Over 8,000 entrants make WSOP top prize $11.7M

LAS VEGAS -- Amateurs, seasoned pros and celebrities sat down Friday as the chips were divvied up and the cards dealt at the world's biggest poker game, the main event at the World Series of Poker.

By 2:30 p.m., there were 8,580 entrants registered, pushing the
top prize to $11.7 million.

Alternates were waiting in the wings and new players were being
accepted until Monday, when the grand prize could swell even

At the very least, the last 12 players still standing when the
37th annual no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament wraps up will become
millionaires. The final table is scheduled to begin play Aug. 10.

"Everybody's got dreams and aspirations but you've got to get
through a lot of people here," said Greg Severson, a 45-year-old
building contractor from Upland, Calif., who qualified for his
$10,000 seat online.

"One step at a time," he said. "First break, dinner break,
first day. One day at a time."

By the break after the first two hours, about 80 players already
had been eliminated. The first field of 2,140 players was set to
play as long as it takes to get down to 900. A staggered start over
four days will chop the field in half by Tuesday.

Celebrities such as "Spider-Man" star Tobey Maguire, Mekhi
Phifer from "ER," James Garner of "The Rockford Files" and
boxer Antonio Tarver ponied up to the felt for $10,000 each. Pros
Gus Hansen, Eli Elezra, Michael Mizrachi, Barry Greenstein and Juan
Carlos Mortensen also took to the tables Friday.

There was even a gaseous nun.

"Life's short," said Barbara Silvers, a 54-year-old retired
card dealer from New Orleans, dressed in a nun's habit despite
being Jewish. She lifted a cheek to cue her noisemaking cushion.
"If you don't like this life, I feel sorry for you."

Thirty-three days of poker have led up to the main event at the
Rio hotel-casino. In earlier rounds, a 21-year-old University of
California-Santa Barbara student, Jeff Madsen, became a
millionaire, and pro Phil Hellmuth Jr. won his 10th bracelet, tying
the record with poker greats Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson and
Johnny Chan.

James McManus, a poker player who became famous when Harper's
magazine assigned him to cover the World Series in 2000 and he
ended up placing fifth for $247,760, said on Day 1 of the main
event, he's already "kind of pooped."

"I've been here since June 26th," McManus said. "If I
advance, it'll be seven weeks. It, at least for me, answers the
question, 'How much is too much poker?'"