Halftime highlights from the WSOP

Year after year, every poker player at the World Series of Poker experiences the same feeling. After anxiously anticipating the start of the WSOP, the summer series takes off like a rocket ship, flying by at an astronomical pace. This year is no exception, as it seems like yesterday that the 44th annual WSOP began with an action-packed 62-event schedule. Incredibly we're halfway home and this summer has already had some memorable moments. Participation is up 27 percent (40,039 entrants) and at 44-year highs. The side action (cash games, Deepstacks and satellites) are thriving on their own (up 35 percent) and $54 million has been awarded through 31 events. The Rio is still the place to be.

Records Broken:

During the first half of the 44th annual WSOP, we have already seen several records smashed:

Event 6, aka "The Millionaire Maker": With 6,343 entries, the "Millymaker" had the largest re-entry field and the largest non-main event field size in the history of the WSOP. Additionally, the event had the most unique number of players with 5,044, not including any WSOP main event. Champion Benny Chen shattered the record for most earned in a $1,500 buy-in event, taking home $1,199,104 for his victory. The success of this event will probably mean that it's here to stay in the future. WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart tweeted out "‪#millymaker here to stay. but let's keep it special. Millymaker open, main event close."

Event #26, aka "Seniors Event": This special event created the largest single flight poker tournament in the history of the WSOP. Facing off against a field of 4,407 entries, 68-year old Utah retiree Ken Lind captured the bracelet, the Golden Eagle trophy and $634,809 for his memorable victory.

The Year of Dan Kelly: Eight cashes, two final tables, $465,934 in earnings.

Many players would be happy with these statistics over an entire career. However, for Dan "djk123" Kelly, he has accomplished all of this at only the halfway mark at the 2013 WSOP. Kelly is on pace to crush the all-time WSOP summer cashing record which stands at 11, broken last year by Konstantin Puchkov, and the record for the entire year, which is 12, also held by Puchkov. Kelly has already cashed in the $1,100 Accumulator at WSOP APAC, so he has nine cashes for the entire 2013 season.

Amazingly, the 24-year old from Maryland has accomplished these stats playing against some of the toughest fields in the world. Six of the eight cashed events has had buy-ins of $3,000 or greater. He has also navigated through some largest field events, including "The Millionaire Maker" where he finished in fifth place out of 6,343 entrants. That performance earned him $302,144, his third-largest score of his career.

Two Bracelets, One Year:

Since 2000, at least one player has captured two bracelets during a single year. Last year, the multiple bracelet run looked like it was in jeopardy as no player leaving the summer respite had more than one bracelet. However, Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Hellmuth both captured their second bracelet of the year at WSOP Europe, and, in October, Greg Merson would not be outdone, capturing the real Big One, the 2012 WSOP main event. The streak is already safe and intact in 2013 as Arizona native Tom Schneider has already captured two bracelets in nine days, winning both HORSE events in the first half (Event 15: $1,500 HORSE and Event 29: $5,000 HORSE). Now, the 53-year-old still has half the summer to tie or better the record for most bracelets in one year, which is three. Puggy Pearson (1973), Phil Hellmuth (1993), Ted Forrest (1993), Phil Ivey (2002) and Jeffrey Lisandro (2009) have accomplished that feat.

Back in 2007, Schneider also won two bracelets (Event 5, $2,500 Omaha/Seven-Card Stud High-Low eight-or-better, $1,000 Seven-Card Stud High-Low eight-or-better), making him only the eighth player to ever win multiple bracelets in different years. The other seven multiple-time bracelet winners are Doyle Brunson (1976, 1977), Gary Berland (1978, 1979), Ted Forrest (1993, 2004), Men Nguyen (1995, 2003). Layne Flack (2002, 2003), Phil Ivey (2002, 2009), Phil Hellmuth (1993, 2003, 2012). Hellmuth is the only player to have achieved this three times.

When he captured his first two WSOP bracelets in 2007, Schneider went on to become WSOP Player of the Year. With his victories this year, he's making another run and also trying to become the first player ever to become a two-time WSOP POY. The player that he is chasing is none other than Daniel Negreanu, who was the 2004 WSOP POY. Dan Kelly is third in the race.

Adding to the Family Jewels:

In addition to Tom Schneider, several other players have already added to their bracelet collection to become multiple bracelet-winners.

• Cliff Josephy: Event 9: $3,000 no-limit hold 'em shootout. This was his second bracelet victory (previous bracelet won in 2005: $1,500 seven-card stud).
• Mike Matusow: Event 13: $5,000 seven-card stud high-low split eight-or better. This was fourth bracelet (1999: $3,500 no-limit hold 'em; 2002: $5,000 Omaha high-low split eight-or-better; 2008: $5,000 2-7 no-limit single draw no-limit w/ rebuys).
• Mark Radoja: Event 16: $10,000 heads-up no-limit hold 'em. This was his second bracelet (2011: $5,000 no-limit hold 'em shootout).
• Athanasios Polychronopoulos: Event 17: $1,500 no-limit hold 'em. This was his second bracelet (2011: $1.500 no-limit hold 'em).
• David Kitai: Event 19: $5,000 pot-limit hold 'em. This was his second bracelet (2008: $2,000 pot-limit hold 'em). Kitai is the only one of five players who are winners of the Triple Crown of Poker (WSOP Bracelet, World Poker Tour main event title and European Poker Tour main event title). With this victory, he is now the only one of these five to have multiple WSOP bracelets.
• David Chiu: Event 23: $2,500 seven-card stud. This was his fifth bracelet (1996: $2,000 limit hold 'em; 1998: $3,000 limit hold 'em; 2000: $5,000 seven-card stud; 2005: $5,000 Omaha high-low).

