After all the build up and excitement at Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the WSOP main event is finally underway. Registration is still open for the day, but as of now, it appears that Day 1A will follow the pattern of the past few years and be the smallest starting day of the three. Last year's turnout of 843 players may seem high once the final numbers are tallied, but WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart believes that given the amount of satellites already completed and scheduled for the next two days, attaining last year's number is a reasonable expectation.
The 2014 WSOP main event marks the 10th year of the WSOP being held at the Rio, and to honor that milestone, 2005 champion Joseph Hachem performed the "shuffle up and deal" to begin the event. Hachem, who remains a strong ambassador for both the WSOP and Australian poker, also teased the 10 bracelets that will be up for grabs at WSOP APAC this fall.
For a good amount of the first two-hour level of the tournament, many tables were playing shorthanded. Not like six- or seven-handed, but three-handed, far from the standard nine-handed play typically seen here. Tables were broken and combined, and while it appears that the field is far full, at least some of those who spent $10,000 won't be playing at a disadvantage with blinds constantly eating away at their stack.
One of the more entertaining five-handed tables for most of the level was the feature table. Traditionally, the WSOP selects the defending main event champion and places his table on the feature stage so that fans can sit and watch with ease. However, this year's table selection of Ryan Riess had a slight twist. Joining Riess was 2012 main event champion Greg Merson. The last two champs sat on stage laughing as those who joined them, including high-roller enthusiast Bill Perkins, sat wondering how they could've been placed at one of the worst tables in the entire tournament.
"It's a good table," said Merson, who has finished 167th and first during the past two main events, respectively. "[Ryan and I] aren't going to get involved too much given our seats across the table."
Merson, who specialized in short-handed play, believed he had a small advantage given that aspect during the first level, but as the table filled out, that's no longer the case. Riess, who will be recognized on Monday by the WSOP, is happy to be back and ready to defend his title.
"I had chills when I walked back in here this morning," Riess said. "The table is fun. I've played with Greg a bit at the National Championship. He's tough."
Day 1 is all about survival and the past two main event champions know that today will be a grind. The feature table, which unfortunately will not be part of the ESPN broadcast, is definitely the one to watch all day.
Small blinds: Antonio Esfandiari began the day in Brasilia and was moved into Amazon. Before going to his table, he ran over to the feature table to yell at Perkins, asking him how unlucky he is to get that table. Perkins smiled, and Esfandiari turned away, but before returning to his table, he was happy to take a few photos with fans. There's a number of sponsorship/marketing initiatives in place at the WSOP this year, but none stand out more than the large throne placed next to the feature table. The WSOP had the UFC's official DJ playing music before the start of the tournament. Each day they'll offer trivia to spectators, as well, and give away prizes. Phil Laak is wearing goggles. The WSOP is now doing promotional reads during play. Jason Mercier is below 10,000 in chips and told me during the break that he's ready to get out of Vegas and back to Florida. Mercier has $1.7 million in tournament earnings over the past two months and has cashed in the main event twice in the past four years. There are two other bracelet events in action today besides the main, the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha world championship and the Little One for One Drop.