It was a spectacle. The Rio Convention Center was ready for the throngs of people in every way possible, from the staff prepared to conduct registrations to the signage that boasts of numerous sponsorships. Televisions in the hallway played previous WSOP final tables in a loop, security was ready for any potential breaches of rules or space, and vendors were stocked with all the snacks and supplies that poker players and their guests might need.
The 40th Annual World Series of Poker was ready for its Main Event.
In truth, the WSOP had been underway for just more than five weeks already. Players had been making the trek to Las Vegas since the end of May to play in some of the 56 tournaments that led up to the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Main Event. The die-hard poker media outlets had been in place with laptops firmly planted in the media sections of the rooms, the Poker Kitchen had been in operation, and the tournament staff had been organizing and hosting tournaments that would result in their own places in poker history. Those involved in the Series since its true beginning in May saw the Main Event as not only the pinnacle of their summer but the last in a long line of poker tournaments that would be rewarded with some much-earned rest and relaxation away from poker upon its conclusion.
While the staff and media were a big part of the Series, the focus was on the players. Without them and their hopes and dreams, there would be no WSOP. And there were 1,116 of them in all. In comparison to last year and it’s 1,287-player field on Day 1A, the decrease was noticeable but not significant, considering there is a global recession in addition to the fact that many American players had their funds seized in the past month due to an overzealous assistant U.S. attorney in the New York court system. The number of entrants was not particularly disappointing to the staff but certainly not notable in any way either.
What was notable about the field on Day 1A was the lack of excitement felt by the media. It was the first day of the main event, and despite the spectacle of it all, there was a marked feeling of passivity in the tournament rooms. PokerPalooza brought more excitement to the hallways because of the numerous activities going on inside the massive convention room set up to accommodate all of the vendors and entertainers, but the areas hosting the Main Event players was rather subdued. Even so, there were various players and situations of note, which will be the focus of the notes ahead.
The action for Day 1A was kicked off by WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and Tournament Director Jack Effel, who were joined on stage by the mascot of the WSOP sponsor Jack Link’s. His name was Sasquatch, and he was a rather hairy suited man that tried desperately to belt out the “shuffle up and deal” command, though English may not have been the first language of the Sasquatch. Regardless, action got underway with the grunting and the Pollack/Effel team wishing players the best of luck.
Before getting to the list of recognizable poker faces in the crowd, there were some notable celebrities playing the event. Musical entertainer Nelly was one of the most famous faces, and after having played more than five preliminary events at the 2009 WSOP, he sat down to give the Main Event a try. He was joined by Jason Alexander, Brad Garrett, Orel Hershiser, Jennifer Tilly and Gabe Kaplan, the latter two of whom could be put into the pro and celebrity categories.
As far as the poker pros, there were a number of them. At the ESPN feature table, Eli Elezra and Lex Veldhuis were seated, and Greg Mueller and Sammy Farha took their places at the secondary feature table. In other areas of the tournament rooms, some of the players noted were Billy Baxter, Mark Vos, Mel Judah, Mandy Baker, Ludovic Lacay, Davidi Kitai, Ciaran O’Leary, Antony Lellouche, Thayer Rasmussen, Jason Mercier, Beth Shak, Raymond Rahme, Dewey Tomko, Phil Laak, Nikolay Evdakov, John Phan, Gavin Smith, Tony G, Sandra Naujoks, Isaac Haxton, Mike Sexton, Brian Townsend, Isaac Baron, Men Nguyen, and Tom Schneider.
Not long after the cards were in the air at noon, it was announced that it took less than 15 minutes to find the first elimination of the Main Event. The Italian player’s hand wasn’t clear, but he was recognized at the WSOP for losing $10,000 in less time than it takes to complete a tournament registration form (we think).
One of the other early eliminations was John Phan, who lost a big hand early when his set lost to a straight, and his last 4K in chips went all-in soon after on a flop of . His pocket aces were good against the of his opponent, and the on the turn didn’t do much damage, but the on the river gave his opponent two pair and sent John Phan out of the tournament within the first hour.
Other early eliminations included Davidi Kitai, Mike Sowers, Pieter de Korver, Freddy Deeb, Wooka Kim, and Mark Vos.
Former Main Event champions in the field included Berry Johnston, Jerry Yang, and the late-arriving Johnny Chan. Yang was the one who had the most roller-coaster version of the day, finding quads midday to double up, pushing his way to 55K at one point, then losing momentum toward the end of the day. In the end, he pushed a short stack all-in with against the of his opponent, and the board came to eliminate Yang from the tournament. Chan survived the day with a stack of less than 10K, and Johnston ended his day with a little less than his starting stack.
Some of the celebrities didn’t make it through to a second day of play, as Nelly’s pair of queens lost to an opponent’s 10-9 when two nines came on the flop. Gabe Kaplan lost most of his chips to poker blogger Lana Maier and was eliminated in the evening hours, and Orel Hershiser moved his short stack all-in with 9-8 but found that Luke Patten was calling with J-10. The J-9-8-6-10 board eliminated the baseball legend from the Main Event.
When all was said and done, there were 821 survivors after the four levels of play. Eric Cloutier was the chipleader with 150,750 in chips, and Lee Redmond came in second with 134,275. The rest of the top five included Jean Docquier with 122,755, Gianluca Marcucci with 118,000, and Peter Buermann with 117,400. The most notable near the top of the leaderboard was Jason Alexander and his stack of 89,575 chips.
The 821 players remaining would take a few days off and return on Tuesday, July 7th to play their second day of the Main Event.