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Upstarts play as ex-champs watch

The final table at the World Series of Poker seated nine players with modest degrees of poker success. The table-side audience was another matter.

At one point, players with a combined 50 World Series of Poker bracelets, which signify individual event champions, watched the relative unknowns battle for poker’s ultimate crown. None of the final table players had earned a bracelet.

Phil Hellmuth, the 1989 Main Event winner, who has a record 11 bracelets, watched alongside Johnny Chan, the 1987 and 1998 champion and winner of 10 bracelets. Doyle Brunson, the 1976 and 1977 champion who has 10 bracelets, viewed the action.

The poker elite included 2000 champion Chris “Jesus” Ferguson (five bracelets), Daniel Negreanu (four bracelets), Dewey Tomko (three bracelets), Barry Greenstein (three bracelets) and Jennifer Harman-Traniello (two bracelets).

According to ESPN, more than 2.4 million viewers tuned into the taped coverage Tuesday as Denmark’s Peter Eastgate became the World Series of Poker’s youngest-ever champion. The telecast earned a 1.9 rating, up 46 percent from a year ago.

ESPN executives could only dream of what the audience share might have been if the spectators had swapped seats with the participants.

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Rio executives had to be happy with the resort’s role as home of the World Series of Poker. Hundreds of final-table participant Dennis Phillips’ legion of fans inhabited seats at the casino’s gaming tables. All wore matching white work shirts and red St. Louis Cardinals baseball caps.

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After receiving his World Series of Poker Player of the Year trophy, Erick Lindgren had a message from Brunson for the heads-up participants, Eastgate and Ivan Demidov.

“Doyle says there’s a cash game at the Bellagio after this is over,” Lindgren said.

Eastgate earned $9.15 million for the championship while Demidov collected $5.8 million as the runner-up.

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Grammy-winning singer Sheryl Crow rocked a private audience in the Access Showroom during the grand opening of Aliante Station. Visible on her guitar strap was a campaign button that favored President-elect Barack Obama.

Crow might not have been informed the joint owners of Aliante Station had different political leanings. The Fertitta family financially supported two Republicans, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. The Greenspun family backed Obama’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

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Also at Aliante Station, personal injury lawyer Ed Bernstein used the opening to tell friends he was considering a run for mayor of Las Vegas in 2011 when current Mayor Oscar Goodman’s term ends.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. E-mail him at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or call 702-477-3871.

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