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Players from Belize, Costa Rica in top 10 at World Series of Poker

August 3, 2011

LAS VEGAS – Players from Belize, Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany and Ukraine outnumbered U.S. citizens making the cut Wednesday to vie for the $8.7 million top prize in this fall’s World Series of Poker finale.

Atop the heap is 35-year-old poker pro Martin Staszko of Trinec, the first Czech to make the final table. He finished play early Wednesday with 40.175 million chips out the total 205.950 million, far ahead of his nearest competitor, Eoghan O’Dea of Dublin, who had 33.925 million chips.

Play was halted when 10th place finisher John Hewitt of Costa Rica lost an all-in hand in which he had a pair of 3s that failed to beat O’Dea’s straight. By then, a day that began with 22 contenders had lasted more than 13 hours before just nine remained.

The multinational diversity of the group is groundbreaking for the year’s richest and most prestigious poker event, marking the first time there are more from outside than United States than U.S. citizens in the final table.

“It signals a shift in poker,” said World Series of Poker commissioner Ty Stewart. “With international players winning two of last three years and the odds stacked against the Americans this time, we’re going to see this yet again.”

The nine players survived an initial field of 6,865 in the $10,000 Buy-In No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em scrum over 12 days.

The tournament now pauses until November, when the players reconvene to crown a champion, a break designed to increase interest for TV viewers and give players a chance to seek sponsorships and do media appearances in advance of the tournament’s conclusion.

Top prize is $8.7 million, but each of the nine finalists is guaranteed at least $782,115. In fact, they received that money on Wednesday at the Rio All-Suites Casino-Resort where the tournament is held.

Badih Bounahra of Belize City and Anton Makievskyi of Dnipropetrousk, Ukraine are also the first from their countries to reach the WSOP finals.

“I can’t even imagine how it’s going to be,” said Makievskyi of his return to Ukraine. “It’ll take a week for it to sink in.”

Bounahra agreed: “I’m playing for Belize and all of the Belize poker players. It’s big news.”

The tournament has taken on an increasing international flavor in recent years. Last year’s champion Jonathan Duhamel hailed from Montreal, Peter Eastgate of Denmark won in 2009 and Australian Joe Hachem triumphed in 2005.

Despite two-thirds of this year’s entrants being from the United States, only three Americans remain.

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