The last of the World Series of Poker main event's three starting days featured a huge field of 3,768 players that nearly filled the Rio to capacity. From the tables at Buzios near the entrance of the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino to the Amazon Room in the convention center, the biggest tournament in the world attracted a ton of attention as the best in the world competed on the green felt.
And the best in the world thrived.
Phil Ivey played at a table in the Pavilion Room that was perfect for him. Far away from the rail and the distractions, Ivey was all business during the five-level session and dominated to bag a top-five stack of 187,025 in chips. After a slow start in which he dropped under 20,000, Ivey picked up a number of big hands, including one in the final moments of the day in which he flopped a straight and successfully faded his opponent's draw. For the second year in a row, Day 1 was kind to Ivey, and for the rest of the field, that's not good news. The 10-time bracelet winner has four top-23 main event finishes since 2002.
Those visiting the Amazon Room today had the privilege of seeing former main event champions everywhere they looked. Joe Cada occupied the feature table and put on a show for the fans, building a 66,935-chip stack at the end of the night. Jonathan Duhamel, Carlos Mortensen, Robert Varkonyi and Joe Hachem fared well, too, and advanced to Day 2 with hopes of a second main event title. Phil Hellmuth arrived after the dinner break, and unlike his typical style, he was extremely active at his table. He was also outwardly friendly to his opponents as he's made a conscious decision to limit his negativity at the table. It was refreshing.
"Winning [the main event] would be amazing," said Hellmuth, who finished the night with 49,425. "I know it's doable."
Hellmuth posed for pictures and made some jokes with a few of his competitors throughout the night. For lack of a better description, it was a new Phil, armed with consideration, but despite that outgoing positivity, he reminded everyone that taking his chips won't be easy.
"It's important that people have fun playing with me," he said. "I live my life as a good guy, and everyone in the poker world knows it. I don't want too much whining or berating to make the world think [otherwise]."
Jamie Gold became the first former champion to bust after all members of that elite fraternity advanced in the first two days. Greg Raymer and Jerry Yang also failed to make it through the day.
While the champs competed in an environment that encouraged spectators, the rail following a non-champion remained the strongest of all. Daniel Negreanu, who is freerolling as part of his prize for winning the 2013 WSOP Player of the Year award, was chatty and smiling all day. From the very first orbit Negreanu was in a groove, and that momentum didn't stop. The six-time champion utilized a small-ball approach all day, focused on limiting the size of pots preflop, and finished the day with 129,250 in chips. Negreanu's focus comes from his dedication to a positive mindset.
"I'm a big believer in clear intention, and being clear about what you want to accomplish," said Negreanu after the day. "My intention is to be in great chip position throughout the tournament and win the tournament. ... I'm just playing my game."
Negreanu has cashed in the main event in two out of the past three years.
The three-day total of 6,683 players made the 2014 edition the fifth-largest main event in WSOP history. It's the first time that the event has grown since 2010, and the guaranteed $10 million for first place will be the storyline for not only the next week, but the next few months. Some may debate the substanial $4.9 million difference between first and second, but it's going to make for a very interesting final table.
"It encourages more fight for first if the tournament is top heavy," said Cada.
Here are the unofficial top 10 chip counts from Day 1C:
1. Eric Tracey (206,175)
2. Phil Ivey (187,025)
3. Ronnie Pease (181,850)
4. Nick Yunis (171,100)
5. Tom Sarra Jr. (168,100)
6. Martin Hansen (167,250)
7. Konstantin Tolokno (161,550)
8. Justin Lunin-Pack (154,925)
9. Justin Swilling (149,275)
10. Anthony Maio (147,500)
Players who advanced on Day 1C will return on Wednesday. Day 1A and 1B survivors play on Tuesday, but as separate fields. Action resumes at noon PT.
Small Blinds: Actor Aaron Paul was hanging out at the Rio all day taking selfies with fans. Paul said he didn't have any interest in the field, but he was on the rail almost all day just watching the action. He told me he plays a lot of poker, but couldn't play the main event due to a conflict with work. Paul Pierce didn't feel like hanging out until the end of the day to bag his chips. The NBA star left 15 minutes before the end of the final level of the night with his 60,000 in chips on the table. In that situation, a member of the floor staff bags the chips. Sunday, Binions will host a charity poker event in tribute to Chad Brown, who died at the age of 52 after a long battle with cancer Wednesday. The event is being organized by his ex-wife Vanessa Rousso, who has dedicated her main event to Brown. She advanced to Day 2. The UFC's Martin Kampmann advanced to Day 2, as did ESPN contributor Bernard Lee. It's expected that 2013 main-event champion Ryan Riess will announce Wednesday's "Shuffle up and Deal." Other notable players eliminated: Jesse Sylvia, Tom Dwan, John Racener, Andy Frankenberger, Sam Trickett and Phil Collins. Notable players who advanced: JC Tran, Jake Balsiger, Matt Salsberg, Haralabos Voulgaris, Greg Mueller, Amir Lehavot and Barry Greenstein.