World Series of Poker Europe

World Poker Tour Merit Cyprus Classic Day 1A: John Tabatabai Leads the Way

John Tabatabai

Poker history was made on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus today as it played host to its first ever International poker tournament. Full Tilt Poker and the World Poker Tour teamed up with the Merit Crystal Cove Hotel and Casino to launch the 1st Annual WPT Merit Cyprus Classic.

Perhaps the most exotic stop on the WPT’s 2009-2010 schedule, the event has earned early praise from its first wave of participants, many of whom arrived early to take full advantage of the resort’s all-inclusive amenities and prime coastal real estate. When high noon rolled around, however, beach shades turned into poker shades and after a few opening remarks from famed Tournament Director Jack McClellan, the cards were in the air.

Day 1a drew a modest field of 91 runners, comprising a healthy balance of seasoned pros, online qualifiers, local grinders and casual players. World Series of Poker Main Event champions Dan Harrington (1995) and Huck Seed (1996) came out to play this afternoon, as did four-time WSOP bracelet winner Jeffrey Lisandro. Other notables in the field were Shaun Deeb, Ludovic Lacay, Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari, Roy "The Oracle" Winston, Sorel Mizzi, Soren Kongsgaard, Danny Wong, John Monnette and Tommy Vedes, among others.

Sixty-three players survived the Day-1a carnage, but it was Layne “back-to-back” Flack who stole the early headlines after he’d amassed 120,000 in chips after just one ninety-minute level of play. He peaked at right around 140,000, but ultimately finished the day with 112,675 in chips, good for fifth place overall on the leaderboard.

About midway through the day, former World Series of Poker Europe Main Event runner-up (2007) John Tabatabai caught a break after getting it all-in on the turn with a set of tens against Fatih Ozpolat’s queen-high straight. The river paired the board giving Tabatabai a full house and subsequently, the overall chip lead. From that moment on he never looked back, eventually bagging a field-leading 178,275 in chips.

Jeffrey Lisandro and Shaun Deeb were the most noteworthy casualties of Day 1a, followed by local Cypriot pros Cemil Kara and Huseyin Yilmaz.

Action resumes tomorrow afternoon at 12:00 p.m. local time (GMT+3) when the second Day-1 flight invades the Merit Crystal Cove tournament room. Team Full Tilt pros Howard Lederer, John Juanda, Chris Ferguson, Phil Gordon, Gus Hansen, Patrik Antonius, Andy Bloch, Erik Seidel and Erick Lindgren are all expected to enter the fray and PokerNews will be on hand throughout the day bringing you live updates, chip counts, photos and exclusive videos directly from the tournament floor.

Follow all of the action on our comprehensive live reporting pages, or get the updates on twitter.

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