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First week of WSOP breaking records

1 June 2009

The 40th World Series of Poker kicked off last week at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and it didn't take long for records to be broken.

Event #2, the $40,000 buy-in no-limit Hold'em tournament, set the record for the largest prize pool in a non-Main Event field, with 201 players paying $40,000 each to create a prize pool of $7.7 million.

Event #4, a $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em tournament billed as a "stimulus special," set the largest non-WSOP Main Event tournament ever played with 6,012, entries and 621 spots being paid out. The prize pool for the event is $5.4 million, and each final table participant will receive at least a six-figure payday.

And Event #3, a $1,500 Omaha 8-or-Better tournament, set the mark for the largest Omaha tournament. The event had 918 entrants, besting the old record of 833.

In terms of drama and star power, it was the $40,000 no-limit tournament that stood out.

Moscow's Vitaly Lunkin took home the gold bracelet after four days of hard-fought play. The Russian won $1.89 million after taking down Las Vegas' Issac Haxton in heads-up play.

The $40,000 tournament, created in honor of the WSOP's 40th anniversary, featured a field that included 52 players – including Lunkin -- who had previously won a WSOP bracelet.

Greg Raymer, the 2004 Main Event Champion, finished in third place. He was gunning for his second gold bracelet, and held the chip lead at various points during the final table. In fact, right before he was eliminated, all three remaining players each had almost exactly 8 million chips.

Raymer was eliminated by Haxton after his pocket fives were bested by pocked nines.

Lunkin, who began heads-up play with about half as many chips as Haxton, took the chip lead after a big all-in bet forced Haxton to lay down his cards. Lunkin's winning hand occurred after he slow-played pocket aces. Haxton's flush draw and lower pair did not hit, and Lunkin took home the title.

The most star-studded knockout of the tournament involved Phil Ivey and Phil Hellmuth on Day 1. According to the WSOP Web site, Ivey raised from middle position. Hellmuth moved all in for approximately 90,000 from the small blind and Ivey called. Hellmuth showed A-J and Ivey showed A-K. A King fell on the flop and Ivey's hand held up, knocking out Hellmuth.

Hellmuth went on to tell Bluff Magazine that "the most horrible players in the world beat me."

While the $40,000 tournaments attracted poker's brightest stars, the $1,000 "stimulus special" attracted a field of poker dreamers.

"The demand for the Stimulus Special could be felt the moment we announced it," said World Series of Poker President and Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. "We welcome all the first-time players to the World Series of Poker and wish everyone good luck in their pursuit of a gold bracelet."

The WSOP divided the 6,012 player field into two Day 1s. And after the two rounds were complete, Jeremiah DeGreef and J.C. Tran sat at the top of the leaderboard with over 130,000 chips apiece. The field will play down to the final table on Monday, with the final-table action slated for Tuesday.

While the "stimulus special" stands a good chance of seeing a first-time bracelet winner, this weekend's record-setting Omaha Hi-Low tournament saw its defending champion win again.

Thang Luu was crowned the champion after leading the tournament nearly wire-to-wire. He was the chip leader after Day 1 and was in second after Day 2.

Luu won his first bracelet in the same event last year. And he finished in second in the same event in 2007.

According to the WSOP, the last time any player has finished 1-1-2 (in any order) was Johnny Chan at the Main Event between 1987-1989, when he finished 1-1-2.

The 34-year-old professional, who moved to the U.S. from Vietnam when he was 17, doesn't plan on making any changes in future WSOP tournaments.

"I know one thing for sure. I will play in this event every year from now on!" he said.

The other major event of the first weekend was the first annual Champions Invitational, where 20 former Main Event champions battled for a beautiful cherry-red, vintage Corvette Stingray, and the inaugural Binion Cup -- honoring the WSOP's longtime home.

After Day 1, ten players remain and 2001 Champion Carlos Mortensen is the chip leader.

Carlos Mortensen -- 42,375
Tom McEvoy -- 31,000
Jim Bechtel -- 30,475
Doyle Brunson -- 20,250
Dan Harrington -- 19,975
Peter Eastgate -- 18,425
Huck Seed -- 15,400
Robert Varkonyi -- 13,450
Berry Johnston -- 7,625
Phil Hellmuth -- 1,125

First week of WSOP breaking records is republished from