The five-day, $9,700+juice tournament got underway at noon on Saturday, with 50 tables and 50 dutiful-looking dealers on hand in a tournament area that spanned the Mirage poker room and spilled over into the crowded confines of the Race and Sports Book. Many of the dealers would get a break: Even after registration closed 1.5 hours into the proceedings, only 309 players had shown up, meaning almost 20 tables went unused.
The smaller-than-expected field fell way short of last year's 384 entrants (an inauspicious start for the WPT at its new home on the Game Show Network), and may lead Chicken Little-types in the industry to speculate that the sky is falling on the Moneymaker/Hole-Cam effect. These people are fools. The rest of the industry will be pleased to note that of the 309 entrants, probably 308 of them were pros that could beat the rest of us heads-up while playing with both hole cards exposed.
Seriously, the field was as saturated with professional players, both name and "stealth," as you're going to see in an event that's not the 2-7 Triple-Draw Lowball world championship. Among those present in a star-studded field were Johnny Chan, Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Ivey, Dan Harrington, Evelyn Ng, Allen Cunningham, Erick Lindgren, David Williams, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, Men "The Master" Nguyen, Gavin Smith, and even Blake Buffington.
Also, everyone else in the poker room was a professional; it would be easier to name those players who weren't there, namely Jesus, Hellmuth, anyone who has a beef with the WPT, and Davrica Shoenyamine, that curious high-stakes cash game/beautiful-yet-sassy amalgam that has left industry pundits scratching their heads ever since they forgot who Brandi Hawbaker was.
Anyway, so the field was 309 and the prize pool was thus $2,907,381, with tournament organizers clearly working way hard to ensure a million-dollar first prize. Three tables will be paid in this event, with the lowest ranking earners taking home $17,292 and the final table guaranteed that lofty six-figure marker that for places four, five, and six, will quickly become five-figures once the I.R.S. catches wind.
Second place will get $561,996, and first place will take home $1,066,295, a bit of a drop-off from Stan Weiss' $1,294,755 last year, but a respectable sum nonetheless.
So, back on the scene, players couldn't help but disqualify themselves from that seven-figure payday about as soon as the cards started to fly, with Paul Lee, Bill Edler, Vanessa Rousso, and Patrik Antonius leading the charge out of the Race and Sports Book area, for reasons that could have less to do with being cold-decked and more to do with just wanting to get the whatever away from the hysterical race announcers being blared at high volume to every corner of the room.
Then Daniel Negreanu busted, and had the misfortune of finding himself in the midst of two groups of tourists: the first being poker fans, who universally adore Kid Poker, and the second being horse racing fans, who were gathered for the Preakness Stakes but who can recognize oh, maybe Johnny Chan and Negreanu out of a field of professionals.
Negreanu busted out early, but was quickly enveloped in a tsunami of autograph seekers and disposable-camera-wielders, such that he didn't manage to slip away until after Street Sense had dropped the ball in the final furlong.
Meanwhile, leading candidate for Most Recognizable Woman, Jennifer Harman, was taking a bit of a drubbing from a pair of good Canadian boys. The first was Toronto's David Matthew, who got all-in with pocket kings against Harman's pocket jacks on a jack-high board with two diamonds. Well, the board finished out 7♦ 4♦ and wouldn't you know it but Matthew had the K♦, hitting runner-runner to double through a disgusted-looking Harman.
Harman would recover, but a few levels later would fall to the sword of Niagara Falls' Nenad Medic, who open-shoved with AQo and earned a call from Mrs. Marco Traniello, who showed pocket nines. The flop brought an ace and Harman was crippled, consoled only by the fact that she was helping two nice young men regain their footing in this crazy tournament.
Medic would deliver the final blow a few hands later, calling Harman's pre-flop all-in alongside another opponent and then busting both players when he flopped a set of sevens to end the affair.
Such went the day, with 145 players surviving to the final hand. That fateful last hand, however, would be the death knell for James Van Alstyne, who shoved on a flop of 5♣ 4♣ 3♣ with aces and found himself being called by an opponent who had flopped the nut flush with A♣ J♣. The board bricked out and JVA was M.I.A. as the rest of the field bagged and tagged.
So 144 players will survive to see tomorrow, including chip leaders Davidson Matthew with $156,625, Daniel Alaei with $141,125, Shannon Shorr with $121,200, and Darrell "Gigabet" Dicken with $112,000. Action will resume tomorrow at noon, and PokerListings.com will be on-site and nigh hysterical, bringing you the best and the boldest from the first tournament of Season Six. Log on early and refresh often; you deserve our coverage.