Some competitors just seem to shine at a particular venue: Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Tiger Woods at Augusta. And now, Blair Hinkle at Council Bluffs. The Main Event of the World Series of Poker Circuit at Horseshoe Council Bluffs started on Saturday and Hinkle established himself as the man to beat. After winning the Main Event here two of the past four years, Hinkle has amassed a huge Day 1 chip lead and is threatening to win his third Circuit ring, all in the same event.

Play began at noon Saturday as players in Day 1A took their seats. A total of 150 entered that flight, including 2008 November Niner Dennis Phillips, 2012 ONE DROP participant John Morgan, and Bernard Lee, who finished 13th in the WSOP Main Event in 2005. After 12 levels, 53 players bagged chips. They were led by Everett Carlton with 117,800. He was trailed by Jonathan Alfonso (112,700) and Nathanael Kogel (112,600).

However, Carlton’s time atop the leaderboard would not last long. Day 1B began at 5:00 PM with another 94 players, and within a few hours, Blair Hinkle established himself as the clear chip leader. When 28 players from Day 1B officially survived through the end of the day, Hinkle bagged 329,000 in chips, absolutely dwarfing the top stacks from flight 1A.

When Hinkle won this event last year, he became the first player to win the same Main Event twice. (He first won it during the 2010/2011 Circuit season). Fast forward to 2014, and he’s poised to do it again. With two full days still to play and 81 players still alive, the young Missouri pro is far from the home stretch, but he’s in good position heading into Day 2.

There was no shortage of subplots in this Main Event. In addition to Hinkle’s quest for his third victory in this tournament, the event also featured the battle for the top of all-time Circuit rings leaderboard. Alexandru Masek recently won his record-breaking eighth ring. He made two final tables in preliminary events here at Council Bluffs, but was unable to win his ninth ring. Masek played in Day 1A today, and finished with 31,400 in chips. Just behind Masek on the career rings list is Ari Engel. Engel has six rings on his resume, good for third on the all-time list. (Chris Reslock is in second place with seven rings.) Engel also played flight A, but was eventually eliminated late in the day. He re-entered in Day 1B, and survived through the end of the night. He’ll return for Day 2 with 13,700 in chips.

Phil Mader was also in the field today. Mader is somewhat of a hometown hero. Among his successes is a 43rd-place finish in the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event, a deep run which was well-chronicled in ESPN’s coverage of that tournament. Mader will return for Day 2 with 22,200 in chips. A few WSOP bracelet winners played today as well, including Robert Cheung, who bagged 54,400, and Eric Rodawig, who played only in flight B and was eliminated in the last level of the night.

Players from both Day 1 flights will return at 2:00 PM on Sunday for Day 2 with blinds of 800/1,600 and a 200 ante.

Here are the top ten chip counts. A full list of chip counts and seat assignments is available here.
 
1. Blair Hinkle – 329,000
2. Trevor Harrold – 134,500
3. Everett Carlton – 117,800
4. Jonathan Alfonso – 112,700
5. Nathanael Kogel – 112,600
6. Brendan Waite – 109,400
7. Jeffrey Fielder – 106,400
8. Gino Levrini – 103,600
9. Timothy Bishop – 101,500
10. John Holley – 101,000