Commentary

Rast leads Big One after Day 1

Updated: July 2, 2012, 3:07 PM ET
By Gary Wise | Special to ESPN.com

We've discussed the The Big One for One Drop, recognizing it for what it was, namely history in the making. The anticipation for the $1 million buy-in created by Guy Laliberte was unlike that of any event that preceded it. With the community that provides the foundation for the World Series of Poker keenly awaiting the unfolding of events, those present couldn't help but get a little whiplash at every chuckle, yell or curse. After all, each one could signal the change in course of a career. No big deal.

[+] EnlargeOne Drop Group
Jay Newnum/WSOP.comThe 48 participants in the Big One for One Drop posed for photos before the start of play.

When the dust settled on Sunday's Day 1, we had some of the answers. Did the businessmen know how to play? For the most part, yes. Would the buy-in's seventh figure affect the professionals? Maybe a little. Would the spectacle of the event match the build-up? The day started with Cirque de Soleil drummers performing for the crowds and accompanying the loudspeaker announcement of every name entered in the tournament. You couldn't ask for much more.

As with any Day 1, there were winners and losers, big hands and quirks. This stage magnifies them. There were bad beats, tables of death and unorthodox plays that just might have been brilliant. We'll get to it all, starting with where the chips ended up.

The leaders

Brian Rast proved he belonged a year ago with two bracelet wins, including one in the $50,000 Poker Players' Championship. Now, he is the chip leader a third of the way through The Big One. Rast worked his starting stack of 3 million to 10.7 million by day's end. Most of the climb came through small pots, but one memorable hand against 2010 world champion Jonathan Duhamel was the perfect example of just how drastically one or two cards can alter tournament lives.

It was early in the day, with the board showing Jc-6h-4c that Rast got all-in, holding pocket fours against Duhamel's Ac-6c. Rast was a 70 percent favorite, and the better hand ultimately held up.

If we look at the bigger picture, in three out of 10 scenarios, Rast is out of this tournament. Instead, Rast is our chip leader, and not long after Duhamel lost two-thirds of his stack on the pot, he was heading out the door.

Leave it to Phil Hellmuth to become a central figure in the biggest narrative of the year. This week, Hellmuth took to Twitter, seeking the remaining $400,000 he needed to get into the tournament, and when the WSOP announced all of the seats had been filled, Hellmuth seemed relegated to sideline duty. He went to the MGM Grand to act as master of ceremonies for the private satellite being held for a prepaid seat, and suddenly he was in, with a deal being reached that gave him that chair.

Phil being Phil, he showed up late for the start of Day 1, and Phil being Phil, he started stacking chips. Midway though, there was a hand he took some flak for, flat-calling Paul Phua on a Ah-Qd-2c Qh-6s board despite Phua having only 475,000 chips left in his stack and Hellmuth holding A-Q for the second nuts. When Rick Salomon said, "There's no one at this table who doesn't get it in there," Hellmuth responded as only he could: "There's no one else at this table named Phil Hellmuth."

Phil being Phil.

No matter what you think about the way he played the hand, Hellmuth ended the day in second with 8.3 million in chips, more than double the average stack. This tournament wouldn't have been the same without him.

Frederique Banjout, the 42-year-old CEO of France's Eden Shoes, was an unknown entity at the start of play, and he took advantage. In an early hand against Sam Trickett, Banjout asked the dealer, "I can raise, right?" Whether or not it was a ploy, something was working. Banjout was incredibly aggressive throughout the day, essentially knocking out Justin "BoostedJ" Smith for the tournament's first fatality and inspiring Twitter commentary from Rast. He finished Day 1 with the event's third-largest stack, at 7 million in chips.

Hand of the day

Without question, the most talked about hand of the day came early on, when Russian businessman Mikhail Smirnov folded quad eights face-up in a hand against John Morgan. It's not often that you see quads folded in tournament play, and it's not usually the right play, but in talking to Smirnov, I became convinced it was the right one. I'll let him tell you the story as he told it to me:

"Tom Dwan from the button raised 32,000, his regular raise. I'm small blind. Call. The gentlemen [Minnesota businessman John Morgan] in big blind called. After this, 7s-Js-8c on the flop. I [bet] from first position, 50,000. [There was an] instant call from the gentleman, and Tom Dwan folded. Then, the eight of spades [on the turn]. Now it's 7-8-J of spades and 8 of clubs. I bet approximately 200,000, approximately the pot. This gentleman instantly called and was very excited. [He looked] around like all cameras in the world are looking at our hand. I don't know why, but it is looking for me like this. After this, the king of spades on the river. I bet 700,000, a little more than pot. I over-bet. Five seconds thinking and he is all-in for 700,000 and 2 million. For me, it's an easy fold. But I maybe thought for two minutes. For me, in real game for example, [it's an] easy fold.

"I had physical tells plus technically, if he has two kings, he'd raise before the flop because he is a very straightforward player and Tom Dwan raised from button. Only one hand possible in theory, two jacks, but if he has two jacks, I think first of all, he'd raise Tom before the flop, though that is not 100 percent, plus, he would think more on the river because with kings plus straight flush plus two eights, he has [with jacks] only the fourth-best combination. … He should be thinking more about the pot. He was so excited on turn, the king did not frighten him at all. My over-bet did not frighten him, plus before this, he played very straightforward … very tight. He likes to participate in tournament. He cares not about money. … All together, I think [it's an] easy fold.

