Take a room full of poker players; add some dancing girls and Wayne Newton and you’re obviously talking about the biggest day in poker – Day 1a of the World Series of Poker Main Event. After 53 preliminary events and 52 different bracelet winners the cards are in the air at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino.
The day started with players entering the Amazon Room as the soundtrack from All In: The Poker Musical played over the loudspeakers. Once players were seated the University of Nevada-Las Vegas marching band entered the room playing Viva Las Vegas. Right behind him was Newton, escorted by a number of dancing girls.
“Shuffle up and deal,“ Newton announced and with that nearly 1,300 players began to chase poker’s most prestigious title. A number of the games brightest stars chose Thursday as their starting day including recent bracelet winners Vanessa Selbst and Scotty Nguyen, both of whom were featured on separate ESPN feature tables when play began.
Also in the field were a number of celebrities. Ante Up For Africa participants Ray Romano and Mekhi Pfifer started their pursuit of the world championship today and so did Anaheim Ducks tough guy Brad May, who wore his 2007 Stanley Cup Championship ring for the first level of play. He removed it on the first break.
“Wanted to try and change my luck a little bit,” May joked.
The first elimination of the day took some time to come down – almost 12 minutes. After a standard pre-flop raise two players saw a flop of 2-6-3. That’s when the craziness of multiple re-raises ensued and all 40,000 of the chips ended up in the middle. Before the hands were flipped up one player commented that the hand had to be kings vs. aces, but he was only half-right. One player showed the aces but the other player showed pocket jacks. The river was a jack and the eliminated player suffered a bad beat and the humiliation of being the first player eliminated from the 2008 WSOP.
The most disappointing elimination of the first level may have been that of Tom “durrr” Dwan, the 21-year-old poker phenom had a rough first level. Down to less than 10,000 from the starting stack of 20,000, he chipped his way back-up to 22,000 only to get it all-in with his flopped two-pair against the open-ended straight draw and flush draw of his opponent. The flush was completed on the turn and the young man that many observers had their eye on was sent home.
Also playing today was Eric Molina, the 23-year-old who made a name for himself in the 2006 Main Event with a deep run and confrontations with Shane Schleger and eventual winner Jamie Gold. Just after the second break Molina’s stack was floating near the average.
One player who may have been relying on supernatural talents to play was Blake Cahail. Having lost a prop bet to Blair Hinkle, Cahail was forced to wear a Wizard costume for Day 1. Complete with hat and fake white beard Cahail was the subject of numerous photos from the fans on the rail.
The chip leader at the end of the first level was current Ladies World Champion Svetlana Gromenkova with 51,600. Only two hours later Yan Chen had seized the early lead with 81,000. For up-to-the-minute reports follow all the live updates and chip counts via WorldSeriesofPoker.com.