There is a lot of buzz surrounding this year’s WSOP National Championship. It’s one of the premier events on the schedule, it’s being filmed for ESPN and it has the potential to have an additional $1,000,000 added the already juice-free prize pool. While poker fans may know a lot about the event itself, what they may not know is whom the players are that will be getting a shot at a giant payday.

Over the course of the past year, 100 players on the WSOP Circuit have already locked up a seat in this event, be it by winning a WSOPC Main Event, winning the Casino Championship title at one of the 17 WSOPC stops, or qualifying for one of the 66 at-large bids based on the total number of points earned on the Circuit.

These 100 players will have company though. In fact, up to 100 additional players may join the field of the $1 million freeroll event. The top 100 point earners from the past two years of WSOP events have the ability to buy into the event for $10,000. Those buy-ins will make the seven-figure prize pool even larger, with a chance that the total amount of prize money could double.

Casual fans will certainly be excited to see some of the POY qualified players like Phil Hellmuth, Michael Mizrachi and Ben Lamb play for a potential $2,000,000, but the hidden stars in the field will be the WSOPC qualifiers.

Scott Stanko, Huy Nguyen and Amanda Musumeci aren’t the household names viewers may know, but they are the newest crop of WSOP stars that have been honing their game on the road. They don’t travel to exotic locations, they don’t stay in the finest hotels and they play far from the spotlight.

They are true grinders; traveling from stop to stop, fighting to rack up points, looking to make have their names mentioned in the same breath some with the game’s greatest. A deep run for one of these players will make their year and propel them into the upper echelon of poker players.

Before these grinders get their moment in the limelight on July 6th, we’re going to give you a little insight into who they are and who you might be seeing at the televised final table on ESPN later this year:

Freddy Deeb – The Bicycle Casino Main Event Champion

What more needs to be said about Freddy Deeb? He, and his shirts, were among the shining stars when the poker boom hit and he got tons of camera time from ESPN. The two-time WSOP bracelet winner scored his largest win in 2007 when he won the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship for over $2 million.

Deeb had made 15 WSOP final tables in his career, but prior to this season, his WSOPC record was rather sparse. That all changed when Deeb beat up-and-comer Alex Masek in the Main Event of the Bicycle Casino stop in Los Angeles, pocketing one of the largest paydays of the season, worth $171,810. If that weren’t enough, Deeb followed it up with a second Southern California final table appearance at Harrah’s Rincon, where he took fourth in the Main Event.

Deep will bring years of experience to the field, especially compared to the players that were born after his first WSOP cash in 1990. Deeb also has a distinct advantage thanks to years of firsthand experience with many of the WSOP POY qualifiers, not to mention he’s played against some of the best that WSOPC has to offer.

WSOPC Earnings 2011-2012: $208,977

Bicycle Casino $1,600 Main Event: 1st for $171,810
Harrah’s Rincon $1,600 Main Event: 4th for $37,167

Scott Stanko – Horsehoe Council Bluffs Main Event Champion

Scott Stanko cashed just once this WSOPC season, but he made it count. He claimed the Main Event ring over Easter weekend in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The man he beat for the title was no slouch – one Charles “Woody” Moore. Stanko is already off to a good start this summer, as he just turned in a final table appearance in Event 26, $3,000 Pot Limit Omaha. He finished 4th for $114,037 at a final table that Austin Scott won. Stanko finished ahead of some tough competition in the event, including Dutch Boyd (8th), Robert Williamson III (11th), John Racener (13th) and Erik Seidel (18th).

WSOPC Earnings 2011-2012: $101,266

Horseshoe Council Bluffs $1,1600 Main Event: 1st for $101,266

Amanda Musumeci – At Large Qualifier

The poker world first met Amanda Musumeci during her deep run in the 2011 WSOP Main Event. She was the second-to-last woman standing, finishing in 62nd place. Musumeci has been grinding hard on the WSOPC tour ever since. She put together eight cashes with four final table appearances over the course of the season. Recently, she played her way to the final table of Event 9, $1,500 No Limit Hold’em Re-entry. She finished in 2nd for $481,643, which is one of the largest paydays for a woman in WSOP history.

