The excitement in the air of the Rio Convention Center was palpable today among the thousands who came to play or watch in the first day of the 2006 Main Event. Actor James Garner addressed the players, and with the call to shuffle up and deal shortly after 12:00 pm, the premiere poker event of the year was underway.
Literally thousands of fans poured into the aisles to watch the action. Dispersed among the throngs, Phil Gordon was walking around, microphone in hand, interviewing people for his podcast, Robert Horry, Michael Finley, and a variety of other basketball players were lurking around the hallways, and even pros like Joe Sebok stopped by, dressed in a Robin superhero costume complete with Full Tilt logo as punishment for losing a prop bet to Gavin Smith.
As for the field, it was a stark contrast to the dozens of events that preceded it. Normally, while walking around the room, I would be able recognize at least two or three players at each table as professionals. During the Main Event, however, I walked through over 200 tables, and oftentimes it was difficult to pick out a familiar face in the entire section of a room! Amateurs abounded, with many making it extremely apparent that it was their first time playing live poker. I heard questions such as "Why aren't I allowed to bet less?", "Is it my turn to bet yet?", or my favorite, "What do you mean, that's a straddle bet? I don't even know what that is!" being bandied around at various points during the day. Bracelet-winner Mark Vos summed his table up nicely in saying, "I'm playing with a collection of the absolute worst poker players in the world, and it just happens to be a time where I can't catch a [bleeping] hand." Vos' luck must have changed at some point, as he was at over 60,000 in chips after the dinner break.
One table typified the unknown online amateur phenomenon perfectly: Seats 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7 sported PartyPoker gear, a Bodog player was in seat 6, and another player who won his seat in a European online poker site sat in seat 10. Despite the sea of online qualfiers, though, there were a number of people at the tables who stood out.
Dan Harrington, Daniel Alaei, Layne Flack, David Benyamine, Michael Mizrachi, Perry Friedman, Amir Vahedi, Eskimo Clark, Hoyt Corkins, and Scotty Nguyen were just a few of the many pros who signed up to play in Day 1. Celebrity sightings were common too, with Norm MacDonald actually taking the chip lead at one point during the day before tumbling back down, Tobey Maguire lasting a few levels prior to busting out courtesy of Mike Sexton, and Actress Laura Prepon from "That 70's Show" tangling it up with a table of relative unknowns.
William Rockwell, who gained notoriety from last season's ESPN's 2005 Main Event footage as a handicapped player who used his feet and a special stand to look at his hole cards, was back again in today's first heat. As a slight change from last year, he was decked head-to-toe in online poker merchandise, literally. His foot was stamped with the site's name and url, in the hopes that he gets some repeat airtime while he peeks down hopefully for those pocket rockets.
There was also a nun present, or at least a woman dressed in full nun attire. Possibly through some divine intervention, she had a massive stack of chips and was the chip leader during various points in the day.
One interesting new development that Harrah's decided to institute was awarding a souvenir all-in button given to all players. When a player wished to go all in, he or she could simply toss the button in. What many of the inexperienced players failed to realize was that the action of the button was actually binding; if it crossed the betting line as a joke, players would be forced all-in regardless of whether it was their intent to or not.
While this may seem like obvious knowledge to a seasoned live player, many of the players simply did not understand the idea of a binding bet and the floorpeople had to walk to every table and explain the seriousness of the button, with several announcements being made not to throw it in as a joke unless a player meant it. I saw a few of the players tossing their buttons in the trash after the first break – perhaps they realized that $10,000 is a bit of a steep price for a joke.
One thing was for certain though; the field for this Main Event is going to be massive, with all walks of life coming to participate. There is no official count of total players and alternates registered at this point, but if day 1 was any indication, it's going to be an absolute zoo of media, players, and fans with well over $10 million waiting at the end of the rainbow for whoever is lucky enough to survive the minefield.