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LAS VEGAS (AP) — The centerpiece tournament of the World Series of Poker kicked off Monday in Las Vegas, drawing players from around the U.S. and beyond hoping for a piece of the more than $60 million in prize money.
Hundreds of players — the overwhelming majority men — converged for the first of three entry flights of the no-limit Texas Hold'em main event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. Some of the players put down $10,000 to enter the main event, while others have earned seats through satellite competitions with lower buy-ins.
More than 850 players participated in the first flight, and organizers expect more than 6,000 people to enter the main event. The series has so far seen almost 101,600 entries.
Among the dozens standing in line Monday to register for the series' various tournaments was Ryan Pochedly, a professional poker player hoping to get a spot in the main event through a satellite. He won nearly $45,000 during the main event in 2012, when he finished in 182nd place. Last month, he won $3,310 in a different series tournament.
"It's only once a year and it's highly publicized, probably one of the biggest prize pools that exist for a reasonable amount of money," said Pochedly, who has played in four previous main events. "Those high-rollers out there that are $100K buy-ins, the average person can't afford it. But once a year, people who aren't professionals come to Vegas and they can afford to pony up $10,000 or they can win a satellite seat in."
The tournament draws pros, amateurs, athletes and celebrities of various ages. Some competing Monday brought neck cushions and others paid for professional massages at the table. Starbucks cups and energy drink cans were at virtually every table. And for soccer fans, a massive screen showed the World Cup match between Belgium and Japan.
The prize money, gold bracelet with diamonds and other gemstones, and bragging rights that the winner takes home every year are life-changing, but the experience is mentally and physically grueling, with some players barely sleeping, fasting for long periods and aching after hours of sitting in the ballrooms hosting the tournament.
A change this year could make the tournament even more taxing: Unlike last year, the final nine players will not get a two-day break between when the final table is set on July 11 and when play begins.
"If you're planning on winning the main it's important to relax and get lots of sleep this weekend," Scott Blumstein, last year's main event winner, tweeted Saturday. "It's an exhausting experience filled with restless nights. Can't even imagine what it'll be like with no break between day 7 and the final table."
Blumstein took home the gold bracelet and the $8.1 million event prize last year after he outlasted more than 7,200 competitors.
The famed event also draws fans from around the world.
Bill Youmans traveled to Las Vegas from Lakewood, Colorado, specifically to watch the tournament and "learn a little." The physical education teacher said he played a satellite tournament during this trip, and one day, he will return to play at the main event.
"Once I retire, this is my bucket list thing to do, play in the main," said Youmans, 56.
Follow Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reginagarciakNO
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