Poker: Sorel Mizzi

The Aussie Millions has always been known for its offering of eye-popping high-roller events, but even with that precedent established, the prize pools during their 2014 festival were simply staggering. From the AU$10,000 main event to the LK Boutique $250,000 Challenge, the Crown Casino offered a great venue and year-over-year growth in each of their four biggest events. So much for a struggling poker economy.

The first of the four majors was the AU$25,000 events which fielded 65 entries, up from 30 a year ago. After the eliminations of Dan Shak, Marvin Rettenmaier and Tobias Reinkemeier in sixth through eighth, respectively, a five-way chop resulted in payouts of at least $241,785 for each of Max Altergott, Dan Smith, Jason Mercier, Marin Jacobson and Scott Seiver. Altergott came away with the title and his third victory over the past nine months.

[+] EnlargePhil Ivey
Thomas Keeling/BLUFF Phil Ivey won the AU$250,000 buy-in event at the Aussie Millions for the second time in three years.

The Aussie Millions main event, now part of the PokerStars-owned Asia Pacific Poker Tour, boasted a 6 percent increase of attendance and featured one of the most star-studded final tables we've seen in a major. If there's ever a final table that can single-handedly take care of the skill-versus-luck argument, this might be it. Fresh off a 19th-place finish in the High Roller event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Canadian Ami Barer continued his run and earned the AU$1.6 million first-place prize as he held off Sorel Mizzi, Jake Balsiger, Darren Rabinowitz, Vincent Rubaines, Andrew Phaedonos, Seiver and Eoghan O'Dea.

Mizzi's track record in this event is incredible with two second-place finishes and a third-place, a ninth-place and a 16th-place finish since 2009. He is currently third on the Canadian all-time money list. Balsiger, third-place finisher in the 2012 WSOP main event, earned his second-largest live score in this event and can keep his Twitter profile description as "I make a living by almost but not quite winning poker tournaments." Seiver (seventh), has a streak of six consecutive cashes worth at least $100,000.

As the main event wound down, the AU$100,000 Challenge shocked everyone with 76 entries (39 unique players), up from 22 last year. The tournament also offered a unique twist in the form of a 30-second "shot clock." Tournament players love to take their time making decisions and one of the most deliberate players in the poker world is Yevgeniy Timoshenko, who tweeted, "Register AM 100K. Find out it has a shot clock. While I'm in the tank on whether to unregister or not tourney starts and it's too late."

Timoshenko didn't unregister and went on to win the event for his first title since 2011 and an AU$2 million top prize. Mike McDonald, Erik Seidel, Doug Polk, Patrik Antonius, Daniel Negreanu, David Steike and Martin Jacobson also cashed for at least AU$350,000. While Negreanu's sixth-place AU$550,000 payday might seem nice, he entered the event five times.

"This event caters to a specific type of player," said Negreanu to BLUFF. "People with way too much money and lots of gamble."

Negreanu also said that entering these tournaments is a business decision and it's 100 percent of his own money.

The biggest buy-in on the schedule concluded on Monday with one of the world's best finding his way back to the winner's circle. Phil Ivey hasn't been around the tournament felt much over the past year (only five cashes in 2013), but he's often found and thrived at the Aussie Millions. Ivey won the AU$250,000 LK Boutique Challenge, topping the 46-entry field for AU$4 million. Many players, Issac Haxton (second), McDonald (third) and Negreanu (fourth) fired multiple bullets while Ivey made it through with a single entry. He battled back from a 4:1 heads-up deficit against Haxton to record the biggest single tournament cash of his career.

(Ivey's tweet references Sam Trickett, who won this event a year ago but didn't participate in 2014.)

As for Ivey, he lost his place as the No. 1 player in ESPN's poker rankings, but his efforts in Melbourne may bring him closer to overtaking Negreanu once again. Ivey, along with many of the other high rollers, now heads to South Africa for the World Poker Tour's Alpha8 stop, which features another six-figure buy-in.

Small blinds: Mike McDonald has three cashes worth at least $1 million in 2014. It's February. … It's important to note that while the Aussie Millions thrived, the World Poker Tour stop in Florida managed to put up a seven-figure prize pool at the same time. The WPT's Lucky Hearts, a $3,500 buy-in, managed 415 entries, up from 369 last year. … For all the talk about the poker economy struggling, the turnouts have been strong through the first five weeks of the year. … PartyPoker made a few adjustments to their Sunday major in New Jersey and gets a site-best 378 players to easily top their guarantee. … Anthony Merulla defeated David Paredes to win the Borgata Winter Poker Open main event title and $842,379. Paredes was unable to put one of these moments together this time around. … Former NFL defensive end Jevon Kearse is planning to participate in the PPC's Puerto Plata Poker Open. … 2005 WSOP champion Joe Hachem says poker is dying and two former champs destroyed the game's legacy. Agree? The game's longest ambassador, Mike Sexton, shared his thoughts on Hachem's opinion on the latest Poker Edge.
The second starting day of the 2013 World Series of Poker main event offered a little rejuvenation after a small and generally lackluster Day 1A. A total of 1,942 players put up $10,000 on Sunday and began what they hoped would be a life-changing tournament. The majority of the field (1,296 players) advanced after 10 hours of play, but for those like former main event champions Greg Raymer and Scotty Nguyen, 2013 bracelet winner Erick Lindgren, UFC star Georges St-Pierre and contributor Bernard Lee, this was indeed one of the toughest days of the year as they left the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino empty-handed.

One of the biggest highlights of the day was the appearance of Doyle Brunson, who weeks ago said he wouldn't be playing this Series as his body couldn't keep up with the WSOP's tournament grind. The living legend made his way into the Brasilia Room and was celebrated in front of the masses to start off the day's festivities. With his seat card in hand, Brunson headed into the Amazon Room and played through Day 1B with ease on the feature table to bag 81,025 in chips. There's still a few days go to, but Brunson already has his sights set on his first cash in the main event since 2004.

Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his WSOP main event victory, Chris Moneymaker returned to the Rio on Sunday and faced some tough competition to end the day down a little with 24,950.

"Honestly, that was probably the most grueling day of poker I've played in my life," said Moneymaker. "I started off short, never got any traction. I think the old Chris would've busted four or five times in some different spots. I just tried to remain patient and hopefully let the cards come to me."

During the final level, Moneymaker was down to under 7,000 in chips and found a key double up with pocket sixes. He rallied further to get to a day-high of 32,000, but had a few tough spots during the final 30 minutes. He'll enter Day 2 with nearly 50 big blinds.

"This is the one tournament you wait all year for," he said. "To make a deep run in it is really special. I've made Day 3 a lot, but those don't mean anything. I'm hoping to see Day 7 in the near future."

Moneymaker, Brunson and Dan Harrington will continue their quest for a second main event title Tuesday. Two other former champions, Nguyen and Raymer, failed to make it through. After Russell Thomas, Jake Balsiger and Greg Merson all advanced on Day 1A, Jesse Sylvia became the first member of last year's final table to hit the rail here in 2013. The final two women in last year's event, Gaelle Baumann and Elisabeth Hille, continued to be bonded together as both advanced as well.

Hollywood made another appearance at the Rio on Day 1B as Ray Romano and Brad Garrett brought their talents to the felt. Garrett was eliminated during the last level and joked as he made his way out of the Brasilia Room, and past his home-game foe Romano, who enjoyed every moment on Day 1B. Despite competing against talented Russian star Vitaly Lunkin, Romano thrived late and finished the day with 80,000 in chips. This is his second time to advance to Day 2 and he has never made it through to Day 3.

"I'd love to make Day 3," said Romano. "Day 3 is where it gets real exciting. I want to get past where [Kevin] Pollak got last year."

Romano joked that he had problems with aggressive players, and the only way he'll be able to top Pollak's Day 5 performance is if he's able to remedy that.

Throughout the course of the five-level Day 1s, eliminations are typically sporadic. With about 30 percent of the field failing to advance, it's safe to assume that most tables will lose a player here and there, and those empty seats will be filled by new players and new chips to be won. Sorel Mizzi was parked in the Brasilia Room all day and mentioned on Twitter how he was dealt with the unusual experience where not one player was knocked out at his table. For 10 hours, the same group competed against each other and Mizzi was the ultimate benefactor of this situation. Mizzi, one of the best live tournament players in the world, finished Day 1B with 134,100. The remaining eight opponents at his table bagged up below-starting chip stacks. Now that's how you truly dominate Day 1 of the WSOP main event.

Here's a look at the chip leaders:
1. Clement Tripodi (207,050)
2. Jevon Lam (189,250)
3. Daniel Cates (188,425)
4. Robert Russ (176,650)
5. Age Ravn (162,325)
6. Dan Owen (158,900)
7. Kenneth Silberstein (152,075)
8. Miguel Proulx (150,500)
9. Gianluca Rullo (147,800)
10. Robert Nehorayan (146,100)

The two-day attendance total is 2,885. WSOP organizers are expecting the largest one-day main event field in history on Day 1C, which begins at noon PT.

Small blinds: A couple got engaged today at the Rio during a main event break. Congrats to Rob Voigt and Cecilia Doyle! ... Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Ivey, Joseph Hachem and Jonathan Duhamel will play on Day 1C. Paul Pierce is rumored to be in the field as well. ... Loni Harwood won Event 60 to become the second female open-event winner of the 2013 WSOP. The 23-year-old from New York has played professionally live since graduating from the University of Albany with a degree in finance. She is currently third in the WSOP's Player of the Year race. ... Georges St-Pierre was poised to make Day 2 until his K-K was outflopped by A-5 during one of the final hands of the night. ... Shane Warne essentially goes unnoticed here at the Rio, something that would probably shock anyone who has ever followed cricket. With Elizabeth Hurley on his rail, Warne had a great Day 1 and finished with 91,000 in chips. ... The WSOP offered satellites that featured 10 players high-carding for a main event seat. ... The mega-satellites awarded more than 200 seats into the main event. ... Daniel Alaei won the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha World Championship early Monday morning. He won the same event in 2010.