LAS VEGAS (AP) - Top poker professionals and others with deep pockets are putting up $40,000 to square off in the first open tournament at the World Series of Poker.

The series kicked off seven weeks of poker tournaments at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, where thousands of players will gamble against one another for millions of dollars and one of 57 gold bracelets.

Players are hoping that their skills - and a little luck - can drive them to victory in the most prestigious set of poker contests in the world.

Play was expected to start at noon Thursday with Phil Hellmuth looking for his 12th gold bracelet. Peter Eastgate was hoping to follow up on his $9 million main event score last year and Annie Duke was back at the table after her runner-up showing on reality show "The Celebrity Apprentice."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.