Earthquake and two player disqualifications add spice to happenings amid largest-ever Main Event opening flight
5 July 2019 (Las Vegas) – Friday's Day 1C in the 2019 World Series of Poker Main Event offered everything a poker fan could imagine... and then some. From a Rio seams-bursting turnout of players that set a single-day mark for any Main Event opening flight to a lights-swaying earthquake, the Rio Convention Center hosted one of the strangest poker days in recent memory. When the day's last hand was dealt, however, two-time WSOP Circuit ring winner James Henson had bagged a healthy 316,100 chips to lead this largest-ever Main Event flight.
Henson, 61, from Tiki Island, Texas, chipped up in the day's last level to climb over the 300,000 mark and move past several other players on a tightly packed Day 1C leaderboard. Narrowly trailing Henson in the counts were Canada's Mike McDonald (306,300), Tennessee's Joshua Ray (304,200), the Czech Republic's Robert Kokoska (285,000), and France' Mohamed Mamouni (284,000). Day 1A leader Brian Campanello's 417,500 total stands as the overall Day 1 leading stack.
Experienced pros and first-time dreamers alike occupied every one of the 519 tables the Rio had to offer. As many observers projected, Day 1C smashed the single-day record for a Main Event flight with 4,879 total entries. However, the record-setting attendance turned out to be just one of several intriguing storylines that framed this very unusual day.
An early indication that Friday's Day 1C would be a wild tale came when one of the most feared pros in the building, 10-time bracelet winner Phil Ivey, busted just 51 minutes after taking his seat. Ivey lost a big hand early to put a major dent into his 60,000-chip starting stack. A short while later, he got the remainder of his chips in on a semi-bluff flush draw against Jeffrey Chang.
In three-way action following a flop, Chang checked, Hirotaka Nakanishi bet 1,600, Ivey called, and Chang check-raised to 6,500. Nakanishi called the check-raise and Ivey then moved all in for the rest of his remaining stack, some 17,500. Then Chang moved all in himself, forcing Nakanashi to fold. Ivey had , but he was the underdog against Chang's for top two pair, and when the turn and river completed the board, Ivey was out.
Another elite pro, 2009 Main Event champ and four-time bracelet winner Joe Cada, didn't last much longer. Fresh off a runner-up finish in Event #70, Cada seemed poised for yet another deep Main Event run like last year, when he finished fifth. He lost almost his entire stack early, however, after moving all in with on a board. Unfortunately for Cada, Yoshiya Agata had and called after a lengthy tank. Agata's set was good for the early double while Cada's 2019 Main was done soon after it began.
At least Ivey and Cada exited the poker premises in the usual manner. Before the first level of play was complete, not one but two players had been disqualified from the Main Event for flagrant rules violations. First, a player was disqualified and evicted from the property after deliberately scooping up the entire stack of chips from his neighbor's seat while raking in a small pot very early in the day. That neighboring seat was already sold with that player's chips in play, though the player himself had yet to arrive. The offending player's actions were quickly investigated and verified, and the cheater was disqualified.
“I’m not going to speak on security concerns,” WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel later told a poker media outlet. “But obviously, if you break the rules and take chips you’re not going to be allowed to play in the tournament and you can face all consequences as a result of being disqualified from the tournament per our rules.”
Player disqualifications are an uncommon occurrence at any poker event, yet in the very same opening level of Day 1C, it happened again. This time it was for acute disorderly conduct at the tables. That second player was also evicted from the property as well as the event.
All seemed calm after that, or at least as calm as a record-setting opening day flight can be. Then in the early evening, play was suspended temporarily when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck in the mountains of California roughly 150 miles due west of Las Vegas. The long-wavelength seismic waves sent the Rio Convention Center's suspended lights and other ceiling fixtures swaying for a minute or longer. The thousands of players at the tables were soon sent on an early dinner break so the facility could be checked for damage, though that amounted to just the resetting of a couple of slightly ajar ceiling panels.