Incredible First Half:

In addition to Dan Kelly, there are several other players who have had a big first half of the 44th annual WSOP, making multiple final tables:

Three Final Tables:

• Matthew Ashton: The Englishman has had three cashes this summer, all final tables, but has yet to capture his first WSOP bracelet (third in Event 5, second in Event 13 and seventh in Event 23).
• David "Bakes" Baker: The two-time WSOP bracelet winner has had three chances already this year to capture his third but has just come up a little short (sixth in Event 9, fourth in Event 13, eighth in Event 17).

Two Final Tables:

• Owais Ahmed: The 2011 WSOP bracelet winner almost added his name to the multiple bracelet winner list (fourth in Event 5, second in Event 15).
• Nicholas Blumenthal: Wisconsin native, more commonly known as Eddie, has had a pair of seventh place finishes this summer in Event 15 and Event 22.
• Joe Cada: The 2009 WSOP main event champion tried to become the first WSOP champ to win a bracelet post-main event victory since Carlos Mortensen. However, after two fourth place finishes in Event 4 and Event 17, the Matador still is the last one.
• Marco Johnson: The veteran poker professional had four career WSOP final tables prior to this year and has already added two more in 2013 (eighth in Event 8, third in Event 31).
• Greg Mueller: A pair of third place finishes (Events 8 and 29) keeps the former hockey player still at two WSOP bracelets.
• Max Steinberg: The 2012 bracelet winner has made two final tables and in his last one, he was a three-outer away from capturing his second bracelet. Steinberg also finished in second place in the 2013 WSOP National Championship to Jonathan Hilton (seventh in Event 9, second in Event 27).
• Viatcheslav Ortynskiy: While Tom Schneider emerged as champion of both HORSE events, Ortynskiy made both finals tables finishing third and fourth.

Oh Canada …

The United States-Canadian border is longest international border in the world shared by two countries. This summer, the Canadians have come in force, invading Las Vegas with a sole purpose … to win as many WSOP bracelets as possible. And they're succeeding in that effort.

Before this summer, the record for most bracelets won by Canadians was six, set last year. This summer, already through only 31 events, seven Canadians are taking hardware back over the border. A 32-year-old restaurant manager Benny Chen, took home almost $1.2 million for the inaugural Millionaire Maker event. The most recent champion, 23-year-old student Jason Duval, had another famous Canadian on his rail, 2010 WSOP main event champion Jonathan Duhamel.

What's ahead:

The WSOP is off to a hot start and there's still four weeks left. Here are some of the events to mark on your calendar:

• Event 43: $10,000 2-7 single draw (no-limit): As historians share, as the WSOP main event championship was being determined during its inception, the players initially were deciding between no-limit Texas hold 'em and no-limit 2-7 single draw. Hold 'em is a much better game to draw in the masses and the world of poker is much better for this decision, but this tournament regularly draws the best players in the world.
• Event 47: $111,111 One Drop High Rollers Tournament: After last year's tremendous success with the $1 million buy-in, Guy Laliberte will certainly draw more players for this "reduced" buy-in event. Everyone is wondering about the turnout and using the 2009 40th anniversary special $40,000 buy-in as a reference point (which had 201 players), I predict 141 entrants.
• Event 51: $10,000 Ladies World Championship: With the increased rate to deter men from entering, many are curious to see if any men choose to pay full price just to make a statement. The ladies will receive a discounted entry cost of only $1,000. As I wrote before the start of the WSOP, I still do not believe that any men will buy in and this new registration system should make the event the first truly all women's event at the WSOP in the past few years.
• Event 52: $25,000 Six-handed no-limit hold 'em: The tournament that kicked off Greg Merson's run last summer is sure to bring out the best shorthanded no-limit players in the world.
• Event 55: $50,000 Poker Players Championship: Many players want to win the WSOP main event for the fame and fortune, but for the prestige, this event is the tournament that professional poker players want to add to their resume. Incredibly, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi has captured the event two of the past three years (2010 and 2012).
• Event 58: $1,111 The Little One for One Drop: "The Millionaire Maker" had 6,343 entrants. Could this event eclipse this newly set record? The tournament will have two flights and also unlimited re-buys during each flight during the first four levels. The only thing going against the event is that the starting days are on Wednesday and Thursday, where the largest fields often show up on weekends.
• Event #62: $10,000 main event: Enough said! I'm going to stick with my previous prediction: 6,225 players, which would make the tournament the eighth-largest in the history of the WSOP.