Harrah’s announced via conference call on Tuesday one of the biggest non-surprises of the year: Phil Ivey currently leads the voting for the 2010 World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions.  With five weeks left until the polls close, approximately 300,000 ballots have been cast for the 20 players who will fill the open seats in the “all-star” event.
The Tournament of Champions (TOC) is a revival of the old TOC that ran from 2004 through 2006.  UB.com pro Annie Duke won the inaugural event in 2004 when only 10 players competed for the $2 million, winner-take-all prize.  The tournament was larger in 2005 when an emotional Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, coming off back-to-back heartbreaking exits in deep runs in Main Event, finally achieved his big win.  And in 2006, Party Poker‘s “Ambassador of Poker,” Mike Sexton, who was one of the creative minds behind the TOC, donated half of his post-tax first prize money to charity.
For whatever reason, the Tournament of Champions was removed from the World Series of Poker schedule from 2007 through 2009, but Harrah’s has revived it for this year’s poker festival.  In the new version, 27 players will compete for $1 million prize money, with $500,000 going to the winner.  20 of the participants will be selected by the general public through an online vote at wsop.com.  Because it is called the Tournament of Champions, only players who have won a WSOP bracelet are eligible to play.  Thus, there are 521 living players on the ballot.  Fans may vote for up to 20 at one time.  Five of the remaining seven seats in the TOC will be filled by the three previous TOC winners (Annie Duke, Mike Matusow, and Mike Sexton), the defending WSOP Main Event champion (Joe Cada), and the defending WSOP Europe champion (Barry Shulman).  The final two seats are reserved for sponsor exemptions.
The cards will be put in the air for the invitation-only freeroll on Saturday, June 27th, which is an off day at the Rio in Las Vegas during the WSOP.  The non-bracelet event will run until only nine players remain.  Those players, who will all be guaranteed a payday, will reconvene for the final table on Sunday, July 4th, which is not coincidentally the day before the start of the $10,000 Main Event.
The list of the top 50 vote getters is always available on the World Series of Poker website, but in mid-April, Harrah’s revealed who was in top 20, and therefore who was in position to be selected for the TOC, at that point.  For most poker fans, the list was rather uninteresting, as even though it was replete with strong, strong players such as Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, and Phil Hellmuth, these players are same people we see in every made-for-TV poker event.  No “internet generation” stars were in the top 20, even though a good number of them have won bracelets in recent years.
Whoever ends up making the cut, it should be a great tournament.  For those who still wish to vote, balloting will remain open at wsop.com until June 15th.

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