Still, some players were unsettled by the experience. It was also the second and larger earthquake to strike the southern California mountains in the past 36 hours, raising the possibility of even more floor-rolling seismic activity in the days ahead.
It was just that type of day at the Rio.
Some poker was played as well. Literally hundreds of highly notable players were among those who chose to take their Main Event shots in the Day 1C flight. Most moved on, but World Championship dreams ended early this year for many stars besides Ivey and Cada.
The lengthy list of busted players also included Jason Koon, Mike Leah, Felipe Ramos, Rainer Kempe, Mark Newhouse, Terrence Chan, Humberto Brenes, Shaun Deeb, Doug Polk, Julien Martini, John Hennigan, Sofia Lovgren, Juha Helppi, along with prior Main Event winners Jamie Gold, Martin Jacobson.
Other stories abounded as well, even if most players' talk strayed to the day's unusual happenings. Main Event fixture and Poker Hall of Famer TJ Cloutier was in his seat for the ceremonial “Shuffle Up and Deal!” and ground away all day despite relatively dry cards. “I'll be 80 in October and I want to be the oldest one to win this damn thing!” he said early in the day. Cloutier has been oh-so-close before, being just a bad beat from virtually closing out Chris Ferguson for the win in the famous 2000 WSOP Main Event. On this day, Cloutier bagged a modest 64,200, but he'll back on Sunday to try to grind up a deeper stack.
Building a rather larger stack was King's Casino owner Leon Tsoukernik, whose venue in the Czech Republic will host the 2019 WSOP Europe beginning in mid-October. Tsoukernik had built a stack of 200,000 as the day's fifth and final level progressed. Tsoukernik is known for being a very active player at the tables, and he said, “I played very good and also got good cards.” He'll be moving on to Day 2C with a healthy 167,200 stack. As for the road ahead, he said, “I'm going to survive for another hour and go on to Day 2. I'm going to have a party tomorrow, then sleep well and play!”
Also having plenty of fun on Day 1C was Ohio native Adam Friedman, who claimed his third career WSOP bracelet just three weeks ago in Event #35, $10,000 Dealers Choice 6-Handed. Friedman bounced around the 300,000 chip plateau and held the apparent lead at times during Day 1C's evening play, though he settled back to a 263,100 stack by night's end. Friedman, wholly tongue in cheek, served up his own leading interview question: “How's a mixed-game player doing so good in two-card?” To which he already had an answer ready, of course: “Well, when you're the most versatile player in the world, it doesn't matter what the game is!
“I'm just joking, I'm just joking!” he was quick to add. But as to how he built his big stack, it was a normal skill-plus luck tale, even if told with Friedman's usual aplomb. He reported being active in and taking down a lot of small pots, plus he “gave a really awful beat to somebody.” As for Day 2 plans, Friedman summed it up as, “Don't go broke. Don't be stupid. Hopefully get people to dump more stacks to me, which a few people have. Hopefully I cooler a few people and suck out on a few others.” In other words, the normal poker hopes, and in abundance.
Other notables moving on to Sunday's Day 2C with significant stacks include Andrew Pantling (229,000), Kevin Martin (220,600), Jack Salter (220,500), Bart Lybaert (210,000), Dzmitry Urbanovich (196,500), Jonathan Tamayo (194,600), Maurice Hawkins (183,600), Calvin Anderson (178,100), Timur Margolin (177,400), Kevin Saul (176,300), and Josh Arieh (169,500).
Top Ten 1C Chip Counts:
1st: James Henson – 316,100
2nd: Mike McDonald – 306,300
3rd: Joshua Ray – 304,200
4th: Robert Kokoska – 285,000
5th: Mohamed Mamouni – 284,000
6th: Barry Donovan – 280,100
7th: Robert Layne– 280,000
8th: Dylan Meier – 277,700
9th: Yervand "Chris Limo" Boyadjian – 277,400
10th: Tom Cannuli – 275,000
Complete chip counts for Day 1C survivors
Live updates from Day 1C action