The usual stimulating razzmatazz attendant on the start of the first day of the World Series of Poker Main Event was somewhat lacking this year, which was a pity seeing as it is the 40th Anniversary of the biggest poker show on the planet.
This year's chief sponsor is the Jack Links Beef Jerky company, which laid on it's Sasquatch to give the hallowed "Shuffle Up and Deal" call that triggers this exciting grand finale to a great experience.
Sasquatch is a hairy, ape-like creature associated with the brand and prominent in it's advertising, so using it gave the occasion an overly commercial note and considerably less glamour and glitz than was the case in past years when there were Vegas showgirls, marching bands and great entertainment, in our view.
Nevertheless, the excitement was palpable in the vast Amazon Room at the Rio in Las Vegas as the first 1 116 players (down on last year's 1 297) took their seats, the dealers took their places and WSOP organising officials Jeffrey Pollack and Jack Effel welcomed players, went through the basics and handed over to Sasquatch to make the call and get the cards in the air.
The Main Event is, as always, a massive occasion requiring expert and precise organisation; there are four Day Ones scheduled, each with 3 000 seats available and carrying a buy-in of $10 000.
Friday noon saw the start of Day 1A, and on Saturday, Sunday and Monday Day 1B, 1C and 1D will follow. Each day except Day 1 is scheduled for 5 blind levels, with each level lasting 120 minutes.
The first Day Two (Day 2A), will seat the surviving players from Day 1A and B, and starts at noon on July 7th.
The second Day Two (Day 2B) will see the surviving players from Day 1C and D combine for their second 10-hour session. After Day 2B completes, all players still with chips have one day off.
Day 3 sees all the survivors to that stage together for the first time, playing five levels of poker a day in something of an endurance test all the way through to Day 8. And Day 8 finishes only when the field has played down to the nine-player final table.
Pre-2008 this was the most exciting stage of the tourney as observers watched the nine battle it out for the multi-million dollar first prize, each assured of winning at least a million for just making the final table. However, last year the occasion was dislocated to ensure maximum television impact, with the final nine players being required to reassemble later in the year to play out the finale.
Whether readers think that is a good idea or not is apparently incidental, because the coverage is what counts, and the format is to be repeated again this year.
The final table will take place at some point between November 7th and 10th, concluding only when a new World Champion has survived it and picks up the cash and the most coveted poker winner's bracelet in the world.
This year, players will receive a bigger starting chip stack of 30 000 compared to last year's 20 000, and the field will only play four two-hour levels on Day 1.
Observers will be keen to assess the state of the industry based on the number of players who enter this year's Main Event, but they will have to wait for the final numbers until the end of the four Day Ones, because late registrations are possible in this period.
Last year's Main Event drew a field of 6 844 players, generating a prize pool worth $64 333 600 and a bank account booster of a first prize, claimed by youthful Danish player Peter Eastgate, of $9 152 416 . But it wasn't the biggest WSOP Main Event in history – that honour goes to the pre-UIGEA 2006 occasion when Jamie Gold won $12 million by besting a field of more than 8 700 competitors.
The passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act appeared to have a dampening effect in subsequent years; in 2007 dentist Jerry Yang saw off a field of 6 357 players to collect the main prize of $8.25 million – he's back this year to try for a reprise btw.
Minutes after the cards were dealt on Day 1 the first elimination caught the imagination of the media, which reported on the departure of one Raphael Zimmerman (27) from Oneonta, New York, who basked in the spotlights after his aggressive play on a straight draw ran into three queens after the first three community cards were dealt. Zimmerman hit his straight on the turn, but his opponent hit a full house on the river to end Zimmerman's tournament.
"Next year, I'm going to be last out," Zimmerman, who said he regularly plays cash games with $50 and $100 blinds, told USA Today.
The Main Event is always a good place to celebrity spot, and this year the glitterati on the first day inluded regulars Jason Alexander of ‘Seinfeld' fame and Brad Garret from ‘Everyone Loves Raymond', both accomplished poker players. Another regular spotted was rapper Nelly, along with actress and poker star Jennifer Tilly, whilst the poker ace sector was well represented by Andy Bloch, Mike Sexton, Dewey Tomko, Allen Cunningham, Dennis Phillips, Roland De Wolfe, Jerry Yang, Beth Shak, Jean-Robert Bellande, Jason Mercier, Vitaly Lunkin, Greg Mueller, Keven "Stammdog" Stammen, Jordan Smith and the former Aussie cricket legend Shane Warne.
Spotted regaling fellow players with interesting baseball anecdotes was the amiable former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser.
On Sunday, online gambling's white knight – House Financial Services Committee chairman and pro-online gambling legalization politician Barney Franks – will be in town and open to questions from accredited journalists, reports the Poker Players Alliance. There can be few more worthy celebs than Franks to make any ‘Shuffle Up and Deal' call, and he will be launching the Main Event action on Sunday.
"Chairman Frank has been online poker's greatest advocate in Congress, sponsoring legalization to license and regulate the game (H.R. 2267) as well as delay implementation of the UIGEA," trumpeted a PPA press release.
Other events catching the media eye included an unfortunate incident that saw player Thang Luu removed from the Rio (and reportedly jailed for the night) after a dealer was taken to hospital with a broken finger. During the preliminary tourneys Luu had distinguished himself by winning his second World Series of Poker bracelet in the very same event he won his first bracelet last year – and finished second in the year before that. He won $263 135 in the event, which he may need for legal fees.
When InfoPowa went to press just after 10.30pm Vegas time, Day 1 had just ended, with some surprising big names already busted out that included John Phan, Jan Von Halle, Davidi Kitai, Nick Frangos, Freddy Deeb, Matt Glantz, Mark Vos, Pieter de Korver, Isaac Haxton, David Grey, Steve Billirakis, Allen Cunningham, and Andy Bloch.
Redmond Lee appeared to be heading the Day 1 pack on 134 275, chased by Jason Riesenberg (93 650), celeb player Jason Alexander (89 575), Lex Veldhuis (84 000), and Eli Elezra (83 375).
The forthcoming days should see more of the glitz and glam that was lacking on Day 1A, judging by Twitter comments from the always high profile Phil Hellmuth. The ‘Poker Brat' claims that he plans to make a big splash of his entrance on Sunday, promising a Caesar-like triumph "with 100 models, 11 muses with body paint (for his 11 bracelets), a chariot with two horses and a drummer dropping rose petals.”
It's probably not an idle boast – Hellmuth has in the past staged grand entrances as an army general, with jeeps and models in camouflage representing each bracelet. Before that he crashed a racing car in an empty car park!