166-Player Mark Surpasses All Expectations – $17 Million at Stake

Opening Day of the One Drop High Roller”tournament ended on Wednesday night with 108 players remaining out of a starting field of 166 entrants.

The big turnout surprised even the most optimistic promoters of the event, who forecasted 130-150 participants.  Proving once again that the WSOP has the ability to attract faces and talent unlike anywhere else, players flocked into the Rio in Las Vegas for this one-of-a-kind annual event, with an added charity component.  

The total prize pool adds up to $17,891,148.  The top 24 finishers will get paid.  Five millionaires will also be created, as places 1-5 each pay in excess of $1 million.

The biggest prize of all amounts to $4,830,619 going to the winner.  He or she will also receive a custom-made WSOP gold bracelet and bragging rights as only the second One Drop-related champion in poker history.

Indeed, this tournament is special for reasons way beyond prize money and poker glory.  In fact, $3,333 for each buy-in is designated for OneDrop, a non-profit organization established by Cirque du Soleil founder and CEO Guy Laliberte.  The drop from the buy-ins going to charity already amounts to $553,278, with more funds expected to be donated by those who cash.

Among the 166 participants who began play on Wednesday at noon were a mix of poker professionals as well as amateurs largely known for their accomplishments in business, entertainment, high finance, and other successful ventures.  Approximately one-quarter of the field was comprised of non-pros.

No one captured more attention than the reigning One Drop champion, Antonio Esfandiari, who came into this redux event with an equal sense of determination as last year when he won the largest poker prize of all time, $18,346,673.  The two-time gold bracelet winner survived the first day, ending up in the middle of the pack.

Players came from 15 different nations.  The countries represented  included – Bulgaria, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, and the USA.

If the tournament already has a winner, it's poker pro Owais Ahmed.  He won the random daily drawing held prior to the tournament start which gave him a free seat courtesy of WSOP.com.  Yes, the seat was valued at $111,111 – which makes this one of the biggest poker freerolls of all time.  Each day, WSOP.com awards free seats into the first gold bracelet event of the day.

Day One action ended with Brandon Steven as chip leader.  He's the owner of Brandon Steven Motors, in Wichita, KS.  He has six WSOP cashes on his resume, and nearly $700,000 in career earnings.  The 39-year-old non-poker pro currently enjoys a slight edge over Tobias Reinkemeier, a poker pro from London, UK.

Wednesday's One Drop event also produced another first.  While no females played in last year's million-dollar buy-in tournament, this year attracted a first-timer to the WSOP.  Kathy Lehne, the founder and CEO of Sun Coast Resources, added her name to the list of poker players and charity supporters.  Her company was named one of Entrepreneur's fastest-growing female-led businesses.  However, like 58 other competitors, she did not survive the first day.  The rail was crowded with other bust outs too – including multiple gold bracelet winners Sammy Farha, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi, Brian Rast, Freddy Deeb, Erick Lindgren, Scott Clements, Frank Kassela, and Erik Seidel.

Action resumes on Thursday at 1 pm (PST).  Due to the larger-than-expected turnout, there is a strong possibility this tournament will be extended into a fourth day of play.  That means the tournament could wrap up on Saturday afternoon if the action falls according to projections.