The World Poker Tour and ChiliPoker have teamed up to bring major tournament poker to Africa and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Day 1 of the WPT Marrakech saw the soft cap of entrants exceeded with 416 runners taking to the felt for the start of the three-day Main Event. At the end of ten levels, 151 players remained to bag up their chips for a run to the money on Day 2.
Players flocked to Morocco from more than 30 countries this week, the majority making the short hop from France. The French were well-represented with the likes of Ludovic Lacay, Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, Arnaud Mattern, Bruno Fitoussi, Fabrice Soulier, Antony Lellouche, and the November Nine's Antoine Saout. Other notables who made the trip included Huck Seed, Antonio Esfandiari, Tony G, Annette Obrestad, Liz Lieu, and one of the November Nine from last year, Scott Montgomery. Brothers Ross and Barny Boatman were also in the house, fresh from their respective first- and fourth-place finishes in the high rollers event on Wednesday.
Fireworks flew in the second level of play when a monster hand resulted in the double elimination of "ElkY" and Pascal Perrault. On a king-high flop with two spades, Grospellier fired the first bullet of 525 chips and was called by an opponent before Perrault stuck in a raise to 1,500 only to see both players call. The turn was an offsuit five, and Perrault watched both opponents call his follow-up bet of 5,000.
The river brought the proverbial "prettiest card in the deck" — the . Neither of the two Frenchmen found it attractive, though, as ElkY went broke with a five-high flush, and Perrault went with a set of kings. The third player in the pot scooped everything with his bigger flush, tabling to send the two dangerous players to the exit earlier than they had hoped.
Obrestad began the day moving in a similar downward direction and found herself slipping under 4,000 chips a couple levels in. She ground the short stack hard, though, before finally finding a double-up to spark a comeback. A few more of those nursed her stack back to life, and she managed to work her count up to 46,500 at the conclusion of play.
Ludovic Lacay had a fine finish to his opening day as well. After a long, steady climb through the middle of the pack, Lacay turned up the heat in the final few levels to work his chip stack up to 88,000. The big payoff came in the last half-hour of action as he and Stephane Bazin tangled in a big pot. Lacay had three-bet preflop with , and Bazin committed more than half his stack with . The rest of Bazin's chips went in on the flop, but he was unable to fill in his straight draw to stay alive, thus vaulting Lacay up the leaderboard.
Others finishing strong included Scott Montgomery, Yury Kerzhapkin, Tristan Clemençon, and Tony G, the latter ending his day with a timely last-minute double up. Not surprisingly, another Frenchman appears to be atop the pack heading into the second day. Guillaume de la Gorce started slowly but tore through the final few levels to stuff his bag with 157,900 technicolor chips.
The remaining 151 players will return to the Casino de Marrakech tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. local time to resume play. The tentative plan is to play to the final table of six, but those expectations are subject to change depending on how the day unfolds.
You can follow along with all the action for yourself by tuning into the Live Reporting blog. And if you've got the urge to win your own seat in next year's WPT Marrakech, sign up for an account on ChiliPoker today.