2008 World Series: Shuffled up, and dealing has begun

Any reporter running out of ways to describe how poker has changed over recent years need only set foot in the Rio Hotel and Casino this morning. Countless articles have been written about the vast numbers of players, the influence of online poker, the newly dominant aggressive style of play, etc. But until today, I've never seen organized armies of spectators banging thunder sticks when a player wins a hand; I've never seen a poker table occupy centre stage in a theater usually reserved for Las Vegas superstars; I've never seen lines of people snaking through a casino before 8am, just to watch. I've also never actually watched a poker table from a press gantry about 50 feet above the action, as though in a blimp on Super Bowl Sunday.

But I also have to be honest and say that I've never felt shivers run down the back of my spine at the start of any poker game. But this one is different. This is Las Vegas at its finest. This is razzmatazz. This is more like a heavyweight boxing bout than the games in Benny's Bullpen. Poker has arrived. All over again.


The final table waiting for its players

But let's not forget that the game at the heart of all this remains the same, and back in July these nine players had the week of their lives around the tables to book their spot at this show. And the minute the first cards were dealt at around 11am today, there was something familiar about the refrain of raise, call, check and fold, accompanied by the incessant riffling of chips. And it's fair to assume this is going to settle very quickly into the pattern of many poker games. There's going to be table chatter, banter, bluffs, hero calls, huge lay-downs, bad beats and major bust-outs.

Watch WSOP Final Table: Starting Chip Counts on PokerStars.tv

The opening five minutes set the scene. We were a little later than scheduled in getting under way, as they players had to be introduced, then re-introduced, to the television and theater audience. Jerry Yang, the reigning champion until tomorrow, then spoke to the crowd. Then there were more introductions, before we finally started. And with the short stacked Kelly Kim on the button, he was straight into the action, raising to 560,000 after it was folded to him. Dennis Phillips looked tempted from the big blind, but eventually folded, allowing Kim to pick up the first pot.

Action. Has. Begun.

A quick reminder, we started today with slightly more than 20 minutes left in level 33, where the blinds are 120,000-240,000. with a 30,000 ante. We will update here regularly and you can check out the latest chip counts on our chip counts page.

Among the people playing close attention to the game here is Team PokerStars Pro Barry Greenstein. He spoke to our video blogging team about the final table strategy.

Watch WSOP Final Table: Barry Greenstein P1 on PokerStars.tv

Howard Swains
@howardswains in World Series of Poker