The best poker player in the world quickly does the math and doesn't like his odds at this week's World Series of Poker.
Thanks to a poker craze created by TV, the Internet and last year's remarkable storybook victory by a young unknown, a staggering 2,576 people are competing this time for a record $5 million (U.S.) first prize.
"When I started playing in 1987, I had a vision that if you became one of the top players you could expect to win the championship," said Howard Lederer, 40, a man with a lead-piercing stare and a number-crunching mind that have led others to regard him as the best in the game. "Even if I'm the favourite, I'm still 200-to-1."
The days of several hundred pros and a smattering of amateurs competing in the grandest of poker events are over. Everybody from Spider-Man actor Tobey Maguire to a former beauty queen was betting on being crowned the next poker king on Friday in the 35th annual World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino.
Last year, 839 men and women played in the No-Limit Texas Hold'Em event, in which players are dealt two cards each and make the best poker hand they can using those plus five additional common cards that are turned face up on the table. An aptly named accountant from Spring Hill, Tenn., Chris Moneymaker, won the top prize of $2.5 million.
The potential stakes at the World Series dwarf those of other popular reality shows, with the prize money for all the games in the tournament surpassing $41 million, compared with $22 million a year ago. Even second place in the finals is a whopping $3.5 million.
"No matter how good you are, you have to get lucky," said Chris (Jesus) Ferguson, who holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California at Los Angeles and won the 2000 World Series title.
Moneymaker, 28, found that out after the event kicked off last Saturday. He lasted only three hours before losing his stack of chips to an opponent who landed one of only two cards that could have beat him.
"You have to catch those breaks to win tournaments," he said.
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