Recently, Tokwiro-owned online poker room Ultimate Bet announced the launch of STEP tournaments, allowing its members a challenging low-cost way to win their way into the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. STEP tournaments are also available on sister site Absolute Poker.

STEP 1 tournaments boast an affordable buy-in of just $0.10. Winning 10 steps in total sends a player to Las Vegas for the 2009 WSOP. The packages include the $10,000 Main Event buy-in plus an additional $2,000 to use for travel and expenses. The Main Event starts on July 3rd, features four starting days, and will play down to its final table on July 14th. Then, the “November Nine” will return to the Rio between November 7th and 10th (the final dates have not yet been announced) for the tournament’s conclusion. Last year, Peter Eastgate broke Ultimate Bet’s Phil Hellmuth longstanding record as the youngest WSOP Main Event winner ever at age 22; Hellmuth was 24. Eastgate also took home $9 million.

The promotion is part of Ultimate Bet’s 10th Anniversary celebration. If a STEP tournament qualifier wins the WSOP Main Event, they’ll receive a whopping $10 million ten-year sponsorship from Ultimate Bet on top of their prize money. Poker News Daily columnist and Ultimate Bet tournament designer Annie Duke commented in a press release, “STEP tournaments will see UB qualifying record numbers of online players for this year’s WSOP and with our $10 million player contract on the table, we’re excited about the prospect of discovering poker’s next big thing.”

On tying STEP tournaments in with the site’s ten-year milestone, Duke added, “Ten years on, we aim to grow our reputation as the home of the game’s most decorated champions and our standing as the top choice for the world’s best poker players.”

The first 10 players who win their way through all 10 STEP tournaments for a WSOP prize package will also receive a trip to the 2009 Ultimate Bet Aruba Poker Classic. The $8,500 Main Event prize package includes the $5,500 Main Event entry plus $3,000 to use for travel and other expenses. The Aruba Poker Classic was formerly a stop on the World Poker Tour and will take place from October 3rd through 10th in 2009, slightly later than last year in order to avoid a scheduling conflict with the World Series of Poker Europe.

Matt Brady won the 2008 installment of the Aruba Poker Classic, taking home $1 million for his efforts. Past winners have also included Travis Rice (2007), Devon Miller (2006), Freddie Deeb (2005), Eric Brenes (2004), Erick Lindgren (2003), and Juha Helppi (2002). Miller battled heads-up against top online poker pro Cliff “JohnnyBax” Josephy.

Players must finish in the top two spots of each STEP tournament in order to move onto the next level. Some tournaments allow players to retry a level if they do not advance. Players must be 21 years-old to enter and will don Ultimate Bet gear throughout the tournament if they qualify. The Ultimate Bet tournament lobby has complete details on STEP tournaments.

The online poker site is flanked by Hellmuth and Duke, who are in the midst of competing against each other on “The Best Damn Poker Show.” The program, which airs on Monday nights on Fox Sports Net, features the two faces of Ultimate Bet grooming teams of aspiring poker pros. During the previous season, Tracy Scala, who plays on Ultimate Bet under the screen name “Fatcats,” took down the title and became the newest member of the site’s Star Players team. Other members of Team UB include Adam “Roothlus” Levy, Gary “debo34” DeBernardi, “Hollywood’ Dave Stann, Mark “P0ker H0” Kroon, Scott Ian (from the band Anthrax), Shawn “westtexasman” Rice, and Tiffany Michelle.

Fifty-seven events will make up the 2009 WSOP schedule. The series kicks off on May 27th with a $500 Casino Employees No Limit Hold’em event, followed the next day by a $40,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em tournament commemorating the 40th running of the WSOP. The festivities will once again take place in the Amazon Room at the Rio, located off the Strip in Las Vegas.

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