It was champagne all around on Friday at the Empire Casino as the 2010 World Series of Poker Europe Main Event improved on last year's outing by 12 players. Another 209 salivating poker enthusiasts stumped up the £10,000 buy-in fee for Day 1b, bringing the total figure for 2010 up to a highly credible 346.
Among those present were a who's who of poker as more stars than the night sky hit the Leicester Square Casino. Phil Laak, Neil Channing, Patrik Antonius, Mike Matusow, Daniel Negreanu, Freddy Deeb, David Benyamine, Men Nguyen - the list was seemingly endless, and even witnessed a rare sighting in 1999 WSOP Champion Noel Furlong.
After reigning Champion Barry Shulman had announced "Shuffle up and deal," the starting whistle sounded and perhaps the best pound-for-pound field ever assembled set about their hunt for bracelet gold. For Tom "durrrr" Dwan, it was last chance saloon as far as bracelet bets were concerned, and after just a few levels he was heading to the bar courtesy of Antonio Esfandiari, sevens versus kings no good on a flop.
As the likes of Jeff Madsen, Richard Ashby, Andrew Robl and two-time bracelet winner Frank Kassela followed suit, a handful of names began to amass meaty stacks and close in on that 100,000 mark. One of those was the enigmatic Viktor Blom. Regarded by most as online sensation Isildur1, Blom was closely surveyed by a handful of media who watched with interest as he emerged as a genuine threat. Raising a lead of 3,000 to 10,000 on the turn of a board, Blom bet 40,000 into a pot of 25,000 on the Qs river. Despite his hesitance, David Weisbeger called all in with , but Blom had turned the nuts with to see his stack rocket to 130,000 and grace him with the temporary chip lead.
Whilst Esfandiari was rumoured to be making straight flushes against nut flushes to propel his stack skywards, November Niner John Dolan was building his mountain gradually, eventually ending the day second in chips with 173,700. Fellow WSOP finalist John Racener survived the six 90-minute levels, but Matthew Jarvis hit the deck early doors.
Also returning tomorrow will be Phil Ivey with 94,350 chips in front of him. His most eye-opening moment came when a member of the public bellowed from the rail: "Remember this face, Phil. I'm going to take your stack in 12 months." "September 24, 2011," warned neighbor Dan Shak. "Watch out and be ready." It seemed like a long time to wait until his pending doom, and Ivey was understandably unfazed.
Threats aside, Day 2 beckons, and the man who will be arriving with the chip lead will be Irish Open Champion James Mitchell who comfortably surpassed Nicolas Levi's 153,850 of yesterday with a whopping 178,850. Mitchell enjoyed a fruitful day right from the off, his stack virtually increasing two-fold when he bet three streets of a ten-high board in a four-bet preflop pot. The third barrel went uncontested and Mitchell's holding remained a mystery.
With the likes of Dolan, Esfandiari, Blom and Ivey snapping on the Brit's heels, tomorrow promises to be a slobberkocker, so make sure you keep up to date with all the action from ringside, only on PokerNews! You can also follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for up-to-the-minute news.