bet and bluff your way through to end up with the most chips, you become rich and a poker star.