Friday, March 26, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Major League Baseball has the midsummer classic. The NFL has the Pro Bowl.
And now the World Series of Poker has the Tournament of Champions. The World Series announced last week that it would host a $1 million freeroll tournament this summer featuring 27 players, with the majority of them being voted in by the fans.
The tournament, which will serve as poker's All-Star Game, is June 27 to July 4.
"There's really never been a way to gauge what poker fans want," World Series of Poker spokesman Seth Palansky said. "We think that this format is going to be a great way to do that."
Palansky said the voting had received a tremendous response in the week it has been posted on the World Series of Poker's Web site. As of Thursday afternoon, fans had cast more than 170,000 votes.
Fans are allowed to vote once for up to 20 participants out of the 521 living World Series of Poker bracelet winners. The top 20 will earn entry into the tournament, as will five automatic bids.
Joe Cada and Barry Shulman automatically are in the Tournament of Champions for winning the 2009 Main Event and the 2009 Main Event Europe, respectively.
The three past winners of the Tournament of Champions — Annie Duke in 2004, Mike Matusow in 2005 and Mike Sexton in 2006 — also are in. The final two slots will be awarded to online qualifiers.
"Assuming it goes the way we expect, it is our intention for it to be an annual event," Palansky said.
The Tournament of Champions was an annual event from 2004-2006, but did not follow the same format as this year's version.
It was an invitational tournament and fans had no say in who competed.
"There was never a public vote," Palansky said. "We basically spent the last couple of years creating a model that we could sustain year in and year out."
Eligible players took notice and started doing all they could to campaign for themselves. Players have flooded their blogs and Twitter accounts asking for votes.
Annette Obrestad, a 21-year old Norwegian who won the WSOP Main Event Europe three years ago, has used Twitter to rally support multiple times in the last week.
"Sorry if I'm spamming, but (it) would mean the world for me to play," Obrestad said in one of her recent tweets.
According to the World Series of Poker's Web site, Oberstad currently is in the top 50 in votes. Fans haven't shown Tom Schneider, 2007 World Series of Poker Player of the Year, as much love so he came up with a radical idea to pull in votes.
Schneider is distributing an e-mail promising that anyone who votes for only him will get a share of any winnings he makes in the tournament.
Schneider's e-mail says he will keep 50 percent of the potential prize and split the remaining 50 percent with his voters. First place pays $500,000, second gets $250,000, third earns $100,000 and fourth through ninth takes home $25,000.
"I really would like to play in this tournament and your vote is very important to me," Schneider says in the e-mail. "That's why I'm paying for it."
Palansky is amazed by pleas from players like Schneider and Obrestad. It's three months before the so-called All-Star Game and it's already looking like a success.
"The response has been unbelievable, to be completely blunt," Palansky said. "We're just finding out all sorts of things about poker fans."