LAS VEGAS -- The real tournament begins Thursday. After three starting days and two Day 2s, the field for the World Series of Poker finally comes together on Day 3. The 842 Day 2A survivors will be joined by 911 Day 2B survivors to create a 1,753-player field, and one of those individuals will become the next world champion of poker.
Day 2B featured epic highs and dramatic lows. Sure, there were three 2011 November Niners who used their experience to build above-average stacks -- Sam Holden (352,600), Ben Lamb (271,000) and Eoghan O'Dea (193,000) -- but Day 2B also featured the elimination of 10-time WSOP champion Doyle Brunson and the consensus No. 1 player in the world, Phil Ivey.
Brunson was simply unlucky on Wednesday. The 1976 and 1977 WSOP main event champion was set back after a tough beat during Level 7, and then was eliminated while holding two pair to a flopped bottom set. It took a lot of convincing and peer pressure for Brunson to play in this year's main event, and now the debate can begin about whether he'll return to the WSOP one year from now.
The talk after Day 1C was about how quickly Ivey would put his stack in the center. Entering the day with only 22 big blinds, Ivey needed to force the issue early. He got his chips in with the good side of a coin flip (2-2 versus A-10), but his opponent flopped two pair and sent Ivey to the rail. Ivey is the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year leader, but the main event and all of WSOP Europe will be counted toward the standings.
Nearly 1,600 players were eliminated on Day 2B, and among them were: former WSOP champions Jamie Gold and Joe Cada; 2012 bracelet winners Michael Mizrachi and Andy Frankenberger; young stars Viktor Blom, David Sands, Dan Kelly, Matt Affleck and Tom Marchese; former November Niners Bob Bounahra, Jason Senti and Matt Jarvis; and actor Jason Alexander.
Lamb's run on Day 2 began after the dinner break with a lucky K-J against A-K confrontation when he hit a jack to save his tournament life. He doubled up his 26,000 at that point, then turned it into 235,000 less than two hours later. He eclipsed the 300,000 mark momentarily, but finished the day just under it. Holden was comfortable at his table in the Brasilia Room, constantly chatting with his tablemates as he built up a top-20 stack. Phil Collins also advanced to Day 3 (79,100), so five members of last year's final table are still in contention for a repeat (Pius Heinz, Lamb, O'Dea, Collins, Holden).
Another November Niner is back in the hunt once again. 2010 main event third-place finisher Joseph Cheong finished 114th a year ago and has now made Day 3 for the third consecutive year. Two-time WSOP main event champion Johnny Chan has been consistent in his own way, cashing in 2008 and 2010. He'll enter Day 3 with 194,400 to try to continue the pattern.
With 457,000 in chips, Michael Hack emerged with the Day 2B chip lead. Hack began the day with 85,650 and just edged out Italian poker pro Marco Bognanni (452,100) for the lead. Randy Haddox held the lead for the first six hours of action, but he couldn't build his stack fast enough during the last hour and finished with 407,300.
Other Day 2B survivors include Jake Cody, Marvin Rettenmaier, One Drop champion Antonio Esfandiari, John Juanda, Freddy Deeb, Shane Warne, Phil Galfond, Jason Mercier, Sorel Mizzi, Chris Moorman and Will Failla.
Five levels of play are scheduled for Thursday, and the field is expected to be reduced by another 1,000 players. When action resumes in Level 11, the blinds will be 800/1,600 with a 200 ante.
Here's a look at the unofficial chip leaders:
1. Michael Hack (457,000)
2. Marco Bognanni (452,100)
3. Jonathan Fountain (435,400)
4. Randy Haddox (407,300)
5. John Leathart (404,900)
6. Erik Hellman (397,900)
7. David Kluchman (383,000)
8. Jim Burns (381,600)
9. Fransois Tosques (372,200)
10. Luke Brereton (372,000)
Small blinds:Poker Edge guests include Johnny Chan, Chris Moorman, Antonio Esfandiari and Eoghan O'Dea. O'Dea told me he's seen a significant change in how his opponents play against him, but he's finally caught on and has been using it to his advantage. Esfandiari and his tablemates were once again playing "Lodden Thinks" during today's action. Esfandiari also said that he tried to get the game going during One Drop, but everyone wanted to focus. Chris Moorman is celebrating his 27th birthday on Thursday. By the end of play on Day 3, all players should be in the Amazon Room. Chan had an orange in front of him at the table today. It's the first time in a while I remember his having the once-iconic piece of fruit at the felt. Back when smoking was allowed in card rooms, Chan would scratch and sniff the orange often as he enjoyed the smell. O'Dea and Bounahra started Day 2B at the same table. Ryan Eriquezzo won the WSOP National Championship. The average stack is 112,000. I never understood why the bar in the hallway outside the tournament area closed before play ended over the past few years. The WSOP has changed that, and that bar is the first stop for main event players on their way out of the Rio. I don't get the all-out scalp massages. The masseuse was literally crushing Joe Tehan's head as he was making a tough call for his tournament life. I can't imagine that focusing was easy with that going on. ESPN cameras start rolling tomorrow for our main event episodes this summer. Catch all the WSOP main event action starting Aug. 14.