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  1. [caption width="640"] The Bay 101 Shooting Star event is one of the most unique WPT events on the schedule[/caption] Some of the biggest stars in poker - most of them in fact - are on their way to San Jose, California to play in one of the longest-running World Poker Tour events. This isn’t just some standard WPT event, though. The WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star is the closest thing poker has to an all-star game. That is, if any basketball player that wanted to could just show up and play in the NBA all-star game or if every beer league hockey player could pull a John Scott and play in the NHL all-star game. The Shooting Star concept is simple. A group of players, dubbed the “Shooting Stars”, are bounties in the $7,500 buy-in event and busting one of them is worth $2,500 to whomever eliminates them. This year’s group of "Shooting Stars" includes WSOP Main Event champ Joe McKeehen, Anthony Zinno, Kelly Minkin, Mike Leah and Erik Seidel. The man at the center of choosing the Shooting Stars each year is WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage. While his highest profile gig is with WPT, he’s been the Bay 101 Tournament Director for 13 years. With some 50 "Stars" each year, selecting the players can be a little bit of a challenge - especially with players campaigning for spots. “It usually starts sometime around November going into December. And then when the calendar turns to the next year, people are texting me and emailing me and tweeting me with requests that they want to be a part of the shooting star program,” said Savage. “It’s strange because some people are a little more active about it, some people that you might not expect are pretty much in my year round about why they’re not a shooting star.” Due to his role with WPT, Savage is as in tune with the poker industry as anybody, and that makes putting together a shortlist of possible Shooting Stars easy. Throughout the year, he’s on the road talking to players, talking to fans to determine who should make the final cut. “I do polls and stuff like that on Twitter and TwoPlusTwo to figure out who they think belongs and who doesn’t, just to get the talk going, and it always seems to work,” said Savage. “People always want to bring it up and complain who got snubbed and who got in and stuff like that. So it makes it interesting.” Players with great results - even great recent results - aren’t necessarily guaranteed to get an invite. Being a Shooting Star has more to do with being a superstar in the eyes of fans than any ranking system could ever handle. “We have such good fans (at Bay 101) that I want it to be people that, if you were a fan of poker, you’d want to come and see. So, in addition to those names, you get a lot of the old timers and the bigger names,” said Savage. “Then you have the new guys; the young up-and-coming stars and the WSOP Champion. I try to also include people that really support the WPT and Bay 101. It’s kind of a mixture of all of those things, but for the most part it’s a popularity contest really. Savage begins sending out invitations early in the year and always leaves a few spots open right up until the week before the tournament. But not every player who is asked to be a Shooting Star is ready to accept the challenge. Savage gets a few players each year that turn down the invite. “I do get people that reject it from time to time because some of them don’t actually want the pressure of having the shooting star on them. They feel like they play better if it’s not,” said Savage. “Like Nam Le, he’s turned it down, Ted Forrest at one point turned it down. He thought he’d have a better chance by not having it.” Though Le and Forrest are among a handful of players who have said “no thanks” to the Shooting Star honor, Savage says there’s far more players clamoring for spots than those who aren’t interested. “The opposite is far and away much more people saying they want to be a Shooting Star. They want to be recognized, they want to have that and sometimes they’re even saying, ‘Why am I not a shooting star? I’ve done this or that’. There’s a lot of those guys too,” said Savage. Being a bounty does have some perks. Each Shooting Star is given $1,000 for each time they enter (all players are allowed one re-entry) as well as some Bay 101 or WPT merchandise. There is a bit of a strategic advantage too. While you’re likely going to be the target of other players at your table, you’re assured that no other Shooting Stars will be at your starting table. The number of poker superstars that come out for the event, combined with the fact that this is the longest-running WPT event in Northern California, leads to a very different atmosphere from an event in Las Vegas or even Los Angeles. From Day 1 of the tournament, the rail is four or five deep with poker fans snapping pictures of Antonio Esfandiari, Daniel Negreanu or Phil Ivey. Fans eagerly wait for breaks to ask a player for an autograph or a selfie. Savage admits that the players who get into it love it. “You get a guy like Antonio, Phil Laak, Daniel, they never miss the tournament because I think they really like that kinda thing. It’s kinda cool, when they walk in there are people standing there with photographs and autographs cards,” said Savage. “I think in some respect there was a point in poker where they may have not liked that as much, but I think over time they’ve realized it’s not going to be around forever. That’s kind of something that comes and goes so I think that those guys like that stuff, the fandom.” While the notoriety is nice and the $1,000 comes in handy, the pros also love coming to the Bay 101 event because it’s full of satellite qualifiers. Savage estimates that each year they qualify between 250 and 300 players via satellites at the host property. “Our satellite program is the best in the country. There’s not a place in the country where you could run satellites almost three months in advance and get 300 players to come in and play. And we were able to do that at Bay 101. You couldn’t even do that for the World Series of Poker Main Event to be honest. So I think people really look forward to that event on the calendar, for those guys, because it’s more of a locals' event,” said Savage. [caption width="640"] Fans pack the Bay 101 casino in San Jose every year to get a glimpse of their poker heroes[/caption] Over the years, Savage feels like he’s had every pro poker player he’s ever wanted as a Shooting Star. Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Tom Dwan, Phil Hellmuth, Vanessa Selbst, Chris Moorman and Doyle Brunson have all been part of the program. There is, however, one potential Shooting Star that has eluded him. “I always want to get the celebrities to come out and play. So, I’ve always wished that Tobey Maguire would come out and play to be honest,” said Savage. “Because I thought not only is (Maguire) a good actor, he is also a really good poker player and a lot of people don’t know that he’s one of the biggest winning players in the game.” The tournament also has a unique structure. The chip leaders at the end of Day 1A and 1B are given $10,000 and when there are just 36 players left, the tournament goes six-handed until it finishes.
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