The 2011 World Series of Poker Main Event Championship began today at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. 
 
The year’s richest, most prestigious, and most exciting poker tournament included the start and conclusion of the first of four starting flights, designated as Day 1-A.  Over the next three consecutive days, thousands of additional poker players will enter the $10,000 buy-in tournament.  They will play in Day 1-B (Friday), Day 1-C (Saturday), or Day 1-D (Sunday). 

The first day (1-A) began with poker legend Doyle Brunson onstage for the traditional “Shuffle Up and Deal” announcement.  Ten-time gold bracelet champion Brunson has been a popular attraction at many WSOPs, ever since he attended the inaugural tournament, held in 1970.  Although he’s performed this ritual countless times over the past 42 years, his presence at this year's tournament alongside WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel was quite a special moment for all those who witnessed it.

Shortly thereafter, cards flew into the air for the first time as the competition to determine the 2011 world poker champion was officially underway.  Within a half hour, nearly a dozen players had already been eliminated, prompting one competitor to shout out, “Anyone want to chop?”

Serious or not, there were no takers. 

Indeed, thousands of poker players are expected to attend this year's championship from more than 100 different nations.  Many players come and play in the WSOP every year not necessarily expecting to win, or even cash in the event.  The preeminent theme is that many players come just to participate and be a part of poker’s most exciting fraternity.  In his or her own way, every poker player who participates becomes part of a proud legacy.

By the end of the first day of play, several well-known poker players had been eliminated.  Those who will not continue in their quest for victory include Jerry Yang (2007 Main Event champion), Tom Schneider (2006 WSOP "Player of the Year"), Greg "Fossilman" Raymer ( 2004 Main Event champion), and many others.  But the biggest news of the day was the elimination of Doyle Brunson (1976 and 1977 Main Event champion).  He was knocked out late in the afternoon, leaving some to wonder if the WSOP may have seen the last of the great poker legend.
 
Conversely, several players made news for a good reason -- they're still alive in the world championship.  Some of the more well-known poker players who will return for Day 2-A are -- Annette Obrestad (2008 WSOP Europe Main Event champion), Mickey Appleman (four-time gold bracelet winner), Johnny Chan (1987 and 1988 Main Event champion), and many others.
 
The long list of survivors was not limited to big-name poker pros.  Poker enthusiast and actor Jason Alexander (formally George on "Seinfeld") will come back for Day Two, along with 559 others who separated themselves of the pack of 897 starters.  The 1-A survivors will combine with the 1-C survivors, who then return for Day 2-A to be played Monday, July 11th.  The restart will be at noon.

The Main Event Championship continues through July 19th.  On that date, the final nine survivors are expected to be known.  The small band of survivors will become this year’s “November Nine,” a term which refers to the nine final players who will compete at the final table for the world championship, to take place in November.

But November is still a very long way off.  At least for now, poker players are determined to play their best poker and try and survive the early stages of what will prove to be a marathon test of physical and mental endurance in addition to poker skills.
 
Alas, if it's true that every long journey begins with an initial first step, today 560 poker players took a giant leap forward in pursuit of poker's ultimate dream -- a WSOP gold bracelet and immortality as the world champion. 
 
The Main Event Championship will be televised by ESPN.  Live coverage will start July 14th.