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October 24, 2014

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Poker players out for gold as WSOP Main Event begins at Rio

Thursday was the first of four starting days in poker’s world championship

Image

Steve Marcus

Poker professional Greg Raymer, top center, competes during the first day of the World Series of Poker main event at the Rio Thursday, July 7, 2011. Raymer was the winner of the 2004 World Series of Poker main event.

Updated Friday, July 8, 2011 | 1:39 a.m.

WSOP Main Event Begins

Poker professional Greg Raymer competes during the first day of the World Series of Poker main event at the Rio Thursday, July 7, 2011. Raymer was the winner of the 2004 World Series of Poker main event. Launch slideshow »

Notable End of Day 1A Chip Counts

  • Soi Nguyen — 87,000
  • Lex Veldhuis — 82,000
  • Filippo Candio — 71,000
  • Annette Obrestad — 68,000
  • Barry Shulman — 64,000
  • Jason Alexander — 63,000
  • Eli Elezra — 48,000
  • Johnny Chan — 34,000
  • Sammy Farha — 27,000
  • Billy Baxter — 20,000
  • Dewey Tomko — 18,000
  • Aaron Steury — 0
  • Greg Raymer — 0
  • Adam Levy — 0
  • Doyle Brunson — 0

A combination of elite professionals and hopeful amateurs began the chase to see who would become the next world champion of poker Thursday.

In the first day of the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker Main Event, 897 registered to play. Day 1A, as it's titled, is traditionally the slowest of four starting flights that will run through Sunday at the Rio. But Thursday’s field was more than 200 players less than the 1,125 who showed up on the first day last year.

“I don’t think I’ll ever lose this feeling about playing in the Main Event,” said Lex Veldhuis, a 27-year old poker pro from the Netherlands. “This is the first year I’m really rested for it, so I feel this is the most special for me.”

Veldhuis had built up an above-average stack of chips — players started with 30,000 — through the first six hours of the tournament despite what he called a tough table draw with mostly talented players. That’s a rarity this early into the Main Event, according to several poker pros.

In addition to wanting to reach the pinnacle of poker, professionals are drawn to the Main Event every year because of a field that’s littered with inexperienced competition. Pros believe they have a more significant edge in the Main Event than any other tournament on the circuit.

“If I had only $10,000 to my name, I would buy into this tournament,” said Aaron Steury, a 25-year old pro from Fort Wayne, Ind. “It’s that soft. It’s that worth playing. I could get a $5 per hour job if I lost, I guess.”

Steury is in no danger of going broke anytime soon. He won his first WSOP bracelet earlier this summer in a $1,500 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. event for $289,283.

Steury was one of many accomplished card players who chose Thursday as the start of their Main Event. Former champions Greg Raymer, who won the Main Event in 2004, and Johnny Chan, who went back-to-back in 1987 and 1988, were included in the field.

Adam Levy, a 29-year old from Los Angeles, has found great success in the Main Event recently. Levy has finished in the top 100 in two of the last three years, coming in 48th in 2008 for $135,100 and 12th last year for $635,011.

Levy described finishing three short of the final table last year as “heartbreaking” and said he chose Day 1A because he was itching to start going after the title again.

“Playing in the Main Event is always special,” Levy said. “It’s the best tournament ever. It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran or playing for the first time.”

Plenty of players sat down at a WSOP table for the first time Thursday. The rookies range from wealthy casual players to lower-stakes regulars who won their way into the tournament through satellites.

Fernando Lopes, a 29-year old from Brazil, falls into the latter category. He’s making his first trip to Las Vegas after winning a tournament in his home country for entry and expenses to the WSOP.

Lopes hopes an in-the-money finish — the WSOP will pay approximately 10 percent of the final field — can help take his poker career to a new level.

“If I have some results here, maybe I can come next year and the next,” Lopes said. “But I really don’t know what will happen. I’m here to play really good.”

Lopes had a pleasant surprise when he showed up at the Rio to play Thursday afternoon. Seated next to him at the ESPN televised table was poker legend Doyle Brunson, who won the Main Event in 1976 and 1977 and has 11 WSOP bracelets.

“When I arrived and saw Doyle at the TV table, I confess my legs were a little bit (wobbly),” Lopes said. “But after two rounds, I was OK and tried to play my poker.”

Brunson ushered in the start of the 2011 Main Event as the honorary announcer of the “shuffle up and deal” command. Playing alongside Brunson is a luxury Lopes and the other runners in the event almost didn’t have.

Less than a week ago, Brunson announced he would not play in the Main Event. At the urging of friends like three-time bracelet winner Dewey Tomko, Brunson decided to change course Wednesday evening.

“Do I feel good? No,” Brunson tweeted. “Do I want to play? No. Am I playing my best? No. Am I gonna try my best? Damn right.”

Brunson failed to make it to the dinner break after an opponent’s Ace-Queen out-flopped his pocket 5s. An estimated 30 percent of the field will meet their demise before reaching Day 2.

But most of them will be back next year, especially the professionals. The Main Event offers too much to pass up.

“It’s the Super Bowl of poker,” Steury said. “It’s the biggest, juiciest, softest field there is, which is hard to believe because obviously it’s a $10,000 buy-in, but everyone comes out for the most exciting event of the year.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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