Gavin Smith, Shawn Buchanan Chase Eugene Katchalov At Inaugural Epic Poker League Event

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After months of speculation as to how it would come off and, more importantly, who would attend, the first tournament of the Epic Poker League’s inaugural season kicked off yesterday afternoon.

There was plenty of discussion by the players around the Palms Casino Resort, the host of the Epic Poker League tournaments, as to how many players would show up for the $20,000 buy in Six Handed No Limit Hold’em event. The over/under for that issue was 130 and those that chose the over would win their bets; 137 players would eventually make their way to the cashier’s window and take part in the tournament. With another $400,000 added to the tournament from Federated Sports and Gaming, the ownership behind the Epic Poker League, the rake free tournament has built a prize pool of $3.14 million.

In essence, the EPL tournament was what many professional players and fans of the game have long been asking for. There wasn’t a soft table any place in the Palms, as some of the best players in poker stepped up to take part in the proceedings. For history’s sake, the first three eliminations from the tournament were George Long – who had earned his seat to the EPL Main Event through the Pro/Am on Monday night – Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler and Yevgeniy Timoshenko, who had registered late for the tournament and was gone within twenty minutes of beginning play.

The surprising point of the first day of action at the EPL’s first tournament was the willingness for players to make a stand at their six handed tables. Knockouts were plentiful throughout the day as players refused to be pushed around by their peers, resulting in those painful departures. In fact, more than half the field would be eliminated by the end of Day 1 action.

One of Canada’s favorite players, Daniel Negreanu, has chosen to sit out this Epic Poker League event, although there has been no reason provided. There is a likelihood that the longtime feud between Daniel and Annie Duke, who is the commissioner of the EPL, could be the reason for Daniel’s reluctance to take part in the tournaments (even though he has the most exclusive league card, the Five Year exemption). Still, there were several of Canada’s favorite sons in attendance for Day 1 of the first EPL tournament.

At the end of Day 1 play, Gavin Smith is sitting just off the Top Ten after an excellent day of play. With 161,000 in chips, he is only slightly (200 chips) behind Erik Seidel for the bottom rung in the Top Ten. Another player chomping to get into the upper echelon of the leaderboard is Shawn Buchanan, who is right behind Gavin with 155,700. These two men, along with Sorel Mizzi, Erik Cajelais and Matt Marafioti, are carrying the Canadian banner as play begins on Wednesday.

They all will be looking up at a very impressive threesome, with two of the players still basking in their post-WSOP afterglow. Leading the field after Day 1 of the EPL Six Handed tournament is Eugene Katchalov, who has jumped out to a massive 356,300 chip stack. Katchalov is being pursued by two men who had outstanding runs during the WSOP earlier this summer.

2011 November Niner Ben Lamb currently holds down the second slot on the leaderboard, but he has some work to do to catch Katchalov. With 287,200 in chips, Lamb finds himself almost 70K in chips in back of Katchalov and has his own concerns with the only double bracelet winner of the 2011 WSOP lurking behind him.

Brian “tsarrist” Rast, who was the champion of the $50,000 Poker Players’ Championship, is currently in third place with 260,500. He earned his chips in what was called the hand of the day for the tournament. After Joseph Hachem had raised to 2400, Rast popped it up to 6500 only to see Sam Stein take it up again to 16,700. Hachem popped the remainder of his 58K stack in the center and was called by Rast. After a long deliberation, Stein reluctantly let go of his pocket kings face up, which certainly didn’t make Hachem happy as he had the other two kings. Rast did hold the hammer over both of them, pocket Aces, and they held up to eliminate Hachem late Tuesday evening.

The plan for Thursday is to whittle the 63 survivors down to just the final table, which will be played out on Friday night. Eighteen players will be paid in this event, with $43,190 going to the eighteenth place finisher. The eventual champion of the tournament Friday night will take home $982,660 and a specially created Champion’s Ring for winning the inaugural Epic Poker League event.

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Earl Burton is a veteran journalist in the poker industry, having covered the game since 2004. He has played the game much longer, however, starting out playing in family games at a very early age. He has covered tournaments across the United States, including the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker and various charitable events. Earl’s background includes writing for some of the top poker news sites in the industry as well as other poker media outlets that include Poker Player Newspaper and Canadian Poker Player Magazine. Earl keeps an unblinking eye on the poker world, offering coverage of news from the industry, tournament action, player interviews, strategy and his opinions on the game. Whenever possible, Earl will also step to the tables to demonstrate that there’s more than just writing talent behind his poker game!

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