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WILD AND WOOLY TOURNAMENT RIDES

By Wendeen H. Eolis

Poker Player Newspaper

June 6, 2005

As the Harrah’s 2005 World Series of Poker launches, Ken Lambert, longtime card room manager at the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, Mississippi (a Harrah’s property) is at the helm

– overseeing what are sure to be the most spectacular and chronicled poker contests in the history of the game. And the final event, according to Ken, is likely to see nearly seven thousand runners.

Ken Lambert Rides High

The Golden Age of Poker is upon us, with Ken Lambert on the bridge as legendary old timers collide with a new generation of stars and fearless poker studs and babes who have yet to earn rightful places in poker’s Hall of Fame.

Ken is well known both to the longtime road gamblers and the sharpest twenty- something aces of the game. Raised in Las Vegas, Ken graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1981. He followed in his father’s footsteps into the gaming business, landing his first poker room job at the Frontier Hotel and moving up the ladder. He has held the position as card room manager at Jack Binion’s Horsehoe Casino in Tunica since its opening in 1995, where he oversaw some of the biggest Pot Limit Omaha and Triple Draw games in the world.

When it comes to poker, Ken has seen it all-the days when chewing tobacco and puffing on cigars was A-OK in poker rooms and onward, through the years when casinos paid to get their tournaments shown on television. Ken is at ease in making tough decisions at the tables, and enthusiastic about pleasing reasonable and polite poker players. He is champing at the bit to get off and running in his biggest casino role ever- the management of the 2005 World Series of Poker under the direction of Howard Greenbaum, the Harrah’s senior executive who is a second year veteran of WSOP operations.

Ken is a modest man with Southern charm, more proud of his close knit family- his wife Carole and their three children Jennifer, 14, Christopher, 11, and Brandon, 9- than he is of his considerable accomplishments to date in the golden world of poker.

Ken says that his family will keep him centered on the monumental task of welcoming, managing, and catering to the unprecedented number of poker players that will be jockeying for position daily, in WSOP tournaments and side games with staggering amounts of cash for the poker tables and beyond. Ken says, “I am thrilled to have this job and will work hard to make it the most exciting tournament poker players have ever seen- from start to finish.”

The WSOP has always been the one tournament that meant something to every serious player— the main event, the true cat’s meow. But since 2002 the growth of poker at the WSOP and elsewhere has taken on the sound of an unending roar.

Enter the WPT

Immediately after the curtain lowered on the 2002 WSOP, the world of poker was forever changed by the birth of The World Poker Tour. The WPT unveiled a new era of poker as a spectator sport, and played a vital role in its stunning trajectory to previously unimagined heights of popularity.

With the fanfare befitting a Fortune 500 corporation rolling out a spectacular business plan, Lyle Berman (Executive Chairman of Lakes Entertainment Inc.) and Steven Lipscomb (President and CEO of World Poker Tour Enterprises, Inc.) cooed to a rapt audience that the WPT was about to put poker on the map like never before. The words sounded like mere hyperbole then, but today no one can deny Lipscomb’s rightful claim that he “has forever changed the face of poker.”

Beginning in the spring of 2003, the WPT’s poker shows transported poker aficionados around the world into the most glamorous card rooms, treating television audiences to the pulsating action and the consequences that surrounded each key hand.

Players were consumed and awestruck by the new method of hand analysis- watching the hands as they progressed, whether in local bars and clubs, family rooms or public poker rooms.

Welcome Henry

The WPT “lipstick cameras” put the audience up close and personal with the tension and heat of battle, showing not only the hands, but also the faces, of the contenders. This “in camera” technology, adapted from a concept created by toy inventor and poker player, Henry Orenstein, for the UK’s Poker Million Tournament in 2000, turned out to be the key to igniting a full blown poker explosion.

Nevertheless, no one could have predicted, early in its first season, the impact the WPT shows would have on the upcoming 2003 WSOP Big Dance-until it was upon us. In fact, there were plenty of pessimists around at the time, insisting that the number of punters would dwindle, that the fabled WSOP had sadly lost its luster under the controversial management of Becky Binion-Behnen.

But at the opening bell of the final event of the ultimate tournament, an unprecedented 839 entrants filed into the arena (more than a 25% increase over the biggest field in its prior history), setting the record straight about the unstoppable growth of poker.

PokerStars.com Takes the Floor

It is fair to say that the snowballing growth of poker during the spring of 2003 was a product of televised poker and the accelerating player interest in internet-based poker tournaments, a niche that was uniquely captured by PokerStars.com. The feisty newcomer to the online poker community carved out for itself an untapped market of cyberspace poker tournaments, not the least of which included low buy-in super satellites for the “Big Dance” at the 2003 WSOP.

