Tuesday at the Rio demonstrated the continued growth of poker, with a record entrance of 2,776 participants in the $1,500 NLHE Event #2. The only event with a larger number of participants was last year's Main Event. The 201 tables were overflowing, eleven to a table, and truly ran the spectrum of poker today. Former champions, top pros, online upstarts, cash game experts, and satellite winners sat shoulder to shoulder, each with 1,500 in chips and blinds at 25/25. For every Phil Ivey there was a Lucas Parks from upstate New York via Troy, Alabama, (a promising college baseball player until a major knee injury ended his career). For every Chris Moneymaker there was a Michael Slobojan. Slobojan qualified for a seat to this event through PokerStars, following initially in Moneymaker's footsteps. His result wouldn't follow suit this time, and he left with his wife, Tamra, thinking of what might have been.
Table 130 was a brutal way to start, with Phil Ivey in the 3s, John Phan in the 5s, and Ron Rose
in the 8s. Ivey would eventually be busted by Phan early in the day when his K-Q on a board of ran into Phan's pocket aces, with completing the board and sending Ivey out. Other early exits included Eskimo Clark, Joe Sebok, Howard Lederer, and Layne Flack.
When a player busts out, an alternate is called to take the open seat in the first orbits. Juan Carlos Mortensen was the first alternate called this day. Mortensen quickly accumulated chips and was a dominant force early on. By the dinner break he had the chip lead, building a Spanish version of the Eiffel Tower with the colorful green, black, and pink chips.
Andrew Nahmias was encouraged by his wife, Ani, to buy in directly to the Main Event, but his dream was a more realistic buy-in to today's event. Nahmias is a co-owner of an auto repair shop in Encino, California. "During the day, it's cars, cars, cars," he said, "and at night, it's cards, cards, cards." He ran card dead and was eventually ground down, blinded and anted away until he pushed with J-2o and was sent home, out of the money.
The dinner break arrived with 520 players still in action, and that number would be cut in half before players were in the money. For some, the struggle to survive was a hand-to-hand adventure. Those in comfortable chip position looked to attack small stacks. Some chip leaders increased their positions while others doubled up villains.
Clonie Gowen looked strong throughout the day until her big hands started going south, Q-Q vs. A-K following her 7-7 vs. A-K. On the other hand, every seat at Greg Raymer's table was vulnerable, as Raymer took pot after pot and sent several players home. Phil Gordon grew his stack steadily leading up to the money, as did Phil Hellmuth and Erik Seidel.
Tables went hand to hand with 279 players left, as nine players would go home without a paycheck. There were some bold moves by experienced players looking past the cash bubble. Isabelle Mercier put pressure on the table when she moved all-in. Her K-Jo was called by A-Qo, but the board of 6-6-8-K-9 doubled her up to safely move into the money.
Literally, as the final bubble hand was played, Table 127 brought the shortest stack in the room into the money. Joe Pharo from Scottsdale made it with two $100 chips, bringing him his first cash in twenty WSOP events. This feat was surpassed by John Gill of San Bernadino, who incredibly held tightly to his three chips, looked at pocket aces, then tossed the cards into the muck.
Players are not robots. They each handle the emotions of the last levels of the night differently. Sean Sheikhan constantly chatted with railbirds and walked the floor, while Phil Gordon darted up and down constantly, reassessing his position in the room. Greg Raymer remained gracious yet focused on his table despite a once mighty stack becoming significantly shorter, while Carlos Mortensen focused on the architecture of his chip tower. Jennifer Harman had a triple hug with her husband, Marco Traniello, and seemed to catch a second wind as she returned to the table.
With 159 players left, the floor announced that the final level of the night was here. Oddly enough, they also announced that all head phones must be removed when players reached the ‘cash', informing the players a mere two hours after the ‘cash' had been reached. Busted players snaked thirty deep into the hall outside of the playing area as they waited for their payouts, eventually some were told to come back in the morning. Though they have done a terrific job handling the massive crowd, there are still kinks to work out in the system.
One hundred-twenty-two players remained upon completion of the first day, and some of the best names in poker are still there. Raymer, Harman, Seidel, Hellmuth, Gordon, Devilfish, and over a hundred other players will be gunning for 2001 WSOP Main Event Champion Carlos Mortensen. They all want to take down the first place prize of $757k and the coveted bracelet.