LAS VEGAS -- As the 2015 World Series of Poker main event kicked off at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Sunday, 741 players showed up for Day 1A, a little emptier than usual. Sunday was the smallest Day 1 flight for the main event since back in 2002, when 621 players crammed themselves into Benny’s Bullpen at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino -- when it must have felt as if the place were bursting at the seams.
Sure, Sunday was the day after Fourth of July celebrations -- which, in case you were unaware, are a big deal in Las Vegas -- but it was also the only weekend starting day on the 2015 main event schedule. Weekends are usually much more appealing to amateur players, who don’t have to take a day off of work unless a Day 1 shot goes well. That makes the turnout a bit scary for those gauging the health of the poker economy.
On the bright side, the 741 total is down just 30 from last year’s Day 1A number, just a 3.9 percent dip. If you believe the commentary coming from WSOP organizers, they’re confident they can hit a final number somewhere close to the last year’s 6,683 players. To do that, they’ll need to get just fewer than 6,000 players over Days 1B and 1C on Monday and Tuesday. Last year, the Day 1C field had 3,768 entrants which makes their 2015 goals seem plausible.
Aside from just the raw numbers, Day 1A lacked some of the pomp and circumstance common during the main event. Play was confined to the Brasilia room; there were no celebrities in play; and the number of notable names in the field wasn’t all that impressive.
There was, however, a trio of players who have previously enjoyed success in the main event who all found themselves in the driver’s seat for a good portion of Day 1A.
After making the 2014 November Nine and finishing third, Jorryt van Hoof returned to the main event on Sunday and almost immediately reminded people why he was able to make such a run last year. The Dutch poker pro, who flirted with the chip lead until the last level of the night, finished with 90,650 in chips.
“It was a pretty awesome day,” van Hoof said. “In general, people didn’t like to play pots against me. [It felt] like people were avoiding me more than seeking me out. It’s kind of similar [to be back in this position], but I think if I end up making Day 5 or something that I’ll have more of an advantage. Last year I wasn’t nervous either, but less nerves I guess this year.”
Jonathan Duhamel, just a week removed from winning the One Drop High Roller event for his second bracelet, continued to play well and ended up at 82,200 in chips, good enough for a spot in the top 25.
Lastly, Anton Morgenstern, who famously led the 2013 main event with 27 players left and had nearly a sixth of the chips in play before flaming out and busting in 20th place, also made quite a splash. The German poker pro was in the top of the chip counts from Level 2 onward and wound up with 115,000.
The best day belonged to William Kakon. One month to the day after winning his first WSOP bracelet in a $1,500 limit hold ’em event, Kakon bagged up the biggest stack on Sunday, finishing with 153,325 in chips. The 38-year-old real estate broker has four WSOP cashes this summer, including his bracelet win.
Barny Boatman might have had the most frustrating day of any player. A little more than 30 minutes into play, Boatman eliminated Mohammed Ayyash when he turned a set of queens against Ayyash’s pocket aces. The money went in on the turn, and after the river bricked, Boatman had collected the first elimination of the day and doubled up. It was all downhill from there, though, as Boatman failed to make it through the day.
Erik Cajelais, Fabrice Soulier, Erik Seidel, John Hennigan and BIlly Baxter were also among the 261 Day 1A casualties.
Other notables who made it through Day 1A included Talal Shakerchi, Mike Matusow, Kevin Schaffel, John Monnette, Kyle Cartwright, Steve Gee, Anton Makiievskyi, Kenny Tran and Fabian Quoss. The 480 survivors return for Day 2A on Wednesday to play another five two-hour levels.
Top Five Chip Counts
1. William Kakon – 153,325
2. Gjergj Sinishtaj – 149,100
3. Alex Tran – 142,700
4. Tomas Altamirano – 141,700
5. Patrick Madden – 140,500
Small blinds: Reigning world champ Martin Jacobson was scheduled to open the festivities with “shuffle up and deal” but wasn’t feeling that well in the morning, so 1983 sixth-place finisher Donnacha O'Dea got things started. Jacobson is expected to kick things off on Tuesday.