Despite the jovial mood here today, the players came out of the gate at a gallop with a slew of casualties in the first few hours of this tournament. With a first prize of almost $1.1 million, no one was wasting any time trying to get their hands on chips.
John Juanda was playing his signature aggressive game and went out firing early. In a pivotal hand, JJ was betting hard into an opponent and getting called. After checking the river, Juanda was unable to beat the ace-high held by his adversary, who as it turned out was drawing to a flush and missed. The frustration was clear on Juanda's face and he was kicking himself for not betting the river, which would have certainly forced the other player out of the hand. Shortly after that, JJ moved in with wired cowboys but ran into a monster - pocket aces. His hand was unable to improve and Juanda was forced to say goodbye to this World Poker Tour event.
One group that could be heard above the clatter of chips and the riffle of cards was the table directly in front of the couch we had commandeered as our media post. Jean-Robert Bellande along with Doug Lee and Dewey Tomko were having a laugh and reminiscing about past tournaments. It's funny how quickly the mood at a table can change though with one bad beat. In a heads-up pot between Bellande and Lee, Jean-Robert moved in after the flop and was called by Doug. Bellande was holding wired queens and had flopped a set while Lee was drawing thin with pocket aces. It doesn't take a fortune teller to predict what card fell; the ace on the river crippled Bellande, leaving him with only a few chips with which to fight. To Jean-Robert's credit he was able to suck it up and move on. Still, it was a brutal way to lose a lot of chips.
This year's World Series of Poker Main Event winner, Jamie Gold, busted within the first hour, only fueling the speculation that his $12 million win was largely due to an amazing run of good cards. Please note that this is a notion with which I strongly disagree. Nevertheless, Gold went out smiling, showing the good humor and professionalism befitting a champion.
As the day progressed it became clear that this isn't going to be an easy tournament for anyone involved. The level of play is astronomical. With so many big name pros here it's great to see so much camaraderie and respect, especially when you consider that they're all in direct competition with one another and engaged in a battle for more than a million dollars. Laughter was abundant, and even though the players who were sent home can't be thrilled about their early departure, they certainly harbor no ill will to their opponents who were responsible for their loss.
The action will get back underway tomorrow and we'll see who will survive to fight another day. One thing's for sure though, whoever takes down first place in this tournament is going to have to earn it. Stay tuned to PokerListings.com for continuing coverage of the Festa al Lago here at Bellagio in Las Vegas.