Festa features rare late registration

Daniel Negreanu
'There's really no advantage to coming late.'

The World Poker Tour descended upon the familiar surroundings of the Bellagio's Fontana Lounge for the start of the Festa al Lago main event Wednesday, but something was a little different.

For the first time, instead of two starting days, the Bellagio is allowing players to register for the event all the way up until the start of the ninth 90-minute level on Day 2 and begin their run at the Festa al Lago title with the same 60,000 chip starting stack as the Level 1 starters.

"We had always taken buy-ins up until the fourth level," said Bellagio Tournament Director Jack McClelland. "A lot of the higher limit players would rather start at a higher level. They felt like they were wasting their time with 50/100, so they would just come in after two or three levels and play out the end of the first day.

"So it was suggested that they just be allowed to buy in the second day and we figured, what was the difference? We just wanted to give the players as many options as possible."

Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu, who became poker's all time leading money winner with his runner-up finish at the World Series of Poker Europe main event last month, showed up for the start of the first level Wednesday, but told PokerListings he has no problem with the idea of late registration.

"Some people might have a problem with it and say they shouldn't be able to come in late, but really, they're starting with less blinds and they're paying the same amount, that's not a problem as far as I can see," he said.

"There would be an advantage in terms of fatigue, but the Bellagio is set up where you only play noon to 9 p.m., so that's not a factor. It's basically a personal choice.

"Ideally, it makes the most sense to play the entire tournament through because if you're a favorite, and you play the early levels, you are going to have more chips than the guy who comes in late. There's really no advantage to coming late, but for some people, who maybe get bored in the early levels or just don't seem to play that well, it protects them."

Jason Mercier
Building a stack like this starts in the first level.

Fellow Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier said it doesn't really make sense for most players trying to win the tournament to start late, but he can understand one scenario where it would.

"A high stakes cash player might feel like they're wasting a whole day here at the tournament when they could be making thousands of dollars elsewhere, but that's the only case where it would seem somewhat logical, because they're giving up a huge edge," he said.

"The bottom line is it will be good for the rest of us. They'll be more people playing, more money in the prize pool and these people are going to be coming in with a slight disadvantage."

It appears the choice comes down to how deep, or short stacked, a player wants to start the tournament. While the 60,000 starting stack amounts to 600 big blinds deep in Level 1, by Level 8 it is only 50 big blinds.

However, by the time Level 8 wraps up on Day 2, close to half the starting field could be out already.

Whether it's an advantage or not, it appears the idea is catching on.

While just 150 players had registered to start Day 1, that number rose to 246 by the day's fifth and final level.

Plus, big name players like Andy Bloch and Phil Hellmuth are rumored to be among those who will be starting sometime on Day 2.

Much like the massive starting stacks, pro-friendly deep structure and reasonably long tournament days it has become famous for, McClelland says it all a part of what makes Bellagio a favorite destination for poker players.

"We want to satisfy the players and accommodate them, whether you come from across the street or around the world to Bellagio to play, we want you to be able to play," he said.

"If they want to start in level one and grind it out and make more money, that's fine. If they want to start late and gamble a little, that's fine too. Gambling is legal in Nevada, even encouraged in some spots."

To follow all the action at WPT Festa al Lago click through to PokerListings' Live Updates.

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