It was the first day of the 2009 World Series of Poker that truly exemplified what the WSOP is all about. Suddenly, after a few slower opening days, the summer series was in full swing.
To say that the hallways of the Rio Convention Center were bustling would be an understatement in every sense of the word. The first of two starting days of the lowest buy-in NLHE open event of the World Series brought poker players from every corner of the world to max out the tables and fill the rails with family and friends. Security tried to wrangle the crowds, media ducked for cover until everyone was seated, hopefuls tried to register for the last of the seats available for Day 1B, and players dreamed of their $1,000 investment turning into a gold bracelet. It was pure madness and WSOP goodness tied up in a package with a bow made of money.
At the same time, two other events were seeking their final table players - the Omaha hi-low with a long day in store and the $40K NLHE that was the most star-studded set of tables to be seen at the Rio for weeks. The rails were packed with spectators, and poker players with bad beat stories were everywhere.
The fun was just beginning.
Event 2: $40,000 No-Limit Hold’em, Day 3
The four-day event was on its third and attempting to find the final nine players. After having started with 201 of them on Day 1, there were only 23 heading into Day 3 after having hit the money the night before. With Justin Bonomo as the chip leader and Ted Forrest in second on the leaderboard, the action was serious at the last three tables of the event.
Short-stacked Andrew Robl started things off with a 23rd place finish, and he was followed by Frank Kassela, David Chiu, and Neil Channing. It took quite awhile and some double-ups before determining that Andy Black would take 19th place, at which point the tables were consolidated into two. Matt Glantz eventually fell in 18th, Clark Hamagami in 17th, Doshi Suresh in 16th, and David Baker in 15th. Brian Rast ended his run in the 14th place spot, Brian Townsend did the same in 13th, and Matthew Marafioti in 12th. After Keith Lehr took 11th, the final ten players were seated together to play until one more of them left the fray.
Vitaly Lunkin then doubled through Greg Raymer, and the field took a dinner break. Upon their return, the action was slow until Isaac Haxton doubled through Alec Torelli and Raymer doubled back through Lunkin. Finally, Tony G made his all-in move with and was called by Lunkin and Torelli, who checked down the board of . Lunkin showed for the win with top pair, and Tony G took tenth place, which was worth $172,120.
The final table was then set for Sunday, May 31st as follows:
Seat 1: Ted Forrest 560,000
Seat 2: Noah Schwartz 660,000
Seat 3: Alec Torelli 2,340,000
Seat 4: Isaac Haxton 5,955,000
Seat 5: Greg Raymer 3,345,000
Seat 6: Justin Bonomo 1,685,000
Seat 7: Lex Veldhuis 3,805,000
Seat 8: Dani Stern 1,300,000
Seat 9: Vitaly Lunkin 4,565,000
Event 3: $1,500 Omaha Hi-Low Split 8 or Better
This looked to be the first of many long Day 2’s of the 2009 Series, as the original field of 918 had dwindled to only 197 on the first day. With nearly 200 players starting the second day and only 90 of them to finish in the money, it took quite a while to even get to the bubble. The idea that they may get to the final table was not a realistic one.
As that money bubble approached in the evening hours, it was Justin Phillips who pushed his short stack with a pair of aces and the nut flush draw on a flop. But Freddy Deeb turned over for the straight. When the turn and river blanked for Phillips, he took the distinguished position of bubble player and left the remainder of the players guaranteed a payout of at least $2,782. Jeff Tunkel was the first to take advantage of that, and eliminations continued throughout the evening.
With 26 players left at 2am, the tournament staff began to consider ending the day without the final table in place. When Eli Elezra busted from the tournament in 20th place after 3am, play was stopped and set to resume on Sunday with 19 players. Ed Smith was the chip leader with 433,000, and the 2008 reigning champion Thang Luu held a healthy second place spot with 410,000. Notables remaining were Freddy Deeb and Sebastian Ruthenberg, and all survivors of Day 2 would return looking for a seat at the coveted final table and ultimately the gold WSOP bracelet.
Event 4: $1,000 NLHE “Stimulus Special”, Day 1A
This event was clearly going to break records. The first $1,500 NLHE event of each series always attracts thousands of players, and by reducing the buy-in to only $1,000 was bound to bring the no-limit hold’em players out of the woodwork. And it did. Pre-registration was astounding, and by 10am on the morning of Day 1A, it was announced that the entire tournament had reached its cap of 6,000 players. Registration was closed, and there were 3,000 players to start on each of the event’s first days.
In reaching that cap, the event found its way to the history books by becoming the largest tournament in the world in the non-WSOP main event category. With that, 3,000 players took their seats, and the respected Jack Binion came to the stage to set the cards in motion with the “shuffle up and deal” command.
While many big names stayed away from the massive field, there were numerous pros who did take their chances, but the field thinned faster than those pros could be named. It was estimated that approximately five or six players were eliminated during each minute of play, and that ultimately brought the field to 376 when the action stopped.
Once the 3,000 or so players take their seats on Sunday’s Day 1B, the final numbers for the event will be released.