More than half of the starting field of 479 departed from the Bellagio Monday, with 214 chip bags handed out shortly before 9:00PM. Last year's 3rd place finisher, England's Roland de Wolfe, sat atop the field with Phil Hellmuth in second place and a school of piranhas in hot pursuit.
Day 2 was always going to be a day of rapid attrition even with such an experienced field. Players were packed in the Fontana Lounge and the Poker Room here at the Bellagio as play got started shortly after noon. The short stacks were itching to grab chips as quickly as possible to stave off elimination. John D'Agostino led the list of quick exits in the first hour that included Todd Brunson, Robert Williamson III, Harry Demetriou, Mimi Tran, and Victor Ramdin. The list kept growing quickly, with Daniel Negreanu, JJ Liu, David Williams, Marcel Luske, Kevin O'Donnell, and Jim Bechtel joining them before the day's first level was completed.
A few short stacks made big steps forward on Day 2. James Van Alstyne, one of the hottest tournament players this year, creeped up from 13.2k to 77k, joining Rehne Pedersen (14.6k to 111k) and veteran Sam Grizzle (13.6k to 112k) as shorties who now have a fighting chance.
For much of the newly arrived poker media, Anna Wroblewski was someone to find and figure out. Many new players with a chip lead early flame out quickly as their style cannot adjust to the ever-changing roster of players and cards. Wroblewski lost the chip lead early Monday as Paul Wasicka won a limped pot from the big blind at another table. Wroblewski lost almost half of her chips in the first level, but her composure held throughout the day as did her chipstack. She ended Day 2 in 12th position, looking great with 350k in chips.
Mike Matusow was in the same 12th position entering Day 2, and the fan favorite was poised for a deep run. Matusow ran into a deck of cards measured not in Fahrenheit or Celsius but in Kelvin, the temperature measurement system where 0 degrees indicates all molecular movement has stopped. Matusow's picture should now be next to cold decked in the poker encyclopedia, in fact. Pocket queens three times, all losers. He ran A-Q up against A-K, again coming up short.
His final hand epitomized the day. Matusow called a raise of 4.5k in the cutoff, as did Lee Markholt in the big blind and an early limper. The flop came , and Matusow fired out 11k as the other three checked. Markholt check-raised to 32k, and Matusow moved all-in for around 100k. Markholt spent several minutes befored he called with , and Matusow cringed a bit as he showed for trips. When a player is brutalized by the deck like Matusow, you almost expect the drawing hand to get there. That's exactly what happened as the dealer turned for Markholt's nut flush. Matusown needed the board to pair, but it didn't, and that was that for The Mouth.
Some of the most dangerous players are lurking in the middle of the pack. $50k H.O.R.S.E. bracelet winner Chip Reese moved all-in for his last 21k on a flop of with Justin "ZEEjustin" Bonomo. Bonomo called with , and Reese's pocket kings held up as he doubled up. It is one of the hundreds of hands that kept some players in while others busted out, seemingly inconsequential still in the early stages of a big tournament. Unless it's a player like Chip Reese who has chips. He continued to steadily build his chips over the next four hours and ended with 171k, good for 68th position where the average stack ended at 150k.
Phil Hellmuth spent his Day 1 bantering with Jamie Gold and keeping the crowd entertained. He spent Day 2 getting his chips in when he was ahead and occasionally pushing out the winning hand. He moved to the fore over a two hour period as he flopped a straight early then hit a set on the flop late against David Rheem. Rheem limped, then Hellmuth raised to 15k. Rheem called, and the flop came , and Rheem check-raised to 18k total after Hellmuth's 5k bet. Hellmuth called, and was the turn card. Rheem led out for 30k into the 66k pot, and Hellmuth min-raised. Whatever Rheem had, he had his Hellmuth-min-raise-sonar working and mucked his hand. Hellmuth showed his pocket queens and raked in the six-figure pot. He did more of the same into the evening and ended in 2nd position with 528k.
The field is filled with top players, and the top ten in chips was no exceptiont. In 4th-6th positions are Steve Wong, Paul Wasicka, and Patrik Antonius. Holland's Wong has had his greatest success here at the Bellagio, claiming 1st in the $5k event ($199k) before taking 2nd ($542,700) in last fall's WPT Festa al Lago $10k event and winning a $2.5k event in December's Five Diamond ($215k). Wasicka has had a couple of strong results since his runner-up finish at the 2006 WSOP Main Event ($6,102,499), including a 4th place finish at the WPT LA Poker Classic in February ($455,615) before taking the NBC Heads-Up Championship in March ($500,000). And Patrik Antonius? Well, he's the Dr. McDreamy of Poker, adorning the walls of more college 2+2'ers than Jennifer Beal. He's on that current short list of top cash players online and live, and it's hard to find anyone who would relish the opportunity to sit across from him.
It's a long list if you want to find who will be at the Final Table. Will it be a big stack like CK Hua (9th, 383k), Gavin Griffin (24th, 291k) and Kirk Morrison (29th, 271k)? Will it be a proven champion like Juan Carlos Mortensen (52nd, 221k), Phil Ivey (87th, 143k), or Phil Hellmuth (2nd, 528k). Will the WPT have its first female winner? Jennifer Harman (118th, 111k) Isabelle Mercier (153rd, 80k), and Liz Lieu (160th, 77k) join Anna Wroblewski (12th, 347k) in that pursuit. Or a late qualifier like Erica Schoenberg (121st, 107k), Justin Bonomo (59th, 193k), and Tommy Vu (99th, 126k)?
All of them are chasing chip leader Roland de Wolfe, last year's 3rd place finisher at this event ($1,025,205). He started Monday barely in the top quartile of players with 70k, and his first table wasn't built to germinate a chip leader, filled with short stacks and tight players. After slugging away for four hours, he was in even worse shape with 46k. and Sam Farha atop the leaderboard (338k). 5:00PM came, and still he only held 48k in chips.
The rest of the night belonged to him. He won big pot after big pot to more than quadruple his stack to 185k in the next hour. He followed that up by rocketing to 430k behind only Hellmuth, Antonius, and Wroblewski. He grabbed the chip lead for the night when his flopped top two pair with held up against JC Alvarado's on a board of . De Wolfe showed what patience and steadfastness can do, moving from 48k at 8:00PM to 535k as play ended shortly before 9:00PM.
More than half the field will depart before the top 100 get paid. You can bet that the group left Tuesday night will be filled with the best poker has to offer.