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Gaming Guru

Jeff Haney

Jeff Haney glimpses a World Series 'Big One' that's sure to be high on drama, attendance

7 July 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A festival atmosphere greeted thousands of poker players, spectators and curiosity seekers at the opening day of the main event of the 39th annual World Series of Poker Thursday at the Rio.

It's officially designated "Day 1A" because the first round of the main event, also known as the "Big One," is divided into four sessions, one a day through Sunday.

The no-limit Texas hold 'em tournament, which has carried a $10,000 entry fee since the early 1970s, traditionally determines poker's ceremonial world champion — at least for the year.

Even as the popularity of big-time tournament poker has soared in recent years, and events with higher buy-ins and tougher fields — such as the World Series $50,000 HORSE tournament — have emerged, the World Series main event has retained its cachet as the centerpiece of poker's worldwide calendar.

Officials with the World Series were prepared to deal with — and to — as many 3,000 players on each of the first four days of first-round play, although early, informal estimates had the tally for Day 1A at about half that figure.

The number of players entered in the 2008 main event and the tournament's prize pool will not be available until after Sunday, Day 1D.

Last year's main event drew a field of 6,358 players and was won by Jerry Yang of Temecula, Calif., who earned $8.25 million. That prize alone was enough to rank Yang No. 12 on the list of all-time poker tournament money winners, according to the Hendon Mob, which tracks tournament results.

The 2006 main event attracted a record-high 8,773 players and was won by Jamie Gold of Malibu, Calif., who collected a top prize of $12 million, also a record.

If the throng that crowded the hallways and the vast tournament area at the Rio on Thursday is an indication, the 2008 Big One will generate another healthy field if not a record.

After making their way through the Gaming Life Expo and its booths filled with myriad poker consumer products, players and fans packed the Rio's Amazon Room, where they were treated to the sight of a tuxedo-clad Wayne Newton delivering the customary proclamation "Shuffle up and deal!"

The cards were in the air by a little after noon Thursday. Play continues through July 14, when the tournament field will be narrowed to its final nine players. After a hiatus of nearly four months, the main event will resume with the final table Nov. 9, with the winner to be determined Nov. 10.

The long gap in the action, a new twist this year, has dominated discussions of the main event at the World Series.

Proponents of the move say it will create an unprecedented buzz around the final table by building anticipation throughout the four-month break until the same-day TV coverage of the finals in November.

Detractors claim it corrupts the tradition of the venerable World Series and could afford an unfair advantage to amateur finalists, who would ostensibly spend four months building a scouting report by studying video footage of the past performances of their professional opponents.

There is no sanctioned wagering on the outcome of the World Series of Poker in Nevada sports books, although a thriving underground betting economy has always accompanied the event.

The offshore gambling operation Bodog posted a variety of betting propositions on the World Series, including one asking if this year's winner will be a former main event champion. The odds opened at 25-1 and closed at 20-1.

Although bettors who took those odds would have only a couple of dozen players working for them at best, they would include some of the most formidable names in tournament poker, such as Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Dan Harrington, Huck Seed, Scotty Nguyen and Chris Ferguson.