LAS VEGAS -- After much anticipation, the World Series of Poker main event kicked off on Saturday at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. Ellen Deeb, the 92-year-old poker-playing grandmother of top pro Shaun Deeb, began the festivities with the customary "Shuffle up and deal." Players were spread out between the Amazon Room and Pavilion Room as the WSOP's enhanced footprint this year offered a more spacious atmosphere for the players as they began their quest for the world championship.
The first of three starting days, known as Day 1A, featured a smaller field of 1,066 players, including former WSOP main event champions Pius Heinz, Phil Hellmuth, Berry Johnston, Jim Bechtel and Joseph Hachem. Only two world champions would survive the day, Heinz and Johnston, and all eyes were on the German defending champ.
Heinz sat down to little fanfare and went straight to work. He learned instantly that his exposure may have hurt his table image as his opposition continued to call his raises without hesitation. As a result, Heinz's chip count was among the lowest in the room very quickly. Heinz's return from the short stack came from two hands during the final hour. On the first hand, Heinz moved all-in after a flop of As-3s-5s. As cameras shifted and the fans in the ESPN arena moved to their feet, his opponent took his time to carefully study the situation. When he finally called, both players showed flopped flushes with Heinz holding Js-4s for the best hand against his opponent's 8s-7s. With that pot, he finally reached a starting stack (30,000 in chips) for the first time since Level 2. Heinz then eliminated an opponent by flopping a set of queens against A-Q. The 2011 WSOP main event champion ended the day with 39,275 in chips.
Hellmuth, the 1989 WSOP main event champion, didn't find any success on Saturday. As expected, Hellmuth made a late entrance, taking his seat midway through Level 3. His stack plummeted immediately and after putting up a strong fight during Level 4, Hellmuth was eliminated during the final level of the night when his A-J ran into the pocket 3s of Michael Tureniec on a A-10-3 flop. Although it was a disappointing main event, Hellmuth had another successful WSOP with six cashes, three final tables and one win. Two other main event champions, Hachem and Bechtel, were also eliminated during early action. Other notable Day 1 eliminations include 2010 WSOP Player of the Year Frank Kassela, Greg Mueller, Matt Glantz, Soi Nguyen and Chris Klodnicki.
William John ended the day as the chip leader of the 657 remaining players. John's chip count came as a surprise to many during the last level, and with 266,700, he has 100,900 more than his nearest competition (Gerardo Lubas). Other notables at the top of the chip counts include bracelet winner Chance Kornuth, online poker pro David "ghettofabolous" Randall, Eric Baldwin, Faraz Jaka and Filippo Candio.
Actor Kevin Pollack made his WSOP debut a success and survived Day 1 with 43,900. Ray Romano was not as lucky and busted late on Saturday. Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo made it to Day 2 with 41,000 in chips. His brother Fabio was one of the chip leaders during Level 4 and made it through with an above-average stack.
Here's a look at the unofficial chip leaders:
1. William John (266,700)
2. Gerardo Lubas (165,800)
3. Daniel Strelitz (164,125)
4. Dane Lomas (157,600)
5. Chance Kornuth (141,775)
6. Johnathan Cuevas (141,675)
7. Eric Kurtzman (136,900)
8. David Randall (132,750)
9. Vasile Buboi (132,075)
10. Leo Wolpert (128,300)
All surviving players will return for Day 2 on Tuesday. While both survivors from Day 1A and Day 1B will return on Tuesday for their Day 2, the fields will play in separate rooms.
Small blinds: A player carrying his chips to another table was bumped by another player who was stretching, which resulted in chips flying across the floor. Players and floormen searched beneath the tables to return the chips to their owner. … Dominik Nitsche earned his first bracelet as the champion of Event 59, $1,000 no-limit hold 'em. Nitsche won $654,797 for his victory over the field of 4,620. … As of the conclusion of play on Day 1A, there were more than 4,000 players registered for the main event. The next two days should easily have more than 2,000 players.