249 players headed to the Big Easy for the last major tournament prior to this summer's World Series of Poker, the fifth annual Bayou Poker Classic at Harrah's New Orleans. Among the big-name players looking to tune up before the WSOP were Gavin Smith, T.J. Cloutier, Steve Dannenmann and Bill Edler. Also in the field were Circuit regulars Lou Esposito, who won this event in 2007, and Doug "Rico" Carli, who entered the field with 34 WSOP Circuit cashes to his credit and an amazing 19 Circuit final-table appearances. World Poker Tour online host Kimberly Lansing also joined the field, getting a rare opportunity to play in a big event.
The early rounds were tough for the big stars, as Gavin Smith and T.J. Cloutier headed to the rail before the dinner break. Sabyl Cohen went out shortly after she lost a coin flip with pocket jacks against . The board ran out , and Cohen was left on life support. Her last few chips went in the pot on the next hand, and she was eliminated.
Beverly Cheney busted Josh Arieh shortly after the dinner break when her A-K won a race against Arieh's pocket queens. The on the flop left Arieh drawing thin, and the board of brought him no help. Cheney used Arieh's chips well, finishing Day 1 as one of only two women remaining in the field.
2005 WSOP Main Event runner-up Steve Dannenmann joined the field in New Orleans, but ran into a tough break in a hand with Steve Billirakis. The two Steves got all the chips in preflop after Billirakis moved all in from the small blind against Dannenmann's short stack. Dannenmann called with and found himself with a dominating lead over Billirakis' . The flop brought Billirakis a flush draw, and the third spade on the river completed it to send Dannenmann home early. Billirakis followed him soon after when he was busted by Timothy Miles.
After finding himself on a short stack going into the dinner break, Lou Esposito spent the evening building a monster stack to finish the day as one of the chip leaders. After slowly chipping up in the levels after dinner, Esposito got all his chips in the middle on one of the last hands of the night. The flop read , and Esposito held to his opponent's . All the chips went in on the flop, and the turn came down the . Esposito needed to dodge a jack or a king on the river to move into the top five in chips, and the gave him a great way to end Day 1.
As Day 1 drew to a close, only 69 of the original 249 entrants remained, all vying for the $382,928 first prize, which includes a $10,000 seat to the WSOP Main Event and the gold Circuit Championship ring. David Fox and Esposito finished Day 1 tied for the chip lead as stars such as Bill Edler, Gavin Smith, T.J. Cloutier and Young Phan all headed to the rail. The top ten chip stacks looked like this at the end of Day 1 in New Orleans:
David Fox – 102,100
Lou Esposito – 102,100
Mike Browne – 96,000
Senovio Ramirez – 88,900
Ed Jatho – 81,600
Purvis Blake – 80,600
Chuck Kelley – 80,200
Timothy Miles – 78,400
Marc Fratter – 75,400
Matt Stout – 63,900