LAS VEGAS — The second-most anticipated poker tournament on the World Series of Poker schedule is underway at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, as 29 professional poker players and 13 wealthy amateurs* ponied up the $1 million buy-in for the second Big One for One Drop on Sunday afternoon.
The first time the event was held, in 2012, the tournament sold out with 48 entrants. This year that cap was increased to 56 players to meet perceived demand, with up to seven tables open for eight-handed play. The tournament, however, got underway with just 38 players, with four players taking advantage of late registration, entering before the end of the first break.
Last year, instead of a $1 million event, the WSOP hosted a One Drop High Roller with a $111,111 buy-in, drawing 166 players. WSOP officials have said they plan to alternate the events each year.
This year's tournament has a prize pool of more than $37.3 million, and the winner will take home $15.3 million, the second-largest prize in poker tournament history. A charitable donation to the One Drop Foundation in the amount of $111,111 was taken from each entry, and more than $4.6 million will go to the charity to help provide access to water to areas of the world where clean water is not available.
"We can be proud that poker players and the poker community have raised more than $10 million for One Drop in just two years and they have permanently transformed tens of thousands of lives," said World Series of Poker Executive Director Ty Stewart.
"The one thing that sticks out about this event is the amount of money that it raises for the One Drop Foundation," said Daniel Negreanu. "It's an opportunity for a bunch of guys with too much money to get together and do it in such a way that it's not obnoxious or obscene because of the charity component."
The field and the top prize are a bit smaller than they were in 2012, but that didn't put a damper on the players' enthusiasm before the event began.
"When it's a $1 million buy-in and the entire world is watching, it changes things," said Antonio Esfandiari, who won the 2012 Big One for One Drop for $18.2 million.
The assembled players gathered for a group photo and a performance by spoken-word artist IN-Q, then participated in a live table draw, choosing their own seat cards to determine where they would start the tournament.
"I get more psyched for this event than I do any other event," said Sam Trickett, who won $10.1 million after finishing second to Esfandiari two years ago. "I always get psyched up for the ($100,000 events) and (other) bigger buy-in events just because you can win more money. It's more exciting. Every pot just seems to be so relevant right off the bat."
Trickett's pre-tournament analysis proved to be prophetic, as he busted David Einhorn, a hedge fund manager who finished third in this event in 2012, after just one hour of play. Einhorn was dealt pocket jacks and hit top set on a flop of J-2-6. Einhorn bet and Trickett, who had 4-5 for a gutshot straight draw, called. The 3 on the turn gave Trickett his straight. Einhorn bet, Trickett raised, Einhorn three-bet a third of his stack, and Trickett just called. When a queen fell on the turn, Einhorn bet and then called Trickett's all-in raise, only to see that Trickett held the unlikely nuts.
Chinese businessman Stanley Choi was the only other player eliminated before the dinner break, busted by Phil Galfond's flopped set after hitting top pair, top kicker with ace-king.
After dinner, Trickett went back to work, cracking Igor Kurganov's pocket queens by hitting a straight on the river to bust the Russian. He was in an ideal seat to pick up chips, with three of the 10 remaining amateurs at his table and the exact type of player he likes to have on his right in Vanessa Selbst.
"I don't want someone like Vanessa Selbst on my left, because she's a little crazy and spontaneous and can confuse me in a big event like this," said Trickett "I kind of like having an aggressive player on my right because you can pick a lot of chips up."
Halfway through Level 8, Selbst six-bet all-in pre-flop with A-K and Trickett called holding K-K. After an ace appeared on the flop, Trickett caught the case king on the turn to move ahead and knock Selbst out of the tournament. The hand moved Trickett over the 14 million-chip mark, nearly five times the starting stack of 3 million. He finished the day as the chip leader with 13.4 million chips.
Thirty-one players survived Day 1. Tables will be redrawn, and play will resume at 1 p.m. PT on Monday, continuing until the tournament is down to the final table of eight players. The tournament will be broadcast by ESPN over three weeks, beginning Tuesday, July 29 at 8 p.m. ET.
NOTES: Tom Hall (9.1 million), Phil Ivey (7.6 million), Daniel Colman (6.8 million) and Antonio Esfandiari (6.7 million) own the top-five chip counts heading into Day 2. … When asked if he would be playing this event if he hadn't won $4.8 million at last year's One Drop High Roller, Gregg responded, "There's a less likely chance that I'd be playing, but I feel like I probably would be." … Greg Merson, winner of the 2012 Main Event, says that he'd rather win another Main Event than this event if he could only choose one. "I'd have all of myself in the Main Event," said Merson. He told Casino City that he sold more than 90 percent of himself to backers for the Big One for One Drop. … Cirque du Soleil founder and One Drop Foundation Chairman Guy Laliberte said that if he could chose anyone other than himself to win the event, it would be one of the businessmen. "Obviously the pros have an edge in terms of knowledge, but I think there's very good decent play from the businessmen. They gave (the pros) a good challenge two years ago, when the final table was four businessmen and four pros. Anything can happen in a deepstack game like that."
*NOTE: This story originally stated that there were 30 professional poker players and 12 non-pros.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.