"He was very upset after the hand. I think he had a straight flush, but because he didn't show the hand, someone else [asked] what he had and he wasn't happy. Maybe now I'm free-rolling in this tournament."

If I'm understanding Smirnov's assessment, he felt that (A) Morgan had been playing tight ABC poker, (B) had expressed a desire to stay in the tournament and (C) enjoyed his time playing with the pros. By that logic, he eliminated the possibility of anything but a strong hand in conjunction with the board. As those go, the possibilities were 9-10 of spades (a straight flush), pocket kings (a full house), which Morgan would have reraised with preflop, or pocket jacks (a full house), which Morgan would likely have raised preflop, but never raised the river.

With the physical tells and Morgan's style of play eliminating the possibility of kings, it comes down to two hands, one of which knocks Smirnov out of the tournament. If Smirnov feels like Morgan would have raised the jacks preflop just half the time, and that it's unlikely Morgan raises the jacks on the river, that means, in his mind, he is losing 75 percent of the time. With the call costing him 2 million and the pot at a little more than 4.7 million, Smirnov is not getting pot odds. The logic holds water.

With Smirnov's explanation in hand, I approached Morgan, who was with friends and we had the following exchange:

Wise: Did you have the straight flush?
Morgan: I had a royal flush!
W: There was no royal flush on the board.
M: I had 7-2 of diamonds.
W: 7-2 of diamonds, huh?

Morgan smiled.

W: What did you have?
M: He made a good fold.

Take what you will from that.

Seating arrangements

A few stray thoughts on how the bodies were dispersed:

• With 19 businessmen and 29 pros to start the tournament, each of the six tables should have expected a 3-5 distribution. Five of the starting tables were within a player either way of that expectation. Then there was the table of death.

Keeping in mind the pros played in this tournament for the chance at some easier competition than they're accustomed to, take a look at this start-of-day roster, in seat order: Vivek Rajkumar, Tom Marchese, Antonio Esfandiari, Nick Schulman, Ben Lamb, Brandon Steven, Phil Ivey and Erik Seidel. There were plenty of wide eyes and lumps in throats among those seats.

As the day wore on and Seidel and Schulman were eliminated, players were moved … and it may have become even a tougher table: Rajkumar, Marchese, Esfandiari, Noah Schwartz, Lamb, Jason Mercier, Ivey and Eugene Katchalov.

Mercier tweeted that it was probably the toughest table of his lifetime.

• The original seating arrangement saw Tom Dwan and Phil Galfond at the same table. When Dwan issued his heads-up challenge, Galfond was the one player he stipulated he wouldn't play against.

• Hellmuth and old foe Daniel Negreanu sat side by side throughout the day.

The Departed

Eliminations are inevitable in tournament play, but sometimes they're taken as a fact of life. Not here, not at these stakes. Every pro who left the room took the elimination hard. Even with some backing, players were competing for a lot more than normal. Here's who's gone and how each went:

48th: Justin Smith. Smith hit a straight on the river while Banjout simultaneously completed a runner-runner flush. Smith lost his last 30,000 to Rast.

47th: Andrew Robl lost with Kc-K versus Rast's Ac-K, getting all-in on an all-club flop. The flush completed on the river, and Robl was out.

46th: Jens Kyllönen got all-in on the turn with A-Q against Banjout's A-4 on a 5-3-2-Q board. Kyllönen, 22, confirmed that he put up the entire entrance fee himself.

45th: Duhamel spiraled downward after the Rast hand. The nail in the coffin came when Bill Perkins flopped a straight, which held up against Duhamel's top pair and four-flush draw.

44th: Phua was the first businessman eliminated. Short-stacked, he got all-in preflop with pocket fours against Negreanu's pocket eights.

43rd: Seidel lost a large portion of his chips in a hand against Rajkumar in which Seidel finally folded preflop to Rajkumar's seven-bet. He lost his last 135,000 to Esfandiari.

42nd: Bertrand Grospellier never got it going. His final hand saw his all-in on the flop called by both Gus Hansen and Noah Schwartz on a J-9-7 board. The turn and river were 7 and 8, with Elky's K-J ultimately losing to Hansen's J-7 full house.

41st: Schulman got all-in on the turn with pocket aces only to be bested by Esfandiari's two-pair.

40th: Katchalov was yet another Esfandiari victim. They got all-in preflop, with Katchalov's pocket fours ultimately losing to As-10d.

39th: Michael Mizrachi lost two-thirds of his stack in the early going and never climbed back. He lost on a desperate bluff to Mike Sexton.

38th: Giovanni Guarascio was the final victim of Day 1. His A-9 lost to Banjout's A-K all-in preflop.

Gary Wise has contributed to ESPN.com since 2007. He is well-studied in the history of poker and presents a unique tableside view of the goings-on in the poker community. Google author profile

ALSO SEE