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WSOP Main Event Starts Later this Week

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The WSOP Main Event begins Friday and the final winner could end up with $10-12 million dollars.I am here as one of the broadcasters for ESPN. What are my qualifications to be selected for the World Series of Poker 2006? Other than my good looks and rosy disposition, I have none. This is emblematic of the poker boom, anyone can play, anyone can win and, in fact, anyone does win.

Moneymaker, an accountant from Tennessee, won the Main Event and $2.5 million in 2003. Greg Raymer, a patent attorney from Connecticut, won $5 million in 2004. Joseph Hachem, an ex-chiropractor from Australia, won $7.5 million in 2005. Therein lies the game's strength: The card room is as great a melting pot as anywhere in America, and every year some poker unknown with an unlikely story carries home the richest cash prize there is.

Still, I'd like to see a poker pro again take down the de facto world title. I root for "Miami" John Cernuto, a former air traffic controller fired by President Reagan who since has won three World Series of Poker bracelets. I root for Phil Ivey, who once snuck into Atlantic City card rooms underage and now has five World Series bracelets before he's 30. I root for Jennifer Harman, who has had two kidney transplants and plays in the highest stakes games in the world. I root for Dewey Tomko, a former kindergarten teacher who twice has finished runner-up in the Main Event.

And how can you not root for Barry Greenstein, 50, one of poker's best, who donates all his tournament winnings to charity?

After a string of successes, Greenstein decided to turn the soulless pursuit of gambling into a soulful expression of care. "I got such an overwhelming response, I was almost forced, in a good way, to do more positive things," he said. "The cliche 'When you give, you get more back' became so true for me."

Greenstein will walk into the World Series poker room at the Rio knowing he has little chance to win the cherished Main Event too many people, too much luck involved but he's bullish about the biggest tournament in poker getting bigger and bigger.

"Why not let everyone into the party?" he said. "Poker is not exclusionary. I love the fact that you can sit down at a table with an entire demographic of the world. In poker, everyone starts even and everybody's got a shot at you."

Some of Greenstein's fellow pros disagree they'd like to keep the crumb bums and shoe clerks on the rail but, then again, poker players are famously disagreeable and, well, somewhat insensitive to the world around them.

In Greenstein's fine book, "Ace on the River," he tells of the legendary Jack Straus, the 1982 Main Event champion. Straus once received a call at the Horseshoe Casino from a friend who was on death row. The friend said: "It looks like I will be executed. The governor didn't grant me a pardon." Straus responded, "That's pretty bad, but you won't believe what they've been doing to me here."

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