Card sharps eye 8.5-million-dollar poker jackpot

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A logger from rural America who lives in a trailer is among nine card players eying a 8.5-million-dollar jackpot as the climax of the World Series of Poker gets underway here Saturday.

Darvin Moon, 46, who had never been on a plane before he flew to Las Vegas for July's qualifying round, is one of a colorful field of card sharps who have already been guaranteed 1.26 million dollars just by reaching the finals.

His rivals include a former British train driver, a one-time banking high-flier who lost his job in the global financial crisis and Phil Ivey, a professional player who is sometimes lauded as the greatest player on the planet.

Other competitors include Frenchman Antoine Saout, a 25-year-old college dropout and professional poker player, who like his fellow finalists emerged from a qualifying round of 6,494 hopefuls.

They reconvene this weekend to reduce that field to two players who will face off on Monday for the ultimate prize.

"This is an incredibly compelling group of characters direct out of central casting," World Series of Poker commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said.

First-time-flier Moon comes into the Final Table with 58.9 million chips, nearly double his nearest competitor, an overwhelming lead that surprises even the plain-spoken man from a tiny town an hour north of Washington.

He won his entry to the qualifying round, which normally costs 10,000 dollars per player, in a tournament at a small casino near his home that cost him 130 dollars to enter.

"This is 98 percent luck as far as I'm concerned," said Moon, a heavy-set redhead who lives with his wife in a trailer and who does not use the Internet or possess a credit card. "Whatever happens, happens, is what I believe."

He will have to face competitors this weekend including Ivey, the 32-year-old from Las Vegas who is second on the all-time list of most money won in poker tournament play, but has never won this event.

Ivey goes into Saturday in seventh place and is the first well-known poker professional to make it to the final table in almost a decade.

The sudden popularity boom of poker in the early part of this decade brought thousands of amateur entrants to the tournament, making it harder for prominent pros to navigate the field.

"It is huge for the game of poker that Ivey is there," said Phil Hellmuth, winner of the most World Series of Poker events in history and 47th place finisher in the 2009 Main Event.

"It shows the world how much skill is in this game, that it's not just about getting lucky."

The 2009 final table also has a decidedly American flavor to it this year with just two foreigners France's Saout and James Akenhead, 26, of London, England.

Last year's event was won by Peter Eastgate of Denmark, who finished 78th this year.

Another notable finalist is Steven Begleiter, 47, a former top executive for the investment house Bear Stearns who was involved in the deal to sell the failing company to JPMorgan Chase in April 2008. He is presently in third place as play resumes.