Harrah's Cherokee's First-Ever Championship Event Draws 856
 
Sunday re-start includes just 201 survivors

 
The first WSOP Circuit Main Event Championship ever held here at Harrah's Cherokee drew an enormous turnout of 856 players, making it one of the largest such events of the current season.  The second opening session was completed on Saturday, narrowing the starting field down considerably.
 
Attendance here surpassed what many were expecting in North Carolina as the championship turnout came to represent the fourth-largest figure of the season for all 17 Main Events completed so far.  Here's a look at the top ten largest championships events of the season:
 
1.  Horseshoe Hammond (Chicago) – 1,523
2.  Choctaw (Oklahoma) – 1,140
3. River Rock (Vancouver) – 1,023
4. Harrah's Cherokee – 856
5.  Caesars Palace (Las Vegas) -- 744
6.  The Bicycle Casino (Los Angeles) – 721
7.  West Palm Beach Kennel Club -- 670
8.  Harrah's Tunica -- 666
9.  Harrah’s Atlantic City – 616
10.  Foxwoods -- 615
 
Action began on Friday with session 1A.  The 1B session was played on Saturday.  The total number of survivors from both sessions amounted to 201 players.  They will return for the start of Day Two, which comes Sunday at noon.
 
The leader board includes some familiar as well as unfamiliar names.  Here's a look at the top-ten players ranked by chip count:
 
1.   Rufus Hensley (Morganton, NC) -- 401,400
2.   Joseph Stark (Lawrenceville, GA) -- 313,000
3.   George Zinaty (Charlotte, NC) -- 312,300
4.   David Nicholson (Perkinston, MS) -- 260,400
5.   Matthew Hankins (Newnan, GA) -- 254,200
6.   Kyle Cartwright (Bartlett, TN) -- 221,000
7.   Jeremy Menard (Raleigh, NC) -- 219,200
8.   Jeremiah Fitzpatrick (Charlotte, NC) -- 218,600
9.   Claudia Crawford (Brookhaven, MS) -- 215,000
10.  Jerry Barlow (Westminster, SC) -- 201,800
 
Rufus Hensley currently enjoys a substantial chip lead.  But he'll face a more serious challenge as players begin to drop and he field gets tougher.  The top 90 finishers will collect prize money, with more than a quarter-million dollars for first place. 
 
Among the leaders is three-time gold ring winner and Main Event champion from Bossier City (2011), David Nicholson.  Also near the top in third place is Kyle Cartwright, a five-time gold ring winner.  Last week, Cartwright just missed out on what would have been a record-tying sixth WSOP Circuit victory when he came in second in the Pot-Limit Omaha champioship here in North Carolina.  Cartwright is making a serious run now in the Main Event and will be another dangerous force come Day Two.
 
Greg “Fossilman” Raymer is also among the top 30.  The 2004 world champion lives her in the Tarheel State, residing near Raleigh.  Raymer entered his first event on his home turf.
 
Other notables remaining in the field include Alan Neubauer, who won his first gold ring here earlier this week.  Also, two-time gold ring winner Tripp Kirk made the cut.
 
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As was the case with Day 1A , Day 1B kicked off at noon on Saturday and played slightly more than 12 hours.  Action ended at past midnight.  About 80 percent of the starting field has eliminated.  A reminder that two gold ring events still remain.  Event 11 begins Sunday.  Event 12 starts Monday and is a one-day Turbo tournament.
 
A reminder that Harrah's Cherokee has also added a special bonus to this tournament.  Not only does the winner receive a seat into the WSOP National Championship, to be played in New Orleans next month.  The champ also wins a seat into the WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas, coming up in July.  This special gift was donated by the casino as a way of thanking players for so much support for this memorable debut.
 
Prior to the start of the Main Event, Harrah's Cherokee made an announcement that the WOSP Circuit will definitely return to North Carolina again next season.  So, it looks like a proud poker tradition is starting here in one of the hottest areas of the country for poker.
 
So, Day Two will play out on Sunday, with 14 solid hours of playing action expected.  We should get close to the final table.
 
On Monday, the final table will be played and shown, both here at WSOP.com and on ESPN3 as part of a live simulcast.
 
Check back here at WSOP.com for more announcements and updates about the Main Event and upcoming final table broadcast.
 
Once again, cards go back in the air Sunday at noon.