On Thursday, Bertrand “Elky” Grospellier grabbed one of the two sponsor exemptions to the 2010 World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions (TOC) by winning a nine-player Sit-and-Go hosted by the WSOP Academy.
The single table tournament was put together to give a select few non-bracelet winners a chance to win a seat in the $1 million freeroll, despite not being eligible for the public vote.  Aside from Grospellier, the participants were Andy Bloch, Gus Hansen, actor Don Cheadle, Michael Mizrachi (who actually just won his first bracelet, too late to get on the ballot), Liv Boeree, Paul Wasicka, Gavin Smith, and Sorel “Imper1um” Mizzi.  Tom “durrrr” Dwan was originally included on the tournament roster, but was doing well in the 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship and withdrew from the competition.  Gavin Smith was the player who replaced Dwan.
The Tournament of Champions is billed as the World Series of Poker’s All-Star game.  The field will be limited to just 27 players, 20 of whom will be selected via an online fan vote.  The catch is that the only players on the ballot are those who have won a WSOP bracelet.  Therefore, such strong players such as PartyPoker’s Tony G, poker’s endurance record holder Phil Laak, and Full Tilt Poker’s Patrik Antonius are ineligible.
Five of the remaining seven seats in the Tournament of Champions will be filled by automatic qualifiers.  UB.com pro Annie Duke, Full Tilt’s Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, and PartyPoker’s Mike Sexton are all included because they are the three previous TOC winners.  Joe Cada is in for being the reigning WSOP champ, and Barry Shulman gets a spot for being the reigning WSOP Europe champion.  As mentioned earlier, there are also two sponsor exemptions, one of which goes to Grospellier.
As noted, none of the players involved in the WSOP Academy’s Sit-and-Go for the sponsor exemption had won a bracelet prior to this year.  This has irked some members of the poker community, who don’t like that owning a bracelet is a requirement for the fan vote, yet is actually a disqualifier for the Sit-and-Go.  Annie Duke, who is actually a WSOP Academy instructor, posted on her Twitter page, “Obviously, I love Don Cheadle but I think it is ridiculous he is playing in the 9 handed tourney for a spot in the TOC. Should all be champs.”
She followed that up a couple hours later with, “Great solution for the TOC: Take the 9 players who just miss in the voting and have them play for the seat.”
Anyone who follows poker knows that most of the players included in the Sit-and-Go are amongst the world’s best.  They just haven’t won any WSOP bracelets (again, except for Mizrachi).  But then there is Don Cheadle.  While he did defeat Phil Ivey in the Heads-Up Poker Championship once, nobody would put him remotely close to the same league as those other players.  In response to a question about his inclusion, WSOP Academy CEO Jeff Goldenberg had the following to say in an interview with Poker News Daily:
“He’s one of the very few actors that is truly dedicated to playing poker on a professional level. He’s serious about poker and plays with the desire to win. He’s also a student of the game and those are the traits we admire. Don will add a lot of good poker and entertainment at the table. We also chose him because of his philanthropic efforts with Ante Up for Africa.”
Public voting for the Tournament of Champions is still open at wsop.com, but will close on June 15th.  The event will begin on Sunday, June 27th and will continue until there are just nine players left.  The final table will re-convene on Sunday, July 4th and the nine remaining players will compete for their share of $1 million.  First place pays $500,000, second plays pays $250,000, third place pays $100,000, and fourth through ninth pay $25,000.

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