Day 1A Recap: Champs survive small field

There's nothing like the World Series of Poker main event. The world's most prestigious poker tournament occupies most of the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, which was buzzing on Saturday as the first of three starting days kicked off with 771 players battling for the chance to win $10 million. After multiple tournaments in this WSOP with more than 7,000 players, Day 1A felt small, but the anticipation is building for massive fields in Days 1B and 1C, which are still expected to push the total field past last year's turnout of 6,352 players. Tournament organizers have been trying to communicate with players with the hopes of convincing them to register early.

The story of the day was determined early as the past two world champions made their way to the same starting table on the feature stage. Ryan Riess and Greg Merson tangled sporadically and both advanced to Day 2A, which will be held Tuesday. Riess had the more successful day and finished with 70,225 in chips, while Merson bagged only 7,125.

"It was awesome," Riess said of his first day. "I put a lot of pressure on myself, and last year ... it was more of a dream. Now, since it's a reality, I really want to do it again."

Riess' turning point came during the fourth level of play in a hand against high roller enthusiast and businessman Bill Perkins. Riess picked up aces against Perkins' kings and doubled through to finally have some chips to play with after being around 25,000 for the first few hours. Merson lost a few key pots late, but Riess was impressed with his poise and was happy to share this experience with him.

"Greg was on my rail during the final table," said Riess. "He said one time that we're fraternity brothers ... which I thought was kind of cool."

Each of the other three former champions -- Johnny Chan, Chris Moneymaker and Tom McEvoy -- also survived the day. Chan ended up the leader out of that crew with 106,000 in chips and is enjoying his time at the only tournament he's planning on playing all year. Moneymaker, finishing with 69,850, advanced to Day 2 for the eighth time out of the past 10 years and is looking for his first main-event cash since his victory in 2003.

Other players to advance include Antonio Esfandiari, Ted Forrest, Mike Sexton, Jay Farber, Annette Obrestad, Mike Matusow, Kenny Tran, Mukul Pahuja, Layne Flack and Justin Bonomo. Two players who made the 2013 main event final table, David Benefield and Marc-Etienne McLaughlin, failed to make it through, as well as Steve Gee, Phil Laak, Jason Mercier, Jean-Robert Bellande, Jeff Gross and David Chiu. Day 2A will begin with 505 players.

Here are the top 10 chip counts from Day 1A:

1. Martin Jacobson (200,100)

2. Aaron Wilt (157,650)

3. Seamus Cahill (150,775)

4. Benjamin Gold (144,875)

5. Naoya Kihara (124,225)

6. Ken Einiger (120,400)

7. Yung Hwang (118,875)

8. Kenny Tran (115,400)

9. Mukul Pahuja (114,800)

10. Alex Simic (110,675)

Main event play resumes on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

Small blinds: There have been a few players playing both live and online at the tables. It's far from convenient given the size of laptops, but when mobile apps come through in the state, I'd expect usage to increase. ... Greg Merson's Day 2 starting table includes Chris Moneymaker. ... Jay Farber claimed that this was by far the softest day of the main event in terms of ability. ... Mike Matusow can still draw a rail. Sporting a WPT DeepStacks patch, Matusow held court all day and kept the comments coming for five levels. ... The area that once held the secondary feature table now has a huge sponsored lounge. ... Eric Baldwin highlights the Little One for One Drop final table that will play out on Sunday. ... Pat Walsh won the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha event. ... Actor Kevin Pollak will be playing on Sunday. ... Some players have been vocal on Twitter with their displeasure that tables may be 10-handed on the next two starting days after action was nine-handed (or less at the beginning) on Day 1A. The WSOP will need to address that seating strategy in the future. ... Even after the conclusion of main event play on Day 1A, the Pavilion Room was filled with players trying to satellite in. ... How do we know that the poker player population is getting a little older? Talk in the hallways has shifted from the biggest parties to what their kids are watching on television.