The World Championship of Online Poker is the greatest online poker festival in the world. This is no throwaway rinse-and-repeat marketing line. It is fact. Dispute it. Go on. Try it. You can't. It has the largest prize pools, the best structures and puts the best players in the world on a pedestal upon which the next generation of poker legends can attempt to bump them off.
We've had established names such as Eugene Katchalov, George Danzer and four-time WCOOP winner Dan 'djk123' Kelly bink bracelets this series but when you have 65 events there's also plenty of opportunities for new blood to come through and players that have the respect of their peers but little wider recognition, such as Darren 'darrenelias' Elias, to put themselves forward and demand attention.
Elias has won $1,371,432 in live tournament winnings and a further $2,907,203 in online competitions, a large chunk of which came from winning WCOOP-22: $10,300 NL Hold'em High Roller for $574,695. If you're under any illusion that this is a matter of fact tournament to win then waft it away immediately. As one of the blue ribbon events of WCOOP 2012 the final table was recorded and played out in a 40-minute cards-up highlights show on PokerStars.tv. It's not for the faint-hearted, but Elias doesn't seem to be a player lacking in heart or conviction.
"I just try to play my absolute best every time I sit down. I don't have off days, I don't play on autopilot, and I don't have a B game," Elias told the PokerStars Blog. "I strive to truly understand my opponents and what they are attempting to do at the table, only then can I develop counter strategies to defeat them."
If you're going to be a full-time poker player that buys into $10,300 High Roller tournaments then not having a B game is certainly a help, but Elias seems to be able to back up his claims. Not only was he leading at the end of Day 1 of the High Roller but he held his nerve to record the largest score of his life (topping his previous record of a sixth place 2010 WCOOP main event for $396,000 just missing out on a $2.3m pay day.
"When I was in first place going into Day 2 with 30 left I told myself I should definitely make the final table and had a good shot at finishing in the top three," said Elias.
Solid grounding, different courses
The 25-year-old took to maths easily, always a good grounding for a professional poker player, and embarked upon a college education that took in a maths and physics double major with astronomy in mind. He was also an all-American in swimming and water polo and was recruited to play at the University of Redlands in California, but eventually changed his major and graduated with a degree in creative writing. He is currently working on his first novel. All in all, it hardly seems fair, does it? Then again, when you're forced to learn the hard way getting cheated by your grandma then you've got to grow fast.
"My grandmother is probably my biggest family inspiration to play poker. We've been playing cards since I was about 6 and she used to cheat me when I turned my back," said Elias.
That was 20 years ago and now Elias is thinking about buying a house with his fiancé with his WCOOP winnings. I'm sure after all of that they'll still be enough for a telescope and fine mahogany study in which to finish his book. If not, there's always this year's main event...
Rick Dacey is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.