On Saturday, the World Poker Tour (WPT) Championship will kick off from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The $25,000 buy-in tournament is the last stop of Season VII and will crown a champion seven days later.

Last year, David Chiu emerged victorious from a pack of 545 entrants en route to victory. He pocketed $3.4 million for his efforts, one of the largest paydays in WPT history. The finale featured Chiu take on Full Tilt Poker pro Gus Hansen, one of the world’s most feared players. Hansen landed a $1.7 million consolation prize. Also at the final table were John Roveto (third for $923,355), Cory “UGOTPZD” Carroll (fourth for $593,645), Tommy Le (fifth for $395,725), and Jeff King (sixth for $263,815). A total of 100 players finished in the money during the Season VI WPT Championship.

In a tournament series that has seen a bevy of events come and go, the WPT Championship has remained a staple. The annual end of year gala has seen some of the world’s top poker players dominate. During the Season V WPT Championship, “The Spaniard” Carlos Mortensen triumphed over a field of 639 players and cashed for $3.9 million. He defeated World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner Kirk Morrison heads-up; Morrison took home $2.0 million for his efforts. Others who claimed life-changing money were Paul Lee (third for $1.1 million), Guy Laliberte (fourth for $696,220), Tim Phan (fifth for $464,110), and Mike Wattel (sixth for $309,405).

The Season IV final table will go down as one of the most talented in the history of the WPT. In the end, Joe Bartholdi, a poker player in his 20s, bested Davidson Matthew heads-up and grabbed $3.8 million. Roland de Wolfe, James Van Alstyne, and Men “The Master” Nguyen also made the final table. During Season III, Tuan Le outlasted Paul Maxfield heads-up in a tournament that attracted 453 entrants. The duo were joined by Hasan Habib, John “The Razor” Phan, European Poker Tour (EPT) Monte Carlo Grand Final winner Rob Hollink, and Phil Ivey at the televised final table.

Season II saw Martin de Knijff battle Habib in the finale, with the former coming out on top and earning $2.7 million. Matt Matros and recent Bay 101 Shooting Star Champion Steve Brecher were also at the final table, taking third and sixth, respectively. The first ever WPT Championship was held in 2003, with Alan Goehring defeating Kirill Gerasimov. Goehring earned $1 million for the win over a final table that also featured Ivey, Doyle Brunson, and Ted Forrest. The $25,000 buy-in event is the richest of any WPT tournament. Each event’s winner during the regular season takes home an entry.

Here is the schedule for the seventh annual WPT Championship at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. All times are local:

Saturday, April 18th, 2009: Day 1A, 12:00pm
Sunday, April 19th, 2009: Day 1B, 12:00pm
Monday, April 20th, 2009: Day 2, 12:00pm
Tuesday, April 21st, 2009: Day 3, 12:00pm
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009: Day 4, 12:00pm
Thursday, April 23rd, 2009: Day 5, 12:00pm
Friday, April 24th, 2009: Day 6, 12:00pm
Saturday, April 25th, 2009: Final Table, TBA

In addition to the WPT Championship, a $540 buy-in ClubWPT side event will take place on April 23rd at 2:00pm. ClubWPT is the tournament series’ subscription-based online poker room that accepts customers from the United States. Super satellites to the Main Event are also taking place daily. The final opportunity for players to win their way into the WPT Championship occurs on Saturday at 10:00pm; super satellite tournaments boast a $1,590 price tag.

The Season VII WPT Championship will air on Fox Sports Net, which also holds the rights to broadcast Season VIII of the roving tournament series. New episodes air on Sunday nights.

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