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Colossus II kicks things off at the 2016 World Series of Poker

LAS VEGAS -- The Colossus II No-Limit Hold’em event at the 2016 World Series of Poker is expected to break the record for the largest live tournament ever, but it began rather quietly Thursday morning.

Last year’s inaugural Colossus drew a staggering 22,374 entrants. That it would shatter any previous field size record was easy to predict, as the buy-in was very low at $565 and players could re-enter the tournament in later flights if they busted out. Colossus II has its “Day 1” spread out over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with 10 a.m. PT and 4 p.m. PT starting flights each day for six total sessions, all told.

The Rio Convention Center had plenty of people milling around, reminiscent of so many conventions in this town, as players for the 10 a.m. PT session were looking for their seats. It was busy, but not the zoo some were expecting to witness.

The scene in the tournament registration room was even more surprising. On big tournament days in the past, it’s not uncommon for the lines to stretch farther than the eye can see. However, at 9:45 a.m. local time -- 15 minutes before the start of potentially the biggest tournament ever -- players could walk up to the windows without waiting. In fact, only eight of the 12 windows were even being used. Just about every person who walked in expressed the same sentiment -- they were pleasantly surprised to find no line.

This isn’t your father’s WSOP. For several years now, WSOP officials have been encouraging players to pre-register early online to beat the crowds, and it appears the players have responded (or learned their lesson from incidents in years’ past).

The scene at the registration area changed in the afternoon. If players are eliminated from a session, they aren’t allowed to buy into a later flight until the flight they were playing in has closed registration. Day 1 play is scheduled for 18 30-minute levels, with registration open through the first six of those levels. With the 10 a.m. PT flight delayed with the “Shuffle Up and Deal” from Poker Hall of Famer Billy Baxter and a 20-minute break thrown in, registration stayed open until around 1:30 p.m. PT.

The line outside the registration area stretched all the way down the hallway, or about the length of a football field. More than 200 people were lined up, most of whom had busted out and wanted to rebuy, though it also included some unfortunate souls that picked this time to come down to enter later events (or put down their money for one of Friday's or Saturday’s starting sessions).

The Colossus attracts a crowd that’s even more varied than is seen in regular tournaments during the WSOP. The entry fee makes it more affordable and accessible for lower-level players, and professionals see it as a cheaper way to try and earn a WSOP bracelet (though navigating a field of 20,000 or more entries isn’t easy no matter how many fish might enter).

There’s also a big difference in watching players when they get eliminated. Compared to the Main Event, where players are often distraught or angry, or in just plain shock after losing their $10,000 entry fee (which they might have saved up all year to be able to enter), eliminated players at the Colossus take it much more in stride. It’s easier to stomach losing $565, especially when you know you can rebuy your way right back into the tourney. Our unofficial unscientific survey of 20 ousted players had 12 that planned to rebuy while eight said they were one and done.

David Evans, a 22-year-old student from Los Angeles, was eliminated early and said he would keep buying in until he has a healthy stack to take into Day 2 (which takes place on Sunday, when all those who survived to the end of one of the starting sessions will combine into a single pool of players).

“This format is different in that regard, where I want to double up right away and build a big stack,” Evans said. “It doesn’t make sense to me to play tight and grind out. I’ve got five more shots if I need them.”

Bob Kotifla, a 54-year-old truck driver from Newport News, Virginia, also wasn’t too upset when his three queens lost to a better kicker. He didn’t plan to rebuy.

“This was on my bucket list,” he said. “I had a heart attack last year and should’ve died. No ifs, ands or buts about it. I was lucky a stranger came by and gave me five nitros and saved my life.

“I had a great time -- playing in a World Series of Poker event is just something I wanted to experience.”

Another player, who would only give the name “Paul”, said he had to run off to enter a tourney at the Venetian.

The summer poker season is off and running here in Vegas, and we’ll see if the Colossus does indeed set a record. The first flight closed with 3,251 entrants, and while that’s actually down from last year when 5,173 played in Flight A, that format had only four starting times over two days so it’s comparing apples and oranges (or hearts and diamonds, if you prefer). Later flights always draw more entries, for a number of reasons; many of those entering early flights are doing so to offer themselves as many opportunities to re-enter the tournament if they bust out, and others prefer not to play early and then have to sit out a day or two before resuming the tournament if they make it to the end of the day.

The biggest factor of all with later entries-- especially with so many amateurs taking a shot in this tournament -- is that they can enter one of the weekend sessions to both reduce the length of their potential hotel stay and make it so they don’t have to take any time off from their regular jobs unless they make a very deep run in the tournament.

Even a gradual increase in size for each session would lead to another record-setting turnout and, if expectations are to be believed, that number could ultimately shatter the turnout from last year -- a fitting way to kick off the 2016 WSOP.