flags said it all.
The standards for the U.S., England,
South Africa, Canada and Denmark were waved proudly
in the stands as fans stood in solidarity with their
players at the final table of the 2007 World Series
of Poker Main Event. Add in the birth counties of three
other players - Laos, Russian and Vietnam - and the
WSOP had its diverse Main Event final table ever.
The international flair at the final
table was a microcosm of the entire WSOP. Although U.S.-born
players still dominate WSOP fields, more international
players than ever competed in 2007. More than 27 % of
the field starting Day 2 action came from outside the
U.S. And several left the Series as rising superstars.
Alexander Kravchenko won his first WSOP bracelet and
finished fourth in the Main Event. His more than $2
million in 2007 WSOP winnings (six total cashes) vaulted
him to the top of Russia's all-time money list.
Same goes for Germany's Katja Thater. Already a star
in her country because of her performances on the European
Poker Tour and her Pokerstars endorsement deal, Thater
became the first woman to win an open-WSOP event since
2004. She was also a favorite of the ESPN camera crews
with her kind smile and her shiny new bracelet.
"I can't really wear my pajamas
to the supermarket anymore," Thater said. "People
recognize me (in Germany) now and I sign a lot of autographs."
But perhaps more important to the WSOP's
growth is the influx of International players looking
to become their country's next big star.
Players like 35-year old Magnus Karlsson,
who was born in Sweden but now lives in Costa Rica.
He watched fellow Swedes Erik Fridberg and William Thorson
become famous in the 2006 Main Event and wants to follow
in their footsteps.
said he was proud to watch his friends succeed with
an aggressive style unfamiliar to most Americans, but
innate to most European competitors. He was so inspired
that he entered the WSOP for the first time this year.
"It seems like English wasn't the
first language at many of the tables this year,"
said Norman Chad, color analyst for ESPN.
Players from outside the U.S. made up
more than 16 percent of all top-50 finishers in the
55 WSOP bracelet events, according to a Casino City
Additionally, 32 percent of the top-25
finishers in the Casino City WSOP Player of the Year
race were from countries besides the U.S.
English speaking nations still have
a large grip on the WSOP with 91% of the top-50 finishers
coming from the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia. But
Germany, Sweden, and Italy all boasted double-digit
Ten of in the 55 bracelets awarded were
handed to players from outside the U.S. with seven countries
Canada led the non-U.S. bracelet race
with three winners (Robert Cheung, Jason Warner and
Lukasz Dumanski) while Germany grabbed two (Thater and
Michael Keiner). Russia's Kravchenko, England's Ram
Vaswani, Italy's Jeffrey Lisandro, South Korea's Daniel
Schreiber and Israel's Rafi Amit also won gold.
"We came as a group of 10 from
Germany," Thater said. "When I wasn't playing
I was watching and cheering. I wanted my friends to
In total, 32 countries made an appearance
in the Casino City survey.
they keep coming (and why that won't stop)
Television and Internet poker are the
two biggest reasons why there are more players at the
WSOP from outside the U.S. than ever before, according
"(International) Players see their
countryman on television, winning large amounts of money,
and it just looks cool," said John Duthie, creator
of the European Poker Tour and a member of Team PokerStars.
"Sweden is a good example. It's an acceptable pastime
for young players there and as they learn the game and
succeed, they seem to branch out to other parts of the
world and do well in the biggest events."
But Chad, like many others, believes
the increase is in part due to the online gambling restrictions
placed on American players.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement
Act (UIGEA) made it illegal for U.S. financial institutions
to conduct transactions with online gambling firms,
thus Chad said, "thousands of Americans players"
lost out on a chance to qualify for the WSOP. This left
a large, open conduit for international players to qualify
"This is the World Series of Poker,"
Chad said. "It's not like the World Series of Baseball,
which really just crowns a U.S. champion. Anyone from
anywhere can win a bracelet or a World Championship
here and I think that also draws the players in."
Star power also has an influence. Friberg,
a young up and coming player from Sweden in 2006, served
as another catalyst for international growth when his
aggressive style was showcased on the ESPN Main Event
Other European stars like Friberg, Thater,
Thor Hansen, Ram Vaswani and Gus Hansen add color to
the game with their personalities and unique playing
"They (international players) bring
a little bit extra color a different amount of aggression
to the game," Duthie said.
Duthie, one of England's finest players,
finished 487th in the Main Event and was a media favorite
for spending most of the tournament with a massage therapist
behind his chair.
Karlsson said Europeans play poker differently,
learning to bluff in drawing games like Omaha and Suki,
a five-card-stud game where four-flushes beat pairs.
Because success in these games relies heavily on drawing,
Karlsson believes Europeans are inherently more aggressive
-- bluffing more -- which in turn creates an exciting
playing style suited for television.
Denmark's Philip Hilm, a 2007 Main Event
final table participant, is a good example. He came
to final table as the chip leader, but told ESPN's Phil
Gordon after he lost that he was not content to sit
back and wait for cards. He wanted to "own"
eventual Main Event champ Jerry Yang got aggressive
early, Hilm decided to put a stop to it – or lose
trying. This attitude culminated in one of the final
table's most exciting hands. Hilm pushed more than $20
million chips in the middle with nothing more than third
pair and a flush draw, forcing Yang, the other chip
leader, to make an early decision for all his chips.
Hilm lost when he missed his outs, but
the hand became and instant classic because one of Denmark's
rising-stars was willing to risk millions of real dollars
on a gamble.
"We put a lot of pressure on our
opponents," Karlsson said of European players.
"We're not afraid to push, push, push."
players: The future of the WSOP
The first WSOP Europe kicks off in September,
the beginning of a major WSOP expansion into markets
outside Las Vegas, WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack
London will play host to WSOP Europe
with three bracelet events scheduled, including a $20,000
Main Event. Americans Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson,
and Jamie Gold have already committed to playing, but
the point of this expansion is to draw international
players to the WSOP brand, Pollack said.
"They (international players) are
critical to the WSOP," Pollack said. "We are
trying to put more World into the World Series of Poker.
It's a global game and we want to bring our brand to
fans and players around the world through the television
and the Internet."
Drawing international players was a
focal point of 2007, Pollack said. The International
Players Advisory Council (IPAC) was created to help
change the WSOP and serve as a compliment to the Player's
Advisory Council (PAC), Pollack said.
"We met with the international
players last fall and it was a major wake up call for
us," Pollack said. "We realized quickly that
we needed to do more to better service the International
One major change was the registration
Given the difficulties with dealing
with currency conversions, Rio All-Suites Hotel and
Casino Director of Customer Service Joe Scibetta created
separate lines for international players. The area was
staffed with personnel experienced in dealing with foreign
money, and the result was a smoother process and shortened
"We got some instant feedback that
the process was much more efficient this year than last,"
Scibetta said. "We plan to make similar improvements
Pollack said changes like these will
become the norm as the WSOP brand expands.
Duthie believes the international player
influx has more to do with the exposure of International
players to Americans and vice versa.
"As more Americans are exposed
to their colorful international counterparts, a bridge
is created through the poker experience that will bring
more U.S. players to the European tournaments and beyond,"
Duthie said. "And that will work both ways once
more Americans players come to Europe. It already exists,
but I think you'll see that it gets larger."