Beginnings and Endings: 
First Day of 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event Championship Wraps
(Photo Caption:  Actor Kevin Pollak is among the survivors of the first session of the Main Event, which concluded on Saturday night.  Pollak and 656 fellow player players will retake seats on Day Two, to start on Tuesday -- Photo by Jay WhoJedi Newnum) 

The richest sporting event in the universe began today with the start of the 2012 World Championship.  The $10,000 buy-in Main Event Championship will be played over the next eight consecutive days, which will then take a recess once the official final table of nine players has been determined.
The first of three starting days (Day Ones) attracted 1,066 players -- which was a 19% increase from last year’s opening session.  At the conclusion of the initial 12-hour playing session, only 657 survivors remained alive. Those fortunate players will continue in pursuit of the ultimate poker dream, when they return for the second playing session (Day Two), which begins on Tuesday promptly at noon.
Just as predicted, opening day was filled excitement for some and disappointment for others.  Among the many highlights were as follows:
“Shuffle Up and Deal” – The 2012 Main Event Begins:  Age isn’t a number.  It’s a state of mind.  Just ask 92-year-old Ellen “Gram” Deeb, from Upstate New York.  She arrived in Las Vegas to play in her second consecutive WSOP Main Event, after her “rookie” year in 2011.  Deeb performed this year’s honorary “Shuffle Up and Deal” announcement to absolute perfection, adding her own quip, “I just have one thing to say – you’re all playing for second!”  The WSOP is thrilled to see Mrs. Deeb return to action and wishes her well.  She begins play on Sunday.
William John Ends Day One as Chip Leader:  It’s early.  But – at least for now – William is at the top of the poker world.  He is the official End of Day One chip leader.  In fact, he’s not only the leader – he’s holds a massive advantage by more than 100,000 chips over the second-ranked player.  John was the only player to crack the 200,000-chip mark and he didn't just crack it, he breezed right past it to finish with 266,700 chips. Surprisingly, John has no history of ever cashing in a WSOP-related event.  If history is any indication, this early leader now has about a 50 percent chance of cashing in this tournament.  Since results were tracked, only about half of the early leaders make it into the money.  No doubt, John is determined to do what no recent chip leader has been able to do – which is to parlay this lead into a World Championship. 

World Champions Bust Out:  Opening day is often unkind to former winners, and Saturday’s results were no exception.  Headlining the bust outs was 1989 World Champion and 12-time gold bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth, who was never able to gain any traction from the moment he took his seat at approximately 4 pm.  Hellmuth was below the chip average the entire night and busted out about 10 pm.  Joining Hellmuth on the rail were Jim Bechtel, the 1993 champion.  Joe Hachem also walked early from the Main Event, capping off what has to be considered as a disappointing few weeks in Las Vegas.
Defending Champion Pius Heinz Still Alive:  This was a rocky day for the 2011 World Champion, but he survived a storm and will return for Day Two.  Heinz spent 10 of the 12 playing hours well below the chip average.  At one point, he was down to about 10,000 in chips from a 30,000 starting stack, and appeared to be on the verge of an early elimination.  But Heinz doubled up late in the night and ended the session with 39,275 in chips, -- which is only slightly below average.  In recent years, past champions have fared poorly in their title defense.  In fact, Peter Eastgatge was the last reigning champion to cash the year after his victory, in 2009. 

More Notable Eliminations:  Aside from three World Champions who unwillingly hit the rail during the first day, several other notable players went out.  Frank Kassela, the 2010 “WSOP Player of the Year” was among those who had his dreams of victory dashed.  Other mentionable casualties included actor Ray Romano, and WSOP gold bracelet winners Eric Froehlich, Allen Bari, Greg Mueller, Kathy Liebert, and Ted Lawson.  

2012 – Year of the Woman?  Calling this year’s WSOP the “year of the woman” is way too premature.  For the title to stick, women must fare well in the Main Event, which is poker’s ultimate challenge of skill and endurance.  After the first day, several notable females appear to be destined to make a serious run.  Foremost among the filly contingent is J.J. Liu, from Las Vegas.  She leads all females, at present.  Katrina Jett, who finished as runner up in the 2011 Ladies World Poker Championship is also in great shape.  Also in the hunt is Wendeen Eolis, who was the first female to ever cash in the WSOP Main Event, 25 years ago.  Amanda Baker’s name appears on the leaderboard, as well.  One female who will have some work to do on Day Two is 2012 Seniors World Poker Champion, Allyn Jaffrey-Shulman, who ended her opening session low on chips.
Day 1A Top Ten Official Chip Counts (A full list of official counts is available on WSOP.com):
1. William John - 266,700
2. Gerardo Lubas - 165,825
3. Daniel Strelitz - 164,125
4. Dane Lomas - 157,600
5. Cary Katz - 154,850
6. Benjamin Pollak - 144,200
7. Chance Kornuth - 141,775
8. Jonathan Cuevas - 141,675
9. Jared Okun - 141,350
10. Eric Kurtzman - 136,900 

The second playing session – known as Day 1B – begins Sunday at noon.  The field size is expected to be larger, which means registration lines could grow as the final starting day approaches.  Players are encouraged to get to the Rio as soon as possible and register so they will be guaranteed a seat in one of the two remaining start days -- 1B on Sunday and 1C on Monday.

-- by Nolan Dalla