The big day has finally arrived.  It’s poker’s Christmas morning.  It’s New Year’s Day.  It’s the opening kickoff.  It’s the first pitch of a brand new season.  The long 199-day countdown since the last championship hand was dealt out has ticked all the way down to zero, once again catapulting thousands of terrestrial dreams back into the heavens.  The most famous words in poker are about to be roared.  Time to “Shuffle Up and Deal!” 

At precisely noon on May 28th, 2010 -- the 41st annual World Series of Poker officially begins.  This is a time when, once again, hope springs eternal.  This is a time when personal and professional goals are reaffirmed.  This is a time for renewed commitment.  This is a time when fantasy finally becomes reality.

Out there in the galactic poker universe are millions of men and women who dare to dream our game‘s greatest fantasy.  Who among us has not envisioned what it’s like to win the WSOP?  Out there scattered in all corners of the globe, living in more than 100 different nations, are the most determined and daring, coming in all sizes and shapes and colors and creeds, all people of distinctly unique backgrounds who will make the journey of all journeys to Las Vegas to pursue what might seem the impossible dream.

Ultimately, many of you will be rewarded for your dedication.  Thousands of you will finish in-the-money.  Hundreds of you will make it all the way to a final table.  And the most privileged 57 of you will achieve poker’s greatest and rarest feat -- winning a WSOP gold bracelet.

Victory propels you into the select company of WSOP champions.  You will be one of less than 500 people in the world who have achieved this dream.  There are estimated to be more than 100 million poker players worldwide.  Should you win poker‘s most coveted prize, your victory will represent a feat only one in about 200,000 poker players have ever achieved.

Yet for all the satisfaction a victory brings and the riches it bestows, winning is not necessarily reserved only for those who finish first.  Winning can also be about something as simple as enjoying the experience.  Those who do not win gold bracelets and may not even cash, are still winners in their own right.  Of the estimated 60,000 players who will participate at this year’s WSOP, should you make it to Las Vegas sometime between May 28th and July 17th and play an event at the Rio, you represent approximately one poker player in about every 1,700 worldwide who was fortunate enough to come and compete with the world‘s best.

A few players in particular, exemplify the notion which goes like this:  “To play is to win.“  Last year, one participant came to the WSOP all the way from a tiny island out in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  He resides on a small island which is located off the coast of Madagascar, east of Africa.  No matter what happened at the poker table, he was a winner for having come to the other side of the world in pursuit of a dream. 

Another player entered the Main Event, who was from Indiana.  It marked his second consecutive year to play.  This particular player might not otherwise be noteworthy, except for the fact he was 96-years-old.  That man was indeed, a winner. 

Yet another player won a small tournament held at a West Virginia casino and received a pre-paid entry into the Main Event.  The man boarded an airplane for the first time in his life and flew to Las Vegas -- also for the first time.  That man turned a small fraction of an investment into more than $5 million as last year’s Main Event runner up.  His name was Darvin Moon.  Moon, like 60,000 of his counterparts, departed Las Vegas as a winner -- indubitably wiser and richer with the knowledge each had tested themselves against poker’s best and perhaps come within a few key cards and hands of conquest.  These are but a few of the tens of thousands of personal stories -- each one a winner for having made it to the game’s most revered destination.

A WSOP victory often changes how players perceive the game and how they see themselves.  Victory most certainly changes how the poker world perceives the winner.  Alas, one of the many perks which goes along with a WSOP title is instantaneous acknowledgement and undeniable respect within the poker world.  In a sense, each winner gets to star in his own private episode of “Cheers,” since suddenly “everyone knows your name.”  A lucky few get to be celebrities on another television show, as ESPN transforms the most fortunate into household names and helps to create a new generation of poker superstars.

Indeed, flick on a television at any hour of the day or night, and you’re more likely to see a WSOP broadcast than any other sport.  Not football.  Not baseball.  Not basketball.  P-0-K-E-R.

That’s right -- poker.  The WSOP has become a virtual around the clock infomercial for Las Vegas and the emerging culture of the everyman competitor.  Now, just about anyone can play in the WSOP and achieve the same rewards that were once reserved only for professional athletes.  Millions of people who watch poker telecasts in their homes dream of eventually making their own personal pilgrimage to the place where all the magic happens.  They are drawn to the WSOP, mesmerized like moths to a flame.  Many make a pledge to themselves.  “Next year, I’ll be there,” they vow.  “Next year, I will play.”

Well, “Next year” -- is finally here.  It’s arrived.  Let the great gold rush of 2010 begin.