If ever there was an individual "sport," it would be poker.   

Golf may have its Ryder Cup. Tennis has its doubles matches. And even boxing goes "team" in its own way at the Olympics. But poker has always been the ultimate every man or woman for him- or herself.

Until now.


Last month, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was the site for something called the Dream Team Poker Tournament, a concept dreamed up by a TV game show guy and a few imaginative associates. One of three players on the winning team was Ashley Nataupsky (left), who finished fourth individually in a field of 444 and helped lift Team Aced to what amounted to nearly a $60,000 payday.

Photo: B.J. Nemeth/Courtesy Dream Team Poker

When I talked with Ed Fishman, the game-show guy who is one of the Dream Team Poker co-founders, prior to the tournament he was expecting 100 three-person teams to show up at Caesars Palace late last month. Instead, the tournament attracted 148 teams. The Dream Team Poker people introduced the concept at the Hard Rock casino in 2008 but that was an invitational.  This one was the first open event.

The rules are pretty simple. The game is No-limit Texas Hold 'em and as a player is eliminated, that person is assigned a score.  For instance, if there are 300 players, the first person who busts out gets a score of 300.  The last player remaining gets a one.  The scores for a team's two best-finishing players are combined (the highest score, meaning worst score, is tossed out) and low score wins the tournament, like in golf.

Nataupsky is the girlfriend of teammate Jamie Gold, the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event champion. Gold finished ninth overall in the team event. The third player on Team Aced was Houston Waldie.

In team poker, the total prize money is divided into pots for teams and for individuals. At the Caesars Palace event, the buy-in was $1,500 per team (plus a $150 entry fee) for a total pool of $222,000.  Team Aced collected $59,940 and the top individual finisher, Danny Nelson, pocketed $24,063. Nataupsky also received another $6,666 for her fourth-place finish.

While the buy-in was relatively small, the nature of the tournament attracted some big-name players and celebrities including Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Mike Matasow, 2007 Main Event winner Jerry Yang and L.A. Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

I think the idea has some legs.  It's a way for friends to get together in a team effort and when a player is eliminated, the tournament isn't over.  He or she can root for teammates to pull through and perhaps still pocket some cash.  Plus, you get to wear a team jersey and come up with a cool name.