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The most hotly anticipated event in the online poker calendar begins today at PokerStars. The 7th annual World Championship of Online Poker is aptly billed as the internet equivalent of the World Series of Poker. It’s a place where all the top pros join hordes of amateurs to battle it out for monster prize pools and winner’s bracelets.

This year’s series looks set to break all kinds of records, not least in the prize pool department. In 2007 the WCOOP provided its players with a healthy $15 million guaranteed over the whole festival. The total guaranteed cash has now ballooned to $40 million. This wealth will be shared over 45 events from every discipline of poker, leading up to the prestigious main event – a No Limit Hold ‘em tournament with a $5,200 buy-in and a whopping $10 million guarantee.

The series gets underway in a couple of hours at 14:30 ET. Event #1 is a $215 No Limit Hold’em 6-max tournament, followed in a few short hours by the $215 Razz event. After that the tournaments come thick and fast, all the way up to the conclusion of the main event on September 21st.

That the WCOOP is now held in such high regard is in part down to the wide variety of poker disciplines for which it provides tournaments. There are bracelet events in every major variation, including a few surprise entries. This year sees the addition of Badugi and the hallowed 8-Game mix favoured by the likes of Daniel Negreanu and Barry Greenstein.

Those two poker luminaries are more than just players this year, both have been brought in to advise on the best possible blind structures. The team behind the WCOOP have shown a definitive interest in consulting players at all levels to help craft a series that best provides for the public. This was evidenced earlier this year when the PokerStars team released the provisional schedule in an attempt to solicit user feedback. Another new addition spearheaded by the players is the introduction of synchronized breaks. If you are playing in simultaneous tournaments you now won’t be forced to continue playing with no respite.

Last year’s main event was won by Carter ‘cking’ King, who took down the $1,265,432.23 first prize. The WCOOP’s biggest tournament is comparable only to the World Series main event, and Carter believes that winning the former is a more difficult proposition. Well known pro and Team PokerStars Pro member Vanessa Rousso also holds the tournament in high regard, having finished second in the 2007 WCOOP Main Event. Under the screen name LadyMaverick she has become the fifth largest cash winner in series history and described the quest to win a WCOOP bracelets as the “pinnacle of success” in online poker.

Along with the money and fame that come along with a WCOOP victory, all this year’s winners will be shipped off to the Bahamas for the PokerStars Carribean Adventure. Here they will all be presented with their wrist ornaments at a special ceremony. This year also sees the introduction of a best overall player award, not seen since the original WCOOP in 2002.

FlopTurnRiver will have extensive coverage of this year’s series, so check back over the next few weeks for all the info on the 2009 WCOOP.