The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
– Lao Tzu (Chinese Philosopher)It’s been said, you can’t win the World Series of Poker Main Event on opening day, but you can sure lose it. Still, a select few players have managed to leave an indelible mark on history based solely on how they performed on Day One.In the 45-year history of poker’s World Championship, what player posted the most dominant opening day performance of all? Records prior to the online era -- when live reporting became the norm -- are sketchy at best. In fact, no end-of-day chip counts exist for the first thirty years or so of the Main Event. Nonetheless, a number of familiar names and what they accomplished early on still jog some memories and are talked about years later.Mori Eskandani, Executive Producer of Poker Productions, which oversees ESPN’s broadcast of the WSOP, has been attending (and occasionally playing in) the Main Event ever since the mid-1980s. He remembers Bill Smith, the 1985 World Champion as the most domineering player in the tournament’s early stages.“I saw Bill Smith play many times. He didn’t have a lot of patience,” Eskandani recalled. “I’m willing to bet Bill Smith had the biggest chip lead of anyone after the first day.”Smith, a non-stop beer drinker, was reportedly at his very best when he was “a little tipsy,” according to six-time gold bracelet winner T.J. Cloutier, who ended up finishing as the runner in that 1985 event. Smith reportedly started drinking beer early in the tournament and blitzed through the entire field.Back then, the tournament lasted only three days. In the 1990’s, due to the growth of the event, four playing days became necessary. Now, the tournament runs much longer and even includes multiple starting days.Other names mentioned as the best Day One performers include Don Williams, who was known as a reckless player at times, certainly capable of running up a big stack of chips. Mike Laing is another player who was either out of the tournament early, or was atop the leader board at the end of the first day. Laing led the field at least twice and made three deep runs, in 1995, 1996, and 1998. However, he never reached the final table. Then, there’s Robert “Chipburner” Turner. True to his name, the Chipburner either blew his chips away during the first few levels of play or else had a monster stack. He wasn’t interested in plodding along just to survive.Since poker’s modern age of reporting when chip counts are now known after Day One, the most notable name to lead after the starting playing session was television talk show host Montel Williams. He dominated the first day of the 2007 WSOP. However, his glory proved to be short lived, as the part-time poker enthusiast was eliminated on the following day, short of making the money.That said, all others pale in comparison to John Bonetti mind-blowing early showing in the 1993 Main Event Championship. The bombastic Brooklyn-born three-time gold bracelet winner enjoyed an opening day that every poker player dreams about. Poker Hall of Fame inductee Mike Sexton remembered Bonetti’s memorable first day as follows:
"John Bonetti was the man in that tournament. Back then, we started with ten thousand [chips]. He ended that first day with the biggest stack anyone’s ever seen. He had over 200 thousand. No one else even had 80,000. It’s the biggest Day One lead I’ve ever seen in the history of the World Series of Poker. It didn’t matter what he had, he would raise and somehow win the hand. They would either fold, or if he got called, he outflopped everyone else. I’ve never seen anything like it."Back then, starting chip stacks were dollar for dollar. So, each player began the tournament with 10,000 chips. By the end of the first day, Bonetti had rocketed his stack up to 240,000. Even more incredible was the fact there were only 220 entrants in the Main Event. Hence, Bonetti ended the first of three starting days with 24 times his starting stack, representing more than ten-percent of the total chips in play.Bonetti seemed destined for victory. However, he was derailed at the final table and finished in third place, behind the winner Jim Bechtel. Like so many other early sensations, the initial fire burned hot and bright, but eventually withered out.In the modern era, we have only had one Day 1 chip leader go on to win the Main Event, Joe Cada in 2009. Perhaps it is an omen he won his second bracelet this year and 2014 could be the day another big stack plays their way to a $10 million payday.