The World Series of Poker (WSOP) has always been a proving ground for up and coming poker players, but this year the battle between small stakes grinders and big time pros took center stage in front of the ESPN cameras for the 2012 WSOP National Championship.

The unique invitational tournament, which premieres tonight on ESPN, is unlike any other bracelet event on the calendar. For 100 WSOP Circuit players who qualified for a freeroll seat, the event represented the payoff for their efforts throughout the Circuit season. For 57 WSOP-tested pros, the tournament offered a chance to take advantage of $1 million in added prize money. For everyone, the event represented a shot at a big payday and the most coveted prize in poker, a WSOP gold bracelet.

The Circuit qualifiers proved they were up to the challenge of squaring off against known names like Eugene Katchalov, Brian Rast, David Sands, and Sam Stein with five of the seats at the final table going to Circuit players. The other three chairs were occupied by three poker pros who earned the right to buy into this event for $10,000 thanks to their WSOP performance over the past two years--Sam Stein, Matt Keikoan, and “Original” David Baker.

Tuesday night is once again Poker Night on ESPN as viewers will watch as the action unfolds over the course of two hours, starting at 8pm ET/5pm PT. As always, Norman Chad and Lon McEachern will anchor all of the action as the players from the Circuit see if they have what it takes to play with the elite players of the poker world. Next Tuesday, August 14th, marks the premiere of coverage from the WSOP Main Event, which will run every Tuesday up through the live final table on October 30th.

Is this the night the high stakes pros reaffirm their status as the best of the best? Or will it be a chance for up and comers like Amanda Musumeci, Ryan Eriquezzo, and the chip leader coming into the final table, Andy Hwang, to notch a career-defining victory on a national stage?

Hwang may begin with the chip lead, but after a crazy first hour of action, the chip counts are turned upside down as the field is cut from eight to five. The second hour pits the experienced pros against the young Circuit players and it is anyone’s game in this hotly contested battle for the bracelet and the title of National Champion.

Here are the players at tonight’s final table to give you an idea of what the WSOP National Championship is all about:
Photo Credit: Eddie Malluk for PokerNews/WSOP