When the tournament started on Saturday, 125 players posted the $25,000 buy in and received a massive 100,000 in chips to begin play. As the day wore on at the Bellagio, players drifted in and drove the Day One field to 188 players. This number will more than likely climb today, as registration will be allowed until the end of Level Eight, which should arrive around 5PM (Pacific Time), and it is conceivable that the field will eclipse the 195 runners who came to the felt for the 2010 version of this tournament.
Wherever you looked in the Fontana Room, the brightest stars of the world of poker were out taking their shot at winning one of the most prestigious tournaments in the game today. Some players, including defending champion David Williams, have decided to wait until today to put their money down to get in the game, but there were plenty of top names at the tables for fans on Saturday. There was also a bit of turmoil, as a player who has a jaded recent history in the international tournament arena came to the baize for action.
Ali Tekintamgac is a name that many followers of the European tournament trail would know, if not from his performance then from some issues that the German has faced during tournaments. Tekintamgac was the champion of the 2010 WPT Spanish Championship, earning a €278,000 payday, but there were questions about some of his entourage and their conduct at the tables. These issues came to a boiling point in a tournament in September 2010.
At the Partouche Poker Tour event in Cannes, France last year, Tekintamgac’s opponents noticed that people who were blogging about the tournament allegedly appeared to be signaling to Tekintamgac (when he was in hands) what his opponents were holding. The signaling was apparently so blatant that, although he made the final table, Tekintamgac was disqualified from the tournament by Partouche Poker Tour officials and did not receive any payday for making the final table. Since that time, Tekintamgac has not cashed in a poker tournament, but he will sit on 151,000 in chips when Day 2 begins this afternoon in the WPT Championship.
With such deep stacks, there were only a handful of eliminations in the first day of action. By the end of Day One play, Christian “charder30” Harder had surged to the top of the leader board, sitting on a 249,975 chip stack. Harder wasn’t running away from the field, however, as top pro Ali Eslami sat approximately 9000 chips behind Harder for the lead. 2011 WPT Shooting Stars champion Alan Sternberg is making his case for the WPT Player of the Year title, currently sitting in fifth place, while Curt Kohlberg and Taylor Von Kriegenbergh (the runner up and champion at the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Showdown, respectively) are both making their own runs at the WPT POY award.
Perhaps one of the best stories of Day One was the play of poker legend Doyle Brunson. “Texas Dolly,” perhaps getting himself in shape for the grind of the upcoming World Series, looked to be at the top of his game at the WPT Championship. He worked his way through the difficult field to sit in sixth place starting Day Two with 230,000 in chips, but it could have been a bigger stack for Doyle. “Didn’t want to play last pot,” Doyle admitted over Twitter. “Shoved 200K at 7K pot with 2 kings. (I’m a) wuss,” he good naturedly joked.
With registration lasting until around 5PM this afternoon, the total number of players is as yet unknown but it is highly likely the number will pass 200, building a prize pool over $5 million. There are still questions as to whether players who have been the featured face for many of the online poker rooms affected by “Black Friday” will be stepping to the felt or not.
While Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Barry Greenstein, Eric “basebaldy” Baldwin and Mike Matusow have all stepped up and taken their seats at the WPT Championship, such players as Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Phil Gordon, Jennifer Harman, Allen Cunningham, Joe Sebok, Prahlad Friedman and Phil Hellmuth have not been seen at a tournament since April 15. It is very strange that such luminaries in the poker world would bypass a tournament that is as prestigious as the WPT Championship.
Action will resume in the WPT Championship at noon Pacific Time, with the tournament taking its usual Bellagio-inspired gradual pace to the championship table on May 20.
By EARL BURTON