WSOP 2016: POY gets the ball rolling
Congratulations Robert Franz, the first big winner of the 2016 WSOP Main Event.
There's something particularly pure about a race in which none of the runners know they are competing. But after the doors opened to the Amazon Room at the Rio Hotel and Casino at around 10:45am today, the race was well and truly on. The first trickle of players arrived to take their seats in the big one, but which of them would find their seat first?
Alexander Krisak and Manuel Flores were neck-and-neck entering the room, one through each of the two doors. They were the clear front-runners among what quickly became a bemused swarm, men and women of all ages, veering this way and that, clutching a white slip of paper at arm's length as though it was a faulty GPS.
Krisak and Flores allowed their advantage to slip. They both dithered on their way to their chair assignment, each apparently unable to find their home. Flores then did find his chair, but opted not to take it. He handed his slip to the dealer but stayed standing up, fidgeting in his rucksack and limbering up.
That allowed Franz, not even among the first five players into the room, to ghost almost unnoticed to Seat 2 Table 420 and rest there. He sat down immediately and became the first player seated in this year's Main Event, a nose ahead of David Nicholson, who resides in Seat 1 on Table 409.
I've always felt there's too much attention afford the last player seated in the World Series Main Event, right?
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It's official, then: this $10,000 Big Dance is under way. It's heads down now for the coming 10 days, after which the tournament will pause with nine players left.
Mike Gorodinsky, last year's Player of the Year, was the man charged with the shuffle-up-and-deal duties this morning. He accomplished the task with agreeable haste, taking to the podium after WSOP tournament director Jack Effel went through some housekeeping, then Ty Stewart, Executive Director of the World Series of Poker, welcomed us all to the "best damn poker tournament in the world".
Eric Danis, content manager for the Global Poker Index, introduced Gorodinsky as a "gentleman and an ambassador for the game", and also ran through the results that earned him his POY title: eight cashes at the 2015 WSOP, including four top 10s, a third, a second and a title. Jason Mercier is the hot favourite to claim this year's prize, and the resumes of the two men indicate just what is required to earn the coveted title.
Gorodinsky's portrait, bigger than life size, hung behind him, capturing the moment he secured his bracelet. The image shows him clutching his winning Omaha hand, the four cards with which he secured the $50,000 Players Championship, worth $1.2 million. The winner of this year's Main Event will likely take about six times that amount, which explains the shiver of anticipation in the air.
Tournament rooms are always a peculiar place in the moments immediately prior to the day commencing. Usually, as was the case here, the dealing staff is particularly well organised, taking their seats at tables otherwise empty, with nine multicoloured stacks of chips in front of every empty chair.
The rows of tables are militarily straight and the dealers' black-and-white uniforms well pressed. They are a communist army of penguins.
Gorodinsky was one of the early arrivals too, loitering behind his poster, waiting for his moment at the podium. He was surrounded by an eight-strong film crew from China, who themselves represent one of few clear changes in the landscape from my last trip to the WSOP in 2010.
As the game has continued to become even more of a global phenomenon in the past five years, offsetting some difficult times in north America, the number of nationalities showing a real interest in the major tournaments has increased. We saw this Chinese film crew at the EPT Grand Final in Monaco in May and they are here again at the WSOP. This is hugely encouraging for the growth of the game.
But enough waffling now. The game is on. They are playing five two-hour levels today, with a dinner break after the third. That will take us close to midnight, and we'll be bouncing around the various tournaments from now until the end.
WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.