There's a familiar face captaining the WSOP Circuit Main Event at Harrah's Cherokee.
North Carolina native Jason Sandling (pictured) finished Day 1B with 340,000 chips, riding a rush into the overall lead across both flights.
Sandling won this event four years ago, collecting more than $200,000 and his first gold ring on home turf. He's gone on to add a second one since, and he's in position for another deep run this weekend. He's not the only one in that position, though.
This trip to Cherokee is the 12th for the WSOP Circuit, and five more of the previous champions also remain: Brad Albrinck (169,000), Daniel Weinman (110,500), Ryan Jones (78,000), John Bowman (75,500), and Charles Johnson (74,500).
Of course, there are still a couple hundred people in the arena alongside them. The first set of hurdles are clear, though, and 182 players — less than 20 percent of the total field — advanced through the two flights.
Here's the overnight top five:
Jason Sandling - 340,000
EJ Manson - 328,500
Andrew Mousmoules - 314,500
Clifford Billups - 289,000
Peter Vitantonio - 269,000
Friday's Day 1A flight drew 408 entries, and another 652 joined Day 1B to bring the total field to 1,060. That attendance creates a prize pool of nearly $1.6 million for the final 108 players to share.
Sandling sets the pace for the remaining field, but it's packed with fellow ring winners, bracelet winners and other standouts.
Ben Keeline is one of those bracelet winners, the Colossus champion from 2016. Keeline has a WSOP Circuit ring, too, and he's built the sort of stack that makes him a contender for another. He ended Day 1B with 201,000 chips, about twice the average.
Vitantonio doesn't have a bracelet (yet), but he does have three Circuit rings and more chips than Keeline at the moment. The Ohio pro advanced through Day 1A, so he had Saturday off with a top-five stack already in the bag.
The depth of talent remaining extends beyond the group of blossoming Circuit regulars, too. Josh Arieh and Erick Lindgren were pioneers of the TV generation of poker, two of the first US players to sign major online poker sponsorships. They each hold a pair of WSOP bracelets, but neither has their name in the Circuit record book to date. Arieh will return for Day 2 with 253,500 chips and Lindgren with 169,000.
Nine-time ring winner Robert Hankins (154,000) and five-timer Kurt Jewell (174,000) are also among the remaining field, as are Jonathan Hilton (189,000), Joseph Cheong (141,500), Kyle Cartwright (123,500), Aaron Massey (117,000), Keven Stammen (95,500), and Dylan Wilkerson (80,000) to name just a few more.
Click here for the complete chip counts.
They and the rest of the 182 who bagged will return to action Sunday. Getting down to 108 and across the money bubble is the first order of business, and they'll play on for ten one-hour levels. Everyone who finishes in the money will earn around $3,000 at minimum, but the top prize is nearly 100 times that amount — $294,152.
Day 2 begins at noon.