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Poker Players Head to Vegas for World Series of Poker

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Ladies and gentlemen, shuffle up and deal.

That's what thousands of poker players from around the world will be hearing today when the 2006 World Series of Poker begins in Las Vegas. The event has a total of 44 smaller buy-in tournaments leading up to the Super Bowl of poker, the $10,000 main event, which begins July 28, and lasts almost two weeks. Even locally, there are players vying for their chance at poker immortality.

"It's just a great time. A whole lot of fun," said Gulf Breeze High graduate Brandon Adams, who played in his first WSOP last year, and is headed back this year. "My dad and brother came out, and we made it like a vacation."

But with so much money up for grabs, it's hard to focus on much other than winning. For Adams, last year was especially tough to focus as Hurricane Dennis bore down on Pensacola during Day 2 of the main event. Barring a similar crisis close to home, he likes his chances in 2006 just as much as anyone else, but Adams knows it's always going to be tough to play on poker's biggest stage.

"It was hard last year with so much on my mind, and this year, I wouldn't expect it to be any easier because of how many people they're expecting," said Adams of the 8,000-person, main-event field, which will be capped this year -- the largest number of players and biggest prize pool in poker tournament history. "For any of those players going for the first time, they'd better be prepared for the longest days of poker they've ever played in their life."

Adams would know. He's been on the tournament trail for two years with several big cashes at major events, including a third-place finish at a WSOP circuit event in Tunica, Miss., last year, and a ninth-place finish at the 2005 WSOP Tournament of Champions.

There are other local players trying to emulate Adams' success, or even surpass is. Fort Walton Beach resident Max Reele recently won the annual BarPoker.com tournament, which landed him a seat at this year's main event. Bar poker tournaments do not pay cash prizes at the end of the night, but players earn points according to their finish and Reele was one of 165 players who was eligible for this year's annual tournament.

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