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Ashton not too antsy to defend title

Matthew Ashton originally planned to spend more time watching his native England in person in the World Cup.

But Ashton wasn’t about to miss the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship at the World Series of Poker.

“I would have been in Brazil a lot longer if the (Players Championship) was at the end of the (WSOP) schedule,” Ashton said. “I would have tried to get more tickets and been down there for maybe three weeks.”

The 26-year-old poker pro originally from Liverpool, England, is the defending champion in the event, which is one of the most prestigious in the WSOP. The five-day tournament starts at 4 p.m. today at the Rio Convention Center and features the second-largest buy-in of the 65 bracelet events behind only the $1 million entry Big One for One Drop.

The Poker Players Championship annually attracts a star-studded field thanks to the large buy-in and format. The tournament consists of eight separate games — Limit and No-Limit Hold ’em, Seven-Card Razz, 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball, along with two variations each of Seven-Card stud and Omaha — and the winner receives the Chip Reese Trophy, named after the late poker pro from Las Vegas who was the winner of the inaugural event.

“It’s quite a unique structure and a unique tournament,” Ashton said. “There’s just no mixed-game events that are this big. All the high rollers are No-Limit Hold ’em, so it’s a rare chance to get to play this big in a mixed-game tournament.

“The structure itself, you start off pretty deep. Even in most high rollers, like the No-Limit ones, you don’t get this much play.”

Ashton started out playing No-Limit Hold ’em tournaments online when he was 15 and built his bankroll playing Pot-Limit Omaha cash games during his time at the University of Sheffield, where he earned a degree in mathematics. About five years ago, Ashton said he shifted his poker focus exclusively to mixed games and developed into one of the best in the world in that discipline.

Ashton won the eight-game mixed event at a European Poker Tour event in Vienna in 2010, and he finished sixth in the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. event at the 2011 WSOP. But Ashton eventually grew weary of the online poker grind, and in 2012 he took a break.

Ashton traveled for more than nine months and visited 30 countries while living primarily out of a backpack.

“I can’t stay in one place for long,” he said. “I get an itch to explore somewhere new.”

Ashton returned to poker last year refreshed and finished second to Daniel Negreanu in the WSOP Player of the Year standings. He outlasted 131 other entrants in the Players Championship to earn his first gold bracelet and more than $1.7 million.

“It’s special to me because it gets a lot more recognition than all the other bracelet events,” Ashton said. “People take it seriously, and people give you a lot more credit when you win that event compared to some other events because you do have to play well for five days.”

Ashton finished third in the WSOP National Championship on May 24, a No-Limit Hold ’em event. He played eight tournaments at this year’s WSOP and cashed in the $1,500 Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split 8 or Better before heading to Brazil.

Ashton returned to Las Vegas on Friday, and with England eliminated from the World Cup, he is focused on finishing the WSOP on a high note.

“I’m coming in pretty confident for the tournament,” Ashton said. “I think the break is a good thing. It’s a long summer to be here for seven weeks straight. One week off in the middle will serve me well, hopefully.”

Contact reporter David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.

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