With only a quarter of the field gone after two sessions of Day 1 action, 21-year old Event #10 winner Anna Wroblewski was joined by 2003 WSOP ME runner-up Sam Farha as the chip leaders for the biggest tournament in the history of the World Poker Tour.
The $25k WPT Championship at the Bellagio is arguably one of the top three titles in all over poker after the WSOP $10k Main Event and WSOP $50k H.O.R.S.E. event. It is held at the elite home of poker in the Bellagio. It is televised by the World Poker Tour, a catalyst in the growth in popularity of poker in the United States. In fact, there have been exactly three events with a larger first prize than this year's $3,970,415: the WSOP Main Event for the last three years. Six men have won this much cash at a poker tournament: Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem, Steve Danneman, Jamie Gold, Paul Wasicka, and Michael Binger. For those at Harrah's planning for the World Series, this record field and prize pool provide solid evidence that poker is alive and well.
The top 100 players will be paid in a very flat payout structure and a steep incline for those going deep, with the first fifty cashes bringing $46,410. The top twenty players receive a six-figure payout, and the WPT Final Table of six are guaranteed a minimum of $309,405.
Players started in both the Poker Room and the Fontana Lounge, and the weekend crowds excitedly peered into both rooms to catch a glimpse of their favorite poker personalities. With a field of 639 players, the Bellagio split the first session into two Day 1 sessions. Players started with 50k in chips, and blinds started at 50/100. Such deep stacks allowed any style of tournament poker to be successful.
On Day 1A (Saturday), all eyes were on current WSOP ME title holder Jamie Gold as he worked overtime to prove he belonged on this stage. He and his family stayed at the Bellagio for the last few nights of the Main Event, and he channeled some of his most outrageous moves from last summer throughout the day. His personal whipping post was one of the toughest and most successful young tournament pros around: Tuan Le. Le won this event in its inaugural edition two years ago, five months after taking the WPT Foxwoods title. Gold put Le to the test time and again. Only an hour into the action, the two stared at a board of and a pot of 20k. Gold moved all-in for almost 26k, and Le mucked after several minutes of deliberation. Le told the table he had pocket kings, then Gold showed .
Gold reveled in the action as he returned to his personal style of poker: play lots of hands, push players off of better hands, talk others into losing their chips when he holds the nuts, get away from losing hands, and continually smile along the way. Gold can look dreadful at the poker table, as he did during his hands with Doyle Brunson during GSN's High Stakes Poker this year. When's it's all working, he can become a chip magnet.
Anna Wroblewski barely weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, and the newly legal pixie has been floating above the clouds since her big score last week. She won her seat here after taking home Event #10, and put her free chips to good use. She tripled up when her turned flush beat set over set. A Budweiser in front of her, she controlled her excitement well when Phil Ivey sat at her table, "I think it's really awesome," she said during a CardPlayer interview. "I was hoping I could get to say I played with Phil Ivey. I played a couple hands with him, and I think he beat me every time." Not many other players beat her as she ended Day 1 with the chip lead at 211k. Other big stacks from Saturday included Danny Alaei (187k), Shannon (151k), and Lyle Berman (142k).
Sunday brought 335 players to start Day 1B, thirty-one more than Saturday. As is often the case, Daniel Negreanu caught the attention of much of the poker media. It is fair to say that 2006 was a year he wanted to forget, with little to show for his tournament play. His constant table chatter and the large number of pots make for entertaining stories to report but can lead to a topsy-turvy day. He gave Mansion Poker's Erica Schoenberg chips when his check raise couldn't push her off top pair, then caught a straight to pull chips back from another player. His famous hand-reading radar may need to be recalibrated as he ended the day with 62k, not much more than he started with. If he was paid by the number of hands he played, he'd be the chipleader.
While Gold was a chatterbox throughout Satuday, his predecessor remained the picture of poise. Joseph Hachem had a nice follow-up to his 2005 WSOP title. He finished second and fourth at two WSOP events last summer and cashed in the Main Event. His December win for $2.2M in the WPT Doyle Brunson North American Poker Classic here at the Bellagio solidified him as a player with staying power. He demonstrated the patience that was key to his Main Event win and finished Day 1B with 275 more chips than he started with.
Two veteran players had a very successful Sunday. Freddy Deeb grabbed the chip lead Sunday afternoon at 120k but cooled off late to end the day at 115k. Sam Farha got little attention from the room but lots of attention from his table. The Houstonian won his second WSOP bracelet last summer, ten years after his first. He doesn't play many tournaments, but the big money will get him into a field. He passed the 100k mark after his A-J took down a nice pot on a board of A-A-9-9-J, and he ended the 210k in chips, second only to Anna Wroblewski from Saturday. Other strong finishes Sunday included Dan Lowe (198k), John Racener (176k), Thien Phan (167k), and Kirk Morrison (167k).
The list of players who won't be back Monday to start Day 2 includes Ted Forrest, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, Alex Todd, Jeff Madsen, Phil Laak, Tuan Le, Erik Seidel, Nam Le, Brian Townsend, Shane "shaniac" Schleger, Antonio Esfandiari, and TJ Cloutier.
With so many great players still in this large field, it sets up for some exciting starting tables for Monday's Day 2. Anna Wroblewski's chip lead is impressive, but her 211k is only 0.7% of all chips in play. For those of you keeping score, there are now a total of 32,098,420. That is an extra 148,420 chips now in play.
Chip leaders often emerge from tables with the largest total chips on the table. Some of the most intriguing (total table chips):
Table 42 (1.0M): Sam Farha (210k), Kirk Morrison (167k), Freddie Deeb (115k)
Table 58 (890k): Ronald Haeri (164k), Paul Begum (152k), Steve Wong (141k), David Oppenheim (90k), Joseph Hachem (50k), Young Phan (27k), Kevin O'Donnell (26k)
Table 7 (871k): Shannon Shorr (151k), Lyle Berman (142k), Joe Bartholdi (88k)
Table 37 (867k): Alvin Zeidefeld (121k), Jay Heimowitz (109k), Phil Hellmuth (94k), Vinny Vinh (91k), Martin de Knijff (67k), Jim McManus (52k)
Table 46 (843k): Alan Schein (171k), Jared Hamby (112k), Allen Cunningham (79k), Dan Harrington (64k), Tom McEvoy (45k)
Table 40 (832k): Jack Karban (173k), Mike Matusow (162k), Carl Wong (110k), Tommy Vu (35k)
Table 56 (811k): Raymond Davis (142k), Pramesh Bansi (127k), Deepak Bhatti (112k), John Spadavecchia (96k), David Plastik (45k)
Table 19 (798k): Shawn Buchann (157k), Juan Carlos Mortensen (115k), Kathy Liebert (100k)
Table 45 (730k): Anna Wroblewski (211k), Peter Muller (133k), Suk Min Song (112k), Quinn Do (54k), Rene Angelil (46k), Bob Stupak (44k)
If the first two days were marked by patience and measured play, you can bet Day 2 will be a day filled with action. Short stacks like James Van Alstyne (13k), Mimi Tran (17k), and John D'Agostino (18k) won't be able to wait forever to get their chips in the middle. In a room filled with hundreds of the best players in the world, all eyes will be on chip leader Anna Wroblewski to see if she can withstand the heat that Day 2 will bring.