We arrived in this corner of America's bread basket last night, flying from PokerListings.com's secret tournament reporting lair to Omaha, Neb., where for the fourth time in four months we discovered the airlines had lost our luggage.
We also discovered that despite having won the T.J. Cloutier, Joseph Tehan, Peter Feldman, and that circuit all-star and PokerListings.com favorite himself, Ed "Uncle Jun" Corrado.
The healthy number of entries created a prize pool that was, if not exactly WPT-sized, at least respectable in comparison to other major tournaments of its ilk. The total prize pool amounts to $688,700, of which 18 players will partake, with 18th place taking home $8,132, and first place getting a healthy $219,576.
The day began with eliminations by the dozen, including T.J. Cloutier, who lasted barely a level before packing it in with an ill-timed bluff with ace-king against an opponent with pocket queens. Cloutier, whose travel expenses were reportedly picked up by the casino itself, made quickly for the exits and the airport after his elimination.
In the meantime, Sam Von Duhn and Jeff "MrRain" Banghart both began making runs for the chip lead. MrRain accumulated his chips in a particularly unorthodox manner - twice within the first few levels he found himself in a freeroll situation, first with Q♦ J♦ against an opponent's Q♣ J♥, and second with A♣ K♣ against an opponent's A♠ K♦. Both times, Banghart made his flushes, sending his unlucky rivals to the rail so appalled by the manner of their defeat that they refused to provide PokerListings.com with their names.
Shortly after the meal break, during the usual post-dinner rush of eliminations that saw 20 souls consigned to ignominy during the first level back, both Phil Gordon and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson made their own early exits. Gordon found himself crippled by an opponent after calling his all-in with pocket kings to the rival's ace-king; when an ace hit on the flop, Gordon was down to his last few orbits. He made it last much longer than anyone expected, but eventually hit the bricks after his T♠ 7♠ could not find an answer to Everett Carlton's A♣ Q♣.
One hand previous to Gordon's demise, Chris Ferguson had moved all-in on fourth street with top pair, top kicker and a club-flush draw and got a call from Ken Felchuck, who had flopped a set of sevens. Even Jesus could not conjure any of his outs on the river, and he and Gordon both found themselves on the outside looking in - although hopefully they decided to stick around the casino longer than T.J.
A few hands later, one of the strangest hands we've seen in a while (okay, since the final hand of the WPT Borgata Poker Classic) played out. It began with Jeff Banghart raising to $2,100 from early position in a hand where Doug "Rico" Carli was the big blind. Rico had just doubled through John "JohnnyK" Kincaid, who still had a big stack in front of him.
Kincaid narrowed his eyes at Carli and, with malice in his voice, re-raised to $6,000. Carli got out of the way, but Banghart stuck around, and Kincaid kept firing, betting out $6,000 and $15,000 on the flop and turn, respectively, and getting flat-called by MrRain.
After fifth street, and with the board showing T♠ 7♦ 2♦ 9♥ A♠, Kincaid opted against putting his opponent all-in for his last $18,500, instead deciding to give him a "discount", betting $4,500 into a pot that already held more than ten times that number, giving Banghart correct odds to call with just about anything. Call he did, and showed T♦ 8♦ for second pair with a failed flush draw. But Kincaid had 5♠ 4♦, for exactly bupkiss, and he shipped a large portion of his stack across the felt in a head-scratching play that left the media table literally - literally - agog.
We remained in our stunned state as the final level of the day came and passed, with only Joseph Tehan's silent slide into disinterest and eventual elimination as a hallmark of the passing hours. Tehan seemingly grew bitter after losing many of his chips to Kosta Sengos, and departed appearing utterly fed up with the goings-on at the Roadhouse.
He left in his wake 42 survivors who will return to see tomorrow, including chip leaders Von Duhn and Banghart, who are joined at the top of the leaderboard by James English, Ryan Fisler, Matt Infranco, and Krista Gifford.
The plan for the second day of this three-day bonanza is to play down to a final table of nine. Action is due to resume at noon (CST), and PokerListings.com will be back with live updates, photography, and prescient observations on life and the meaning thereof from start to finish so keep your browser locked right here or face the consequences. We may not have Jesus anymore, but you'd better believe the Whiskey Roadhouse has a few more surprises cooked up for Day 2 and beyond.