Steve Lillenhaug, 43, was hoping his relatively untested style of play helps him face down poker legend Doyle Brunson, who showed up Tuesday wearing a blue button down shirt and his signature white cowboy hat.Lillenhaug, who has been playing poker for five years, downed two screwdrivers at the hotel bar as soon as he heard he would be playing at the same table as the 79-year-old master.“I’m probably the most nervous person you’ve ever seen,” Lillenhaug said in a flat Minnesota accent. “But then again, he’s just another guy with chips and cards and a seat. Win or lose, it will be a great story.”Poker’s popularity began to fade a bit in 2007 when the federal government started cracking down on the semi-legal world of onlinewagers.
Now, thanks to a new interpretation of federal law, online poker is returning state by state, starting in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.The World Series of Poker brand is getting in on the action with its own real money website that could debut before the conclusion of the main event.Celebrities continue to flock to the poker marathon in the desert, albeit in smaller numbers, and their presence is a boon to marketers and sponsors.But an early exit can beg the question of whether they are just here for fun and a quick TV sound bite or willing to grind it out through hours of play.“Seinfeld” actor Jason Alexander busted out early, as did actress Jennifer Tilly, of “Liar Liar” fame, Mixed Martial Arts champion Georges St. Pierre, “Everybody Loves Raymond” star Brad Garrett and actor James Wood.
Among those still in the hunt Tuesday afternoon besides Romano and Pollak were Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo, NHL goaltender Roberto Luongo, FC Barcelona soccer player Gerard Pique and cricket star Shane Warne.Most high-level professionals also remained in the game, including defending champion Greg Merson, previous winner Jonathan Duhamel of Canada, and poker personalities Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey, sometimes called the Tiger Woods of poker.