Poker Stars sent thirty-nine players to seek fame and fortune at the felt in Las Vegas that year. Richard Korbin, Marketing Director for Poker Stars, points out that the company sent more than three hundred players to last year’s WSOP and that its numbers will grow exponentially this year. Korbin adds, as if there is someone on the poker planet who does not already know, that both the 2003 and 2004 WSOP champs, Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer, respectively, gained their seats and tooled up for the biggest poker competition by playing on the Poker Stars website.

Moneymaker and Raymer: a Winning Pair

Indeed Moneymaker’s fairy tale story, as it played out not only in the contest itself, but also in an avalanche of print and broadcast coverage by mainstream media, set the poker world on fire. Even before Moneymaker’s magical real name began to cross reporters’ lips during the 2003 five-day festivities, ESPN was planning for an historical event, having decided that the purse in 2002 was big enough to warrant multiple days of coverage of the final event, rather than just the tradition of final table proceedings. Poker fans were destined to get the full Monty! And patent lawyer Greg Raymer’s $5,000,000 payday in 2004 sealed the commitment of multiple television stations to get on the poker bandwagon. Whereas Moneymaker proved the power of cyberspace poker studies, Raymer ran with a different winning recipe— mixing online competition with live tournament adventures and plenty of hours as a weekend poker warrior in live poker games-to take down the championship.

Restless Pros

Immensely successful poker show productions (the WPT and WSOP offer full seasons of them) have not gone unnoticed by the pros. By the end of the first year of a televised “poker season” top pros began to press both WSOP organizers and WPT brass to ratchet up their commitments to promote talented and telegenic poker players. WPT and WSOP executives saw the handwriting on the wall- player agents, associations and a push from players to participate in the spoils of these very successful productions. And then Henry Orenstein showed up on the scene with big plans to showcase poker players as celebrities.

The WSOP and WPT folks paid careful attention to the changing poker stage. Henry arrived in Las Vegas with megabucks, ready to jerk the collective chains of WPT and WSOP honchos, while pulling on the heartstrings of top players. He offered up hundreds of thousands of dollars in added monies to entice players into a giant buy-in Invitational event. Ultimately, Henry got the nod for a one-table Invitational that featured a blend of icons, youthful starters, successful “luckboxes” and a couple of “controversial choices.”

Several top players say that Henry’s gambit forced both the WPT and WSOP executives to ponder their future with the “performers” that fund their shows.

ESPN Trumpets

In 2004, ESPN blew out its filming of WSOP tournaments to offer a full season of poker tournament shows, complete with a broad cross-section of jazzy player clips at the tables and away from them. ESPN featured not only No-Limit events, but a wide variety of additional poker games (although No-Limit has proven to be the “mother of all poker games” among viewers) on the tube. And no sooner than the tournament was over, Harrah’s and ESPN teamed up to respond to Henry’s ongoing gambits in televised poker with a new one of their own, announcing a “player appreciation” tournament to the tune of a $2,000,000 free roll-for Harrah’s and ESPN’s favorite players among accomplished and popular pros. The notion of giving back to players was firmly planted into the poker landscape.

PPT Oscar Show

Not to be outdone, or perhaps smelling more competitive initiatives by Harrah’s, the WPT made a series of titillating announcements about expanded Invitational events. WPT was the founder of the free roll concept, producing an annual Hollywood/Poker Pro Invitational and also tipping its hat to accomplished Ladies on the Tour with an annual Ladies Night show. By the end of the summer, 2004, the WPT was geared up full throttle to create the first Professional Poker Tour-five Invitational tournaments offering a purse of $3,000,000 of pure free roll money-for some 250 elected players.

WSOP Circuit Lands at the Big Game

No sooner than rumblings of a PPT were heard in Harrah’s executive suite, the quick-footed mega-casino moved with its own tour. Participation in the World Series of Poker Circuit Events was and is open to anyone ready to ante up the buy-in. Under Ken Lambert’s leadership with John Grooms managing the operations under him, The WSOP Circuit doles out player points (as outlined in its tournament materials) for money finishes in its events—with a monumental carrot of a $2,000,000 free roll tournament. This time the WSOP cannot be accused of playing favorites. The top hundred point-getters are “all in” for this one.

Traditionally, the WSOP has attracted a gorgeous mosaic of men and women contestants from all four corners of the globe and all walks of life. With the $2,000,000 free roll open to everyone, the WSOP continues to build its brand with emphasis on equal opportunity for fame and fortune based exclusively on how one plays his or her chips. Nowhere, however, will this mantra be more apparent than at the biggest and most prestigious tournament happening in the world- the 2005 World Series of Poker.

Wendeen H. Eolis was the first woman to “cash” in the final event of the WSOP and the first one to do it twice. She has since cashed twice more at the WSOP. She was elected to the membership on the World Poker Tour for the 2004-2005 season and has been seen this year at the final table for the 2004/5 WPT televised Ladies Night 11 event. Her legal consulting company, Eolis International Group, Ltd. reviews law firms and selects counsel, worldwide –for companies, governments, and individuals.