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The PartyPoker Premier League is an exclusive poker league featuring twelve hand-picked players competing for $1 million in prizes. It started on February 10th and will go until the 16th, and it’s scheduled to be televised in the UK near the end of March.

75% of last year’s league participants returned for 2008:
Phil Hellmuth
Dave Ulliot
Tony G
Andy Black
Ian Frazer
Roland De Wolfe
Vicky Coren
Juha Helppi
Eddy Sharf

New to this year’s league:
Marcel Luske
Annie Duke
Alexander Kravchenko

Before the tournament started, Devilfish was a 5-1 favorite (according to PartyBets) to win the event, thanks to his ‘recent form’ (quoted from a PartyPoker.com spokesman). Helppi was crowned league champion last year and mentioned that he would do “anything it takes to defend” his title. Scharf finished second in 2007, and Hellmuth finished third. Feeling the need to highlight the fact that he got unlucky last year (would you expect anything less?), Hellmuth said, “After winning four out of six matches in the Premier League last year, I was in massive pain when Juha Helppi beat my KK with his 87 off-suit and made me finish third in the finale. I told Helppi, ‘I’ll be back!’ Now it’s 2008 and here I come.”

The buy-in was $60,000 (increased from the $20,000 from last year) and Party Poker added $280,000 to round out the prize pool at $1 million. Here’s the structure of the event:

Round one: each player plays six six-handed matches and is awarded points based on how they place in each single table tournament. Each match has a $40,000 prize pool and there are 12 matches total.

Payouts and points for round one matches:
1 – $18,000, 9 pts
2 – $10,000, 5 pts
3 – $6,000, 3 pts
4 – $4,000, 2 pts
5 – $2,000, 1 pt
6 – $0, 0 pts

Round two: the bottom four from round one are eliminated from the league and the top four automatically make Round two, which is a 6-handed final table. Places five through eight play heads-up matches to determine who wins the remaining two seats at the final table.

Round three: 6-handed final table with a prize pool of $520,000.

Payouts for final table:
1 – $250,000
2 – $120,000
3 – $60,000
4 – $40,000
5 – $30,000
6 – $20,000

It is now the fifth day into the league and everyone has played five matches so far. Tony G and Andy Black are in the lead with 33 and 32 points respectively while Phil Hellmuth is in last place with only five points. Here are the complete current standings:

Tony G: 33 pts
Andy Black: 32 pts
Roland de Wolfe: 20 pts
Annie Duke: 18 pts

Eddy Scharf: 17 pts
Alex Kravchenko: 17 pts
Marcel Luske: 16 pts
Vicky Coren: 14 pts

Dave Ulliott: 10 pts
Juha Helppi: 9 pts
Ian Frazer: 9 pts
Phil Hellmuth: 5 pts

Tony G and Black are guaranteed final table seats. The other guaranteed seats will be awarded to two of Coren, de Wolfe, Duke, Luske, Kravchenko, and Scharf, depending on how these players perform in their final heat of round one. Helppi, Frazer, and Hellmuth can, at the very best, earn the chance to play in round two.

Be sure to come back to my FTR blog on Tuesday! I’ll pick up where I left off here and tell you how things end up after Day 6 (which is tomorrow) and then Day 7 (Saturday) at the final table.