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2008 will be the last year the WPT World Poker Challenge championship event will take place, for it is one of six public events that didn’t make the cut for the WPT’s schedule for next year. Back in 2003, its first year with WPT, this event attracted only 87 people at a $5,000 buyin. The tournament exploded the year after, however, and ever since then first prize has been over $600,000. J.C. Tran was the winner in 2007, