Card sharps bid for poker glory
Hundreds of poker players with dreams of World Series of Poker glory have started a marathon towards poker's richest prize - a guaranteed 10 million dollar (£5.8 million) payday and a place in history among the winners of the main event.
Registration for the no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event in Las Vegas was up slightly as the first of three starting days began, with thousands more expected to start on Sunday and Monday.
"I hope that I can survive Day One," said Michael Musich of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, whose wife rooted him on as he played his first hands. "They get tougher as it goes."
Mr Musich played among a field with several poker legends, including 1987 and 1988 champion Johnny Chan, 2003 champ Chris Moneymaker, and Antonio Esfandiari, who won an 18.3 million dollar (£10.67 million) score in 2012 in the series' first ultra-exclusive 1 million dollar (£583,000) buy-in tournament.
From millionaire card sharks to home-game amateurs, players stake 10,000 dollars (£5,830) each for a shot to win millions in poker's most popular variant. The no-limit betting rules mean players can wager all their chips at any time, risking their tournament chances in the hope of gaining more chips.
Only 10% of those who enter the tournament will win any money. Players compete until they bust out or win it all, like Ryan Riess, who won 8.36 million dollars (£4.87 million) at the main event last year at the age of 23, topping a field of 6,352 players. Mr Riess played on Saturday and was slightly down in chips after two levels of play.
The main event has not offered an eight-figure payday since 2006, when Jamie Gold won 12 million dollars (£7 million) for topping a field of 8,773 players.
Series officials hope the 10 million dollar guarantee will draw more entrants, a similar tactic that has worked with smaller tournaments this year at the series at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino.
Phil Hellmuth, one of poker's most famous players who won the main event 25 years ago in 1989, said card players are getting better while the tournament has gone through phases of playing styles. But despite a large number of entries making things tougher, Mr Hellmuth said he still sees an opportunity for the game's best players to finish on top.
"The main event is winnable," Mr Hellmuth said.
Poker professional Daniel Negreanu said it's a feat that requires smarts and stamina, plus an ability to perform under the pressure of an atmosphere much different from home games and regular casino games. ESPN films the tournament for two-hour episodes, and plans to air the final table nearly live in November.
"I'm comfortable under the lights and the cameras - I think it's actually one of my edges," said Mr Negreanu, who enters the main event sitting fourth in the World Series of Poker Player of the Year standings, a measure of how players perform over the entire 65-event series. Mr Negreanu said he prepared for this year's series by getting in the best physical shape of his life and sharpening his mental focus and approach.
The last nine players are likely to play at least 70 hours to reach the final table, over seven sessions of 10 hours each.