A stellar lineup of 159 players was on hand on Saturday for the first of two starting sessions in the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event. Day 1a play drew many of poker's biggest stars, including Phil Ivey, David Benyamine, Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Vanessa Rousso, Andy Black, Joe Hachem, Freddy Deeb, Howard Lederer, Jeffrey Lisandro, cricketer Shane Warne, Kathy Liebert, Barny Boatman, Alex Kravchenko, Eli Elezra, Patrik Antonius, Erik Seidel, Josh Arieh, Andy Bloch, Chris "Moorman1" Moorman, and three members of this coming November's final nine – Craig Marquis, Ivan Demidov and Peter Eastgate.
A major knockout occurred even before all the players had taken their seats, when David Benyamine ran into Andy Bloch's . Most of the chips went in after a flop, the turn and river blanked, and Bloch had the early double-up at Benyamine's expense to set the pace for the day's play. Oddly, Benyamine's fiancé Erica Schoenberg was soon transferred to the seat he'd just departed.
Howard Lederer joined Benyamine on the rail in a knockout only a short time later, and other early exits included Jason Potter, Layne Flack, Tuan Le, Peter Eastgate, Phil Ivey, Max Pescatori, Ram Vaswani, Craig Marquis and Shane Warne.
Phil Hellmuth was crippled early on when his pocket kings were cracked by Philippe Dauteuil's flopped set of nines on a ragged nine-high flop, leaving Hellmuth under 4,000 in chips. Hellmuth fought back, though, climbing back up and fighting through several levels before doubling up as the day's play ended; he'll return but with one of Day 2's shorter stacks.
Kathy Liebert's day turned rosy when she tripled through on a wild three-way all-in shortly after the dinner break. Liebert held , which was ahead of the also all-in Thor Hansen's , but behind the of Liya Gerasimova, who had both Hansen and Liebert covered. The board, though, ran out to give Liebert the huge pot, while also sending Hansen to the rail and leaving Gerasimova crippled.
Elsewhere, Brandon Adams and Patrik Antonius dueled, with Adams getting the better of the day's matchup and eventually sending Antonius to the rail. The knockout hand saw Antonius in for the last of his chips with against Adams' , and when the board bricked out the Finnish star's WSOPE Main Event was done. Adams stayed hot despite doubling up Russian star Nikolai Evdakov soon after, when Evdakov's pocket jacks held up against Adams' pocket sevens on board.
Another Day 1a riser was Andy Black, who topped 70,000 late in the session. Black joined such stars as Justin "BoostedJ" Smith, Erik "123" Sagstrom, Karl Mahrenholz, Sergey Rybachenko, Andy Bloch and Josh Arieh near the top of the board late in the session. The day's late eliminations included Freddy Deeb and Eli Elezra, who scraped along for much of the night with next to nothing in chips. Elezra extended his stay on life support by doubling through twice before Andy Bloch ended his night. Elezra was in with against Bloch's A-K, which held up easily when the board brought another ace.
As the day ended, Justin Smith extended his early lead over the rest of the field, which numbered 86 survivors. The top ten chip counts for Day 1a play:
Justin Smith - 158,925
Eric Sagstrom - 98,750
Andy Bloch - 97,100
Scott Montgomery - 81,650
Ivan Demidov - 73,625
Brandon Adams - 72,475
Mike Matusow - 71,550
Scott Fischman - 70,650
Dustin Dirksen - 70,100
Goran Gratte - 67,725
Play resumes on Sunday with Day 1b action. Get the latest live updates right here at PokerNews.