Though Musumeci doesn’t have a WSOPC ring or a WSOP bracelet, in just one year she has already cracked the top ten all time female money earners at the WSOP. She’s one big win away from consideration as one of the game’s best women playing today and someone to keep an eye on in the National Championship.

WSOPC Earnings 2011-2012: $46,232

Harrah’s Atlantic City $345 No Limit Hold’em: 55th for $824
Palm Beach Kennel Club $345 No Limit Hold’em: 3rd for 13,998
Caesars Atlantic City $555 No Limit Hold’em: 4th for 11,014
Horseshoe Council Bluffs $350 Six Handed No Limit Hold’em: 18th for $710
Horseshoe Council Bluffs $350 No Limit Hold’em Turbo: 7th for $1,992
Harrah’s St. Louis $355 No Limit Hold’em: 47th for $957
Harrah’s St. Louis $355 No Limit Hold’em Turbo: 11th for $1,413
Harrah’s St. Louis $1,090 No Limit Hold’em: 5th for $13,876

Huy Nguyen – At Large Qualifier

Hailing from Oklahoma, Huy Nguyen is a young player cutting his teeth on the live circuit. Since 2010, he has 19 WSOP and WSOPC cashes and finally caught media attention in the 2011 National Championship. He finished 10th, just missing out on the final table in what would be Sam Barnhart’s coming out party.

Nguyen has three WSOPC rings on his resume and has already cashed in the 2012 WSOP – 39th in Event 21, $1,000 No Limit Hold’em for $8,363. Nguyen rarely speaks at the table, but his aggressive, four-bet style of play keeps opponents on the defensive and speaks for itself.

In just two years of serious play, Nguyen has earned $467,422. Nguyen settled around the middle of the pack of at-large qualifiers with 132.5 points. He has experience playing against a good majority of the WSOPC qualifiers. Nguyen’s preflop game is as good as anybody’s and it should serve him well in this event.

WSOPC Earnings 2011-2012: $65,482

Horseshoe Hammond $350 No Limit Hold’em: 18th for $7,606
Horseshoe Hammond $560 Six Handed No Limit Hold’em: 17th for $1,841
Choctaw Durant $345 No Limit Hold’em: 61st for $951
Choctaw Duran $345 No Limit Hold’em Turbo: 1st for $26,121
Palm Beach Kennel Club $1,600 Main Event: 42nd for $4,075
Horseshoe Council Bluffs $350 Six Handed No Limit Hold’em: 8th for $1,817
Horseshoe Council Bluffs $1,600 Main Event: 20th for $4,355
Harrah’s New Orleans $1,085 No Limit Hold’em: 4th for $18,716

Mark “Pegasus” Smith – Horseshoe Southern Indiana Casino Champion

The man commonly referred to as “Pegasus”, due to his background in horse racing, is the all time WSOPC ring leader with five to his credit. Mark Smith earned his invite by being the best all-around player at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana stop, which is located not too far from his hometown of Georgetown, Kentucky.

Smith still would have qualified for the event if he didn’t win the Casino Championship; he earned 185 points on the year – which puts him at sixth overall in the points standings. Smith’s even keel and his endearing “Aww, shucks” Southern image camouflage his ruthless game on the felt. He’s well known among the Circuit qualifiers, but some of the WSOP POY qualifiers could look right over him, which might be a costly mistake.

WSOPC Earnings 2011-2012: $66,978

Horseshoe Southern Indiana $345 No Limit Hold’em: 1st for $19,441
Horseshoe Southern Indiana $555 No Limit Hold’em: 3rd for $10,032
Horseshoe Southern Indiana $1,600 Main Event: 5th for $26,651
Harveys Lake Tahoe $345 No Limit Hold’em: 8th for $1,370
Harrah’s Atlantic City $345 No Limit Hold’em: 8th for $2,594
Caesars Atlantic City $345 No Limit Hold’em: 35th for $667
Horseshoe Council Bluffs $350 No Limit Hold’em: 7th for $3,554
Horseshoe Council Bluffs $350 No Limit Hold’em: 11th for $2,669

Photo of Mark Smith by Eric Harkins