Over the next two weeks, London will be the epicenter of the poker galaxy as WSOP Europe returns to one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.
This marks the fourth consecutive year of WSOP action in Great Britain. Five gold bracelet events are scheduled this year, making this the biggest WSOP attraction ever held outside of Las Vegas. All the action takes place at Casino at the Empire, conveniently located in the heart of central London in the theatre district.
The action began today with the £2,500 buy-in Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em event. Performing the honorary “Shuffle Up and Deal” honors was two-time gold bracelet winner J.P. Kelly, from Aylesbury, U.K. He is the only English player to have won gold bracelets on both sides of the Atlantic – in Las Vegas and London.
The turnout for the opening event once again proves the WSOP’s extraordinary appeal to poker players everywhere. In fact, the first tournament sold out, requiring the implementation of alternates. The official number will be announced when registration officially closes later today. There will be even more poker action later this week. This Friday’s £1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em event is expected to draw the biggest field in WSOP Europe history.
There are several exciting story lines entering this year’s WSOP Europe competition. Here are a few things to watch during the coming weeks:
Two-Time Gold Bracelet Winner Chris Bjorin -- If there was such a thing as “WSOPE Player of the Year,” Chris Bjorin certainly would have won it last year. The Swedish-born tournament veteran, now living in London, cashed in three of the four WSOP Europe gold bracelet events in 2009. He also made two final tables, including a sixth-place showing the Main Event championship. No doubt, Bjorin is playing as well as anyone in the world right now. He enjoyed six cashes at the 2010 WSOP, including another in-the-money finish in the Main Event. That makes three straight WSOP Main Event cashes for Bjorin, which is the longest current streak of any player. Bjorin, who is one of the game's most respected players for his genteel manner as well as poker talent, would like nothing more than to win his third gold bracelet here in his hometown London.
Can "Devilfish" Win A Second Gold Bracelet? – David “Devilfish” Ulliott was one of England’s first bona fide poker superstars. The suave and savvy former jeweler turned poker pro has been one of the game’s most flamboyant players for more than a decade. However, he has not won a WSOP gold bracelet since 1997 -- an eternity for someone with as much competitive spirit as the poker master from Hull. Devilfish has come close to achieving another victory several times. But as players have improved and tournament fields have grown larger, he is now finding victories increasingly difficult to come by. However, the timing is perfect for a Devilfish comeback victory. He recently released his autobiography -- a wildly entertaining expose which largely focuses on his experiences playing in London’s infamous underground games. Winning a gold bracelet in London would be the perfect final chapter.
American Werewolves in London -- Contrary to the Warren Zevon classic tune, Americans have not performed particularly well at WSOP Europe. However, American players have managed to win the last two Main Event championships. John Juanda became the first American ever to win a gold bracelet in London in 2008, when he was the victor at what turned out to be the longest final table in WSOP history (clocking in at just over 19 hours). Then last year, Barry Shulman won the Main Event, becoming the second American to win a gold bracelet on foreign shores. However, all nine other gold bracelets played at WSOP Europe have been won by players from other nations.
Will Daniel Negreanu Catch Phil Ivey in Career Winnings? – With his second-place finish in last year's Main Event championship, four-time gold bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu became the all-time money winner in poker tournament history, with more than $12 million in earnings. However, Negreanu's status proved to be short lived. Six weeks later, eight-time gold bracelet winner Phil Ivey overtook Negreanu on the all-time money winnings list when he officially cashed in the Main Event in Las Vegas. Since that time, Ivey won yet another gold bracelet and has distanced himself from the rest of the poker world. However, a big showing by Negreanu here in London could place him back in position to challenge Ivey. If Negreanu were to win the Main Event, that would almost certainly give him the lead again. The race is on.
The Phil Hellmuth Show Continues -- Not all fascinating moments take place at the poker table. Love or hate him, Phil Hellmuth can put on a show. Four years ago he first began something which has since become a WSOP tradition. Every year, Hellmuth makes a grand entrance dressed up as a historical figure. One year he came costumed as Gen. George S. Patton. In 2007 he came as prizefighter Rocky Marciano. At last year’s WSOP Europe Main Event, the 11-time gold bracelet champion came dressed (and partially undressed) as Roman emperor Julius Caesar. There’s no telling if Hellmuth’s orchestrated charade and ego-fest will continue while here in London. However, Hellmuth does have a tremendous opportunity to add to his leads in virtually every meaningful WSOP category since he is registered to play in all five gold bracelet events. Reportedly, his closest rivals in the gold bracelet race -- Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan -- will not be in attendance this year in London, leaving Hellmuth to bask in the glory of his many accomplishments.
The Generation Gap -- One of the most striking realities to come out this year's WSOP was the sharp division which continues to separate younger versus more experienced tournament players. By and large, older players tend to perform better in non-No-Limit Hold'em events, whereas No-Limit Hold'em has pretty much became a young players' game. Consider that eight of the nine finalists in this year's WSOP Main Event are under 30-years-old. Such a thing would have been unthinkable a decade earlier. However, during the first three years of WSOP Europe, the old guard has outperformed the younger crowd. Perhaps this year, we shall see if London is the exception to the current trend in poker, or falls into line with multiple winners who are aged in their 20s.
Who Will Win the First-Ever High-Roller Championship? -- For the first time ever, WSOP Europe is offering a £10,000 buy-in Heads-Up Championship. This promises to be one of the most anticipated tournaments of the year. The ultimate champion will be required to win multiple heads-up matches en route to a gold bracelet. In recent years, Heads-Up events played in Las Vegas were among the most exciting to watch. The event in London scheduled for September 21-23 should be even more exciting, considering the high buy-in and stellar field which is expected to enter.
What Home Field Advantage? --
Local players customarily enjoy several competitive advantages in major poker tournaments. First, local players usually live nearby and do not have to travel great distances. They can commute from their homes, rather than staying in hotels and being distracted by temptations that plague all tourists. However, English players have not fared particularly well in WSOP Europe events. Despite being about 40 to 50 percent of the field, only one English player has won a WSOP title, thus far. That's one win out of eleven events. The sole victory came when J.P. Kelley
, from Aylesbury, UK won the opening event last year. It should be noted however, that English players won five gold bracelets at they year's WSOP in Las Vegas, their highest win total ever. England also enjoyed the second-highest number of total cashes among all nations. It remains to be seen if England's good fortune at the Las Vegas WSOP carries over to London and WSOP Europe.