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Howard Stutz

Chipping away

9 July 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- It took four days to eliminate nearly half of the competition in the World Series of Poker's main event. Sometime early Thursday morning, between 1,800 and 2,000 poker players will be left in the running for the top prize of $9.12 million.

A field of 6,844 players entered the $10,000 buy-in No Limit World Championship at the Rio on Thursday. By the time play ended Sunday, 3,663 players remained.

The field will be cut to the final table of nine players early Tuesday morning. Those players will return to the Rio in November to determine the champion.

After a day off Monday, players who survived the opening round of play returned to the Rio for two more days of elimination.

Among the competitors left was 2007 champion Jerry Yang, but 1998 champion Scotty Nguyen busted out.

Nguyen collected nearly $2 million a week ago for winning the $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. world championship. Yang, who won $8.25 million a year ago in beating a field of 6,358 players, survived play Sunday and will return to the tournament today.

World Series of Poker spokesman Nolan Dalla said the size of the field requires using two makeshift poker rooms at the Rio and multiple first days of elimination. The goal, he said, is to have the field in one room by Thursday.

In addition to Yang, several other former world poker champions are still alive in the tournament, including Johnny Chan (1987 and 1988) and Phil Hellmuth (1989), who between them have won 21 World Series of Poker titles.

Other former champions still in the running are Brad Dougherty (1991), Carlos Mortensen (2001), Chris Moneymaker (2003), and Joe Hachem (2005).

Robert Varkonyi, who won the main event in 2002, survived the opening days but was eliminated Tuesday afternoon.

Other notable poker professionals still playing include Phil Gordon, Steve Dannemann, Jennifer Harman, Erik Seidel, Howard Lederer, David Singer, Mike Matusow, Sammy Farha, Rhett Butler and Allen Cunningham.

The majority of the main event field includes lesser-known professionals, amateurs, and Hollywood and sports celebrities.

A handful of major celebrities survived the first round, including actress Shannon Elizabeth of "American Pie" fame, and actor Ray Romano, who began play Tuesday with a little more than $61,000 in chips. This was the second straight year the star of "Everybody Loves Raymond" has played in the main event.

Romano confided to Dalla that he reread poker legend Doyle Brunson's classic book, "Super/System," the night before he played.

Sully Erna, the lead singer for Godsmack, who cashed in the two previous main events, will play today, although he is low on chips.

Some of the celebrities whose $10,000 investment didn't carry very far included former Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Tilly and "Seinfeld" star Jason Alexander, who played several days into the tournament a year ago.

Sports celebrities eliminated early included former UFC champion Chuck Liddell, UFC Light Heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin, as well as several former Major League Baseball stars, including Orel Hershiser, Jose Canseco and David Wells.

Professional golfer Paul Azinger, who is also captain of the 2008 Ryder Cup Team, made the cut and will play today.

Russian poker player Nikolay Evdakov, who set a record at this year's World Series of Poker for the most times finishing in the money in a single year with 10, survived his opening round and will play Wednesday. Evdakov has won more than $210,000 at this year's tournament, with his highest finish being 12th place in the tournament's first event.