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Best of Vin Narayanan
WSOP Main Event begins with a bang4 July 2008
LAS VEGAS -- The organized chaos that is the World Series of Poker Main Event began with a bang today in the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suites Resort and Casino.
The doors opened to players just after noon, and 1,297 people swarmed the floor, looking for their seats. Traffic jams abounded as players tried to locate their color-coded table.
Once the players found their seats, Jack Effel, channeling both Michael Buffer and Hank Williams Jr., warmed up the field and the crowd by asking if the players were ready to play poker. Then he turned the microphone over to WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, who wasted little time in introducing Las Vegas legend Wayne Newton.
Newton entered the tournament floor from the far end of the room, flanked by showgirls dressed in blue and white spandex tuxedos with red bow ties. Newton strode down the center aisle and joined Pollack on stage. Then the UNLV marching band rushed into the room and surrounded the stage while playing Viva Las Vegas.
Harrah's security kept the viewing public behind the ropes as they jostled to get a better look at Newton. And when Newton yelled "Shuffle up and deal," the crowd roared and cards were in the air.
After Newton cleared the stage, Scotty Nguyen popped on, wearing a white T-shirt, to shake Pollack's hand.
As the play got underway, nervous chatter was replaced with the constant clattering of chips.
A couple of minutes into the day, the first player was eliminated -- and the game was on.
Seinfeld's Jason Alexander, wearing a PokerStars logo on his shirt and hat, was among the players hitting the felt on Day 1A, and the scene at his table was a circus.
A TV camera and boom mike were tableside to record any hand Alexander was involved in. After picking up a big pot in a tense hand with three callers, Alexander vamped for the camera, mouthing "I hate this game."
And whenever Alexander won a hand, one of the players at his table, or a surrounding tables, would get on his cell phone to tell someone "George" had won a hand.
After chipping up, Alexander busted out of the tournament when his pocket aces were cracked by a straight. As he exited the Amazon Room, a gleeful Ray Romano joined the media gaggle to watch Alexander explain to the ESPN cameras how he had busted out of the tournament. It turns out Romano and Alexander had made a $1,000 last longer bet, and Romano now had some of Alexander's money in addition to bragging rights.
Gavin Smith tried to avoid the same fate as Alexander by switching chairs in the middle of play in an effort to improve his luck. But it didn't work. And he busted out before the dinner break.
While Alexander and Smith were busting out, the rest of the field in the Amazon Room tried to settle in for what they were hoping to be a long night.
Most players ditched the green Everest Poker seat pads and settled into the unadorned seat cushions. Masseuses circled the floor, ministering to tense muscles and nerves.
The head massage was particularly popular today, with more than a few players treating their bare, or crew cut, scalps to a luxurious rub down.
Joe Gualtierie even won a massage for hitting the first royal flush of the day.
Anna Wroblewski also drew attention because of her hair. The "Poker Pixie" was showing off hair with green, purple and blue streaks along with a healthy chip stack.
During the periodic 20 minute breaks given to players, some of the dealers entertained themselves with some singing and jokes.
"Why is there no poker in heaven?" joked one dealer. "Because there's no dealers."
Another dealer took Newton's appearance to heart and regaled the room with a bars of Danke Schoen.
As play continued, Internet stars Phil Galfond and Tom "Durrr" Dwan were sent packing, as were top live players like last year's $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. champion Freddy Deeb and 1995 Main Event champ Dan Harrington, who was wearing his customary green Red Sox hat. And as players were eliminated and the shouts of "seat open" became more prevalent, the WSOP staff consolidated play into a smaller set of tables, and started running cash games in the unused tables. Soon, the Amazon Room was full again, with three-quarters of the players in the room chasing down poker's greatest prize, and one-quarter chasing cash for their next buy-in.
Notable eliminations: Erica Schoenberg, Mekhi Phifer, Alan Smurfit, Jack Haley, Josh Arieh, J.J. Liu, "Miami" John Cernuto, Joe Sebok, Roland de Wolfe, Juha Helppi, Tuan Lam, Ralph Perry, Phil Galfond, Eric Froehlich, Katja Thater, Raymond Rahme, Lyle Berman, Eli Elezra, David Pham and David "Devilfish" Ulliott.
Best of Vin Narayanan