Records collapse at Series’ opening

Jul 3, 2006 4:38 AM

The 2006 World Series of Poker opened with a bang. Tournament play kicked off a week ago, and what an opening week it’s been!

The world’s largest and most prestigious poker spectacle began with the first open event on the schedule — the $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em competition. A record 2,776 players entered the event, making it one of the largest poker tournaments ever in history.

Only the 2005 WSOP championship ($10,000 buy-in) event attracted more participants (5,619). The total prize pool amounts to $3,789,240.

The tournament was a complete sell-out. Every poker seat in the Amazon Ballroom at the Rio Convention Center (2,288 seats) was filled.

In fact, WSOP tournament officials pulled-off what can only be described as a miracle. Additional players beyond those who initially bought-in were listed as alternates, and were seated instantly based upon availability.

In all, 488 alternates — a number alone which would normally comprise a major poker tournament — were added to the total pool of players. Incredibly, it took only two hours to add in all of the additional players, in a tournament that is expected to run over the course of three-days.

This year’s World Series of Poker is already on pace to shatter every previous poker mark ever recorded. Through the first three events of the 2006 WSOP, attendance is up 26 percent over last year’s colossal number. Total prize money for the first three events has already reached nearly $6 million.

Here are some other opening week highlights:

Casino employee event shatters all records

*On most days and nights, players in the "Casino Employees World Poker Championship" can be found providing customer service to the guests of their respective casino and hotel properties. On the first day of the World Series, however, the concept of hospitality was the furthest thing from any of their minds.

*As well it should have been.

*The all-time record field of 1.232 participants competed for a total prize pool of $554,850 in the traditional kick-off to the six-week long World Series of Poker Tournament held at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino.

*The winner, Chris Gros, is a dealer at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He’s a native of St. Louis who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Hellmuth first to ”˜cash’ 50 times

*Phil Hellmuth, Jr. is the greatest poker player in the world. And if you don’t believe it, just ask him. Hellmuth reached a new milestone last week when he became the first player in World Series of Poker history to reach "50" in-the-money finishes.

*With his 67th-place finish in an colossal field of 2,776 entries in the $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em event, Hellmuth eclipsed two longtime poker rivals — Berry Johnston and Men "the Master" Nguyen, each currently with "49" cashes.

*Phil Hellmuth has clearly become an icon in a game full of icons. The 1989 World Series of Poker Champion has won a total of nine gold bracelets in his illustrious 17-year poker career. Incredibly, all of his WSOP wins are in the game of hold’em — the most of any player. Through Event No. 3 at the WSOP, rankings are as follows:

 

MOST WSOP CASHES (LIFETIME)

Phil Hellmuth, Jr. 50

Berry Johnston 49

Men "the Master" Nguyen 49

T.J. Cloutier 47

Chris "Jesus" Ferguson 43

Erik Seidel 40

Brent Carter 40

An Tran 39

Mike Sexton 38

Ken "Skyhawk" Flaton 38

Knocking out a champion

In the aforementioned Event No. 2 (the first "open" event after the employees event), Brandon Cantu found a little bit of luck that helped him win it all.

Cantu, a 25-year-old semi-professional player from Las Vegas, was competing in his biggest poker tournament ever. With 64 players still contending in the tournament on the second day, Cantu found himself nearly all-in with most of his chips in the pot and drawing slim against none other than Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, the 2004 World Series of Poker Champion.

With Cantu’s tournament life hanging in the balance, Raymer had the best hand, by far. But luck sometimes appears when least expected. The angels of mercy resuscitated Cantu with two near-miracle diamonds to complete a flush, which eliminated the poker superstar and stunned those who witnessed the decisive moment. That pot ignited a flame in Cantu that would never extinguish. And he took home $757,839 for his trouble.

High-tech ”˜whiz’ takes No. 3

There are exceptionally rare instances when both the poker tournament and the actual winner jointly possess such astonishing depth of character and convolution that words, sentences, paragraphs, and narratives cannot possibly depict the full magnitude of both man and feat. Event No. 3 at the World Series was just such a tournament.

After 10 years of toil on the poker tournament trail, after a life span of revelry, after ultimately dedicating much of his energy to a charity and the pursuit of science and research, Rafe Furst, a 37-year-old chief technical officer from Los Angeles, won his first WSOP gold bracelet. It is difficult if not impossible to describe Furst in just a few words: "Tiltboy." Stanford University grad. High-tech whiz. Book co-author. Charitable philanthropist. Former Roshambo champion. And now — World Series of Poker champion.

This modern-day Renaissance man topped a record-field of 1,102 players in the $1,500 buy-in pot-limit hold’em competition. It was the largest pot-limit hold’em event ever in the 37-year-history of the World Series of Poker, eclipsing last year’s 1,071 record number.

Furst’s triumph was not just unforgettable because he won, but more memorable for how he won. The California Tiltboy flat-out played the best poker of his life, surviving 10 chip-lead changes at the final table. In fact, Furst defied poker’s grim reaper on at last two occasions, catching miracle, life saving cards on the river both times that made the final outcome not so much a marvel as the fulfillment of righteous destiny.