Event #39 of the 2007 WSOP, $50,000 H.O.R.S.E., may be the most anticipated tournament at the World Series, with the high buy-in and mixed-game format guaranteeing a field chock-full of poker's biggest names. Scheduled to run for five days and featuring a slow-paced structure, the event drew 148 players, bettering last year's turnout of 143, when David 'Chip' Reese claimed the first-ever bracelet in the event.
The increased field meant a huge purse, with $2,276,832 the announced first-place money. As expected, the big-name pros were out in force, with Reese, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, Chris 'Jesus' Ferguson, Mike 'The Mouth' Matusow, Tony G, Barry Greenstein and dozens of others all settling in for a long tournament. By the end of the night's play, 127 players would still be in the running, with Eli Elezra sitting atop the leader board with 561,000 in chips, a massive increase over his 100,000 starting stack. Elezra's 'Big Game' experience, plus the confidence from his recent bracelet win, served him well on this day.
This event's structure was designed to be deliberate, with the game changing every 30 minutes, but the levels not increasing with every game change. Rather, the Hold'em and Omaha rounds are at the same level, then the level increases for the following three Stud rounds (Razz, Stud Hi and Stud Hi/Lo), then jumps again for the next Hold'em/Omaha stretch. The event started with 300/600 limit hold'em.
The slow structure of the game worked well for Chris Ferguson, but for a different reason. Ferguson remained alive on Day Two of $1,500 No Limit Hold 'Em event (#38). After a few hours of being blinded off in H.O.R.S.E., Ferguson finished 118th in the no-limit event, good for a $4,740 cash. Ferguson then returned to H.O.R.S.E. to finish the day slightly better than his beginning stack, at 119,800 in chips.
Every starting table was tough, given the caliber of the competition. One table held four players from last year's final table, T.J. Cloutier, David Singer, Dewey Tomko and Phil Ivey, and they were joined by last year's Tournament of Champions winner, Mike Sexton, and later, Todd Brunson, moved there after initially being seated at the same table as his father Doyle. The Brunsons requested the seat change themselves to squelch any appearance of impropriety.
Another tough table included Mike Matusow, Darrell 'Gigabet' Dicken, John Phan, Carlos Mortenson, Chau Giang, Thor Hansen and Matt Lefkowitz. This table draw led Matusow to exclaim to Barry Greenstein "I've got no one that's gonna give me chips at my table. Oh wait, I've got John Phan."
Greenstein remarked to Dicken that he has a huge edge in their side bet on making the money in the event. You're on Mike's (Matusow) left..." said Greenstein. "You don't know what a huge edge that is!"
"You gotta love Barry," responded an unoffended Matusow.
The early play was lighthearted but still serious, with a chance for a bracelet and the unofficial moniker of "world's best poker player" on the line. Many pros and spectators believe this event to be the truest test of overall poker skill. Last year's winner Reese has long been regarded as one of the top players in the world, and he survived into Day Two this year with 153,000 in chips.
Even with the slow structure, 21 players were eliminated on the first day of play. Notable eliminations included Josh Arieh, Jeffrey Lisandro, Nick Schulman, Sam Farha, Mark Vos and 10-time bracelet winner Johnny Chan. Andy Black, Lyle Berman and David Pham also fell on Day 1. Meanwhile, Phil Ivey, Gavin Smith, Barry Greenstein and others moved forward to challenge Elezra. The overnight top ten looks like this:
PLAYER — CHIPS
Eli Elezra — 561,000
Bruno Fitoussi — 358,900
David Oppenheim — 302,300
Gavin Smith — 260,900
Phil Ivey — 260,400
Alex Kravchenko — 218,900
Barry Greenstein — 211,800
Erik Seidel — 189,700
Toto Leonidas — 188,100
Scotty Nguyen — 186,100
Dozens more big names loom close behind. Players will redraw for seats to begin Day Two, and play will resume on Monday at 2pm PDT. Check in with PokerNews.com's 'Live Reporting' of Event #39, $50,000 H.O.R.S.E., for the latest reports.