As Day 2 commenced at The Big One for One Drop, it was obvious the mood was a little different. Gone was the exuberance, the joy at merely being here. In its stead, true game faces were being worn for a day that will leave us with our final table of eight established. Even Guy Laliberte politely refused an interview, wishing to maintain focus as he entered the fray. You can hardly blame the man, given the nine levels of poker, essential emcee role and myriad interviews he gave for the cause less than 24 hours ago.
Midway through Day 2, this field looks tremendously different. Where five tables started the day, only three now stand. The eliminations came fast and furious in the early going. Chamath Palihapitiya lost his stack to John Morgan in the first hand. 20 minutes later, Frederic Banjout handed Vivek Rajkumar his walking papers. Mikhail Smirnoff hit quads again, this time playing them all the way and taking out both Daniel Negreanu and Tom Dwan. Throw in Phil Galfond and Noah Schwartz and in total, six players went out in the first hour of play, five of them pros. In the thirty minutes that followed, Thomas Reinkemeier, Phil Ruffin and John Morgan were gone. Paul Newey, Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, Ben Lamb, Bob Bright, Dan Shak and finally Smirnov -- who donated to Laliberte's cause --rounded out the day's eliminations as of 8 p.m. ET. One hour later, Jason Mercier and Rick Solomon were also searching for their next game.
Brian Rast, our Day 1 chip leader, is still going strong, and Frederic Banjout, the top businessman coming into the day has continued to build his stack, but Phil Hellmuth has fallen off the pace some, barely sitting above the average stack. Moving to the top of the standings are Tom Marchese, who built his stack on Ben Lamb's tournament carcass and Antonio Esfandiari, who has thrived despite having to brave yesterday's table of death gauntlet. Esfandiari jumped into the chip lead with his elimination of Mercier in a 22 million-chip pot holding A-A to Mercier's K-K. If there's a story to tell about how you got eliminated in a $1 million event, Mercier certainly, and unfortunately, has it.
With 19 players remaining, we'll weed through 11 more before we have our final table. With 18 already gone, that doesn't feel like that daunting a task, but the action is guaranteed to slow as we advance first towards our top nine money bubble and then our top eight final table. Regardless, we'll play as long as it takes, likely late into the night. Nobody ever said winning $18.3 million would be easy.
The pros remaining are a rogues gallery. Rast, Marchese, Esfandiari, Sam Trickett, Phillipp Gruissem, Hellmuth, Mike Sexton, Haralabos Voulgaris and De Wolfe. It's an impressive group, but it's just nine of the original 29. Where there were 19 businessmen in the beginning, there are now 10. They've taken the lead in the imaginary divide of a tournament that is still very obviously every man for himself. The pros have more chips though and that may give them a significant edge as the bubble approaches.