World Series of Poker final players return Monday

LAS VEGAS (AP) This year's World Series of Poker final table is a young man's game.

When nine players take their seats around a studio-lit poker table at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas starting Monday night to vie for a $10 million top prize playing Texas Hold `em, they will be among the tournament's youngest and greenest in recent history, with none having won a title before.

One is a foosball champion who had never competed in the World Series of Poker. Another gets a second chance in a rare back-to-back appearance after an early knockout last year. The rest of the table is made up of poker players from all over the world - none older than 32.

The average age is 28, not as young as in 2010 but even that year, the oldest player was 37.

Not a one of them has a gold bracelet, the signature award for the top winner in any of the individual World Series of Poker events.

The tournament spans seven weeks in June and July and has attracted close to 80,000 people who played (and paid with hefty buy-ins) to win in 65 events.

The World Series of Poker of today is a far cry from its original incarnation back to 1970. That's when Benny Binion set up a single table at his Horeshoe Casino and invited players who ultimately voted on a winner at the end.

The main event, culminating this week, is just one of the series events but certainly the most watched.

Dubbed the ''November Nine,'' the finalists have returned after a four-month break since they outplayed nearly 6,700 other players who paid $10,000 each up front to play, among them some of poker's biggest names. In addition to the $10 million pot of winnings, the last player standing also wins one of the World Series of Poker's coveted gold bracelets.

The final field's youth can be tied to the growing popularity of online poker, where younger players have the luxury of playing many more hands, gaining the experience in far less time than a 60-year-old poker player might have gained sitting at the green felt for years, said Seth Palansky, spokesman for the World Series of Poker.

There are a few firsts heading into Monday.

It'll be the first time viewers watching at home will see every player's cards at the start of the hand. In past years, ESPN would only reveal everyone's cards after the hand was completed.

It's also the first time a Brazilian has made it to the tournament's final round. Bruno Politano, 32, has received characteristically enthusiastic support from his native country, Palansky said. The player starts with the lowest chip count, though.

''He's got the toughest climb ahead of him,'' Palansky said.

Billy Pappaconstantinou is easily the first foosball champion to make it to the final table after entering the World Series of Poker for the first time. Now he's eight opponents away from $10 million, the only amateur at a table of pros.

Sitting a few seats away from Pappaconstantinou will be 29-year-old Mark Newhouse, the only player who has experienced the final table before and, to add to the distinction, did so in back-to-back years - a feat unheard of since 2004. He was the first player knocked out last year.

Norwegian Felix Stephensen, 24, got to the tournament after making an unlikely - and lucky - bet, putting down $1,000 at 60-to-1 odds that Netherlands would beat Australia 3-2 in a World Cup match. After becoming $60,000 richer, he and a friend who joined the bet left London for Las Vegas to enter the World Series.

The nine final players will compete to be one of two or three players vying for the top prize Tuesday evening.

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