The last few years Phil Hellmuth gone out of his way to make a big entrance at the World Series of Poker Main Event. Last year he was supposed to arrive in a race car but the plan fell through when he wrecked it in the parking lot of the Rio the day before and showed up in a limo instead.
This year, taking a new approach, Hellmuth arrived in an army jeep wearing a mock general's uniform, helmet included. The entrance made quite a scene, but it certainly wasn't the story of the day. That honor had several candidates, but the winner has to be the 2008 Main Event field size, which was made official today.
Day 1a - Day 1c drew 4,383 players and there was some wondering if attendance at the 2008 Main Event would decline from last year's 6,358. After registration finally closed and all the numbers were counted the field grew by almost 500 players. The total field is officially 6,844, generating a prize pool of more than $64 million and a huge $9,119,517 winner's share.
The 2008 Main Event will pay out the top 666 players and the minimum cash-out will be $21,230.
The increase is the result of a massive Day 1d that saw 2,461 players show up to play, causing tournament staff to put tables anywhere they could find space. The massive field produced many highlights, the most talked about of which was definitely the attendance of Forrest Griffin.
"This is the first time I’ve played poker not in the basement for nickels or beers or something," said Griffin, who won the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship title just last night and after spending some time in the hospital arrived stitched-up and bruised to play the Main Event at the same table as Johnny Chan.
"I slept two hours . . . so going head-to-head with Johnny Chan, I wasn’t in shape for that."
Griffin chipped up to well above the starting stack in the second level but lost a big pot to Chan and was eliminated shortly afterwards. Chan will return on Day 2 with a healthy stack of 67,000.
Another mixed-martial arts fighter, Chuck Liddell, also played in the Main Event on Day 1d and drew the same table as Hellmuth, which was chosen as the ESPN feature table. Hellmuth survived the day with 75,800 but Liddell, a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, was eliminated before the day was done.
Another celebrity athlete in the field on Day 1d was PGA golfer Paul Azinger, captain of the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team. This was Azinger's second shot at the Main Event. He played in 2006 without cashing.
On comparing golf with poker, Azinger said, "in golf you have control of impact, in poker you can do everything perfect, put your chips in perfectly, have the nuts and then have some guy go runner runner and change the nuts pulling a miracle sand save of sorts."
The other difference between poker and golf? Azinger spent more than five years ranked top 10 in the world in one of them; it wasn't poker. "I misplay hands down to a science." he said. "I would say I am certainly a below average poker player but I definitely hope to get better in the future."
A player given a warm round of applause was Jack Ury, a 95-year-old from Indiana who is believed to be the oldest WSOP Main Event participant in history. He survived the day and will return on Wednesday for Day 2b.
Defending champion Jerry Yang played on Day 1d, as did past Main Event champions Doyle Brunson, Noel Furlong, Chris Ferguson and Carlos Mortensen. Brunson, Ferguson and Furlong exited early and Yang had an up-and-down day, ending with 26,600. Mortensen, on the other hand, had a strong start and remained among the chip leaders throughout the day. He ended the day with 109,000 and will be among the Day 2b big stacks.
The chip leader at the end of Day 1d was Steve Austin with 149,000. The 33-year-old from La Quinta , California, was in familiar territory as last year he finished Day 1 and 2 of the Main Event among the chip leaders. Austin said his climb to the top of the leaderboard was gradual and he was never involved in a huge confrontation. "At one point I raised probably 25 out of 30 hands straight. Everybody was pretty mad at me," Austin said.
Monday is an off-day for the 2008 Main Event players. Those who played Day 1a and Day 1b will return on Tuesday, followed by the rest of the field on Wednesday. Check out WorldSeriesofPoker.com for complete chip counts.