The last day of the start of the Main Event began without a hitch, the final group from the almost 8,800 players were seated in the most prestigious championship in poker. This was a day filled with former champions. The most recent one, Joseph Hachem, was on the ESPN Feature table for the day. Hachem has been a terrific ambassador for poker, especially in his native Australia. His good looks and charisma kept everyone light and relaxed at the table, everyone that is except for PokerStars qualifier William Deadwyler. The Economics major at George Washington was beyond nervous when he found out he'd be at the ESPN Feature Table, a bundle of nerves as he jerked back and forth as the crew ‘miked' him for the day. When asked if he knew of Hachem, Deadwyler responded, "Oh yeah, I heard he was some kind of celebrity." Hachem took the young man under his wing, finding him a sandwich at a break. Deadwyler couldn't eat it due to the nerves, and there was some risk that ESPN might film a new take on a familiar poker term: mucking your cards. He proved his name didn't mean Dead-money, as he more than held his own and had the chip lead at the table late into the night.
The man who transformed the World Series of Poker was also here on Day 1D. Chris Moneymaker came here three years ago - dead money - and left a champion, giving every man and woman who has played poker, hope for becoming the next Moneymaker. He has been prominent in commercials since his historic victory; however, he has had difficulty repeating these results in tournaments. He has cashed once this year, but his heart must burn for the opportunity to prove he is a worthy champion. There is luck involved in poker certainly, but no one can make it to the brass ring without playing very, very well.
Robert Varkyoni was Chris Moneymaker without the internet. The 2001 WSOP Main Event Champion is known as the man who shaved Phil Hellmuth's head after his announcement that his hair would be sacrificed if Varkyoni won. Varkyoni rarely plays tournaments since his victory; in fact, his wife Olga's cash of $28k last year, at the Main Event, is more than her husband has won since his bracelet.
Huck Seed won the Main Event ten years ago, besting a field of 295 players to win the championship of poker. To put that in perspective, that is less than 3.5% of today's field. He has gone on to win two more bracelets and has cashed 21 times since his victory. He currently plays on FullTilt regularly, and he has the ability to challenge anyone at any time.
Johnny Chan, the Orient Express, won back to back Main Event championships in 1987 and 1988. He went on to win a record 10 bracelets, and has hardly seen poker pass him by. He's a continual winner and now has broken ground on ChanPoker, an exciting new addition to the poker community. Every poker player has seen Rounders, unless they live in a cave. Chan had a small part in the film, yet it made him into one of the most recognizable faces in poker.
The first winner of the World Series Championship bracelet was Amarillo Slim Preston. His early work to spread the potential of poker through appearances on the Tonight Show and elsewhere brought poker out of the backwaters into a hint of the limelight. Slim may have been one of the first to dream of what poker could become.
The champion outside of the poker world, in the room, is Coach Denny Crum. His Louisville Cardinals took the NCAA basketball championship in 1980 and 1986, and his passion has now spread to poker. He knows how to change gears, but primarily he played tight through the day.
Seven great champions, all trying to prevent everyone else in the room from joining them as winner of the biggest event in poker. By midnight, Chris Moneymaker had fallen late, just never able to get anything going. It was less about having a target on his back this year and more about running card dead. Regardless of this year's result, he's a worthy representative of the biggest prize in the sport. Johnny Chan busted out after being very short stacked very late, Amarillo Slim was steady but below average in chips, Coach Crum was holding steady, Huck Seed was building his stack through the day, Joe Hachem had steeled himself and was in solid shape. Robert Varkonyi was having a great day within sight of the chip leaders.
Two more hours to go until the field is set for Day 2. Half of the field play Tuesday and half on Wednesday. PokerWorks will have a wrap of the entire four days of the beginning of the World Series of Poker, so check back for regular updates as we move to a key phase of the Main Event.