Poker: Brandon Shack-Harris

There's a fresh feeling at the World Series of Poker main event on Sunday. After a small field on Saturday that would make the average bystander question why people would consider this the most important tournament in the world, all three rooms are packed Sunday with an extensive footprint that offers an appropriate answer. Saturday was the travel day for the majority of these players and with more than 2,000 players currently at the felt, the main event is back on track to topping last year's field.
[+] EnlargeBrandon Shack-Harris
Andrew Feldman/ESPN.comBrandon Shack-Harris leads the 2014 WSOP Player of the Year race entering the main event.

One of the player's in Sunday's field has been in Las Vegas all summer and may be the most popular man at the Rio. Chicago native Brandon Shack-Harris walks the hallways with a smile on his face. Constantly approached by friends, the hoodie-wearing cash game professional is about as relaxed as it gets, providing positive thoughts to all who cross his path. He's willing to talk to everyone and anyone, and as part of the World Series of Hugs, you can't end a conversation without an embrace. Nobody is turning him down.

Shack-Harris captured gold in Event 3 and followed up his win with five more cashes that included three top-three finishes. He enters the main event as the leader in the 2014 WSOP Player of the Year race, holding a lead that can be erased with one min-cash by double-bracelet winner George Danzer, who is also playing Sunday.

The professional cash-game player has had a summer that every player dreams about and on Sunday he's seated in the Pavilion Room playing in his first WSOP main event. After years of selling smaller packages to his investors that featured small buy-in events, Shack-Harris offered one that included the main event and he's hoping his run can continue.

"It's weird to reflect on it," Shack-Harris said of his current WSOP success. "To see the actual scale of the WSOP, that so many play, and to think that I'm currently at the top, it's surreal to think about."

Shack-Harris has played poker for the past 10 years, and was strongly affected by the Black Friday indictments. His focus has always been on mixed games and the main event is only his third no-limit hold 'em event of the year. Strategies are different and Shack-Harris is trying to keep it all in perspective.

"I'd like to try for a low-variance approach," he said. "But my table is filled with aggression."

Before cards hit the air, friends told him about the weaker play often found in this event. Shack-Harris hasn't seen much of that, understanding that he's drawn a tough starting table. That said, his tablemates haven't all figured out who is seated with them.

"Someone at the table said I won a bracelet in pot-limit Omaha," he said. "That's about it and I'm very happy about that."

Through four hours, Shack-Harris has chipped up above the starting stack. A final table in this event will definitely help his cause in the Player of the Year race, but it seems that he'll be off to WSOP Asia-Pacific regardless as those 10 bracelet events are included in the competition. Traveling seems likely given that Shack-Harris doesn't have a firm home right now. The ability to play online poker enticed him to travel to Montreal and when he decided to return to Chicago, he, as he stated, became "keeper of a recording studio" that one of his friends owns. Friends have always been there for Shack-Harris and it seems he's always there for them.

The main event may not have the glitz and glamor as a result of television coverage not beginning until Day 4, but Shack-Harris finds it refreshing nonetheless. He said his excitement about the event will pick up later in the tournament, but for now, it's all business.

"It's just a game to me," he said of the tournament. "I'm going to focus on winning it right now."

Small Blinds: Ray Romano performed Sunday's shuffle up and deal and had his son, now 21, come up on stage. Romano paid for his son's entry and offered a drink for anyone who eliminates his kid from contention. … Romano and Kevin Pollak are seated at adjacent tables and there is no stated last longer like last year. … There are a number of players who are pushing for cancer awareness. Do yourself a favor and read Brad Willis' story on two of them. … The satellite room continues to churn out winners. A field of 960 participated in Sunday's $1,000 buy-in event. … Russell Thomas, Dan Shak, Chris Moorman, David Sands and Kevin Saul didn't make it through Level 3. … Chris Moneymaker and other 2003 WSOP alums will be doing an autograph signing on Monday. Wonder if Sammy Farha wants a copy of Eric Raskin's new book. … Dan Harrington and Huck Seed are seated together on the feature table set Sunday. This is the second day in a row that two main event champions are at the same table. … The Day 1A Poker Edge daily podcast can be found here. … The 2014 WSOP bracelet count by country (with three events left): USA (51), Germany (4), France (2) and Belgium, Italy, Israel, Russia & UK (1). … There are five players left at the Little One for One Drop final table, including bracelet winner Eric Baldwin. … Nationwide driver Jason White is in Sunday's field. … Bertrand Grospellier and Philip Gruissem are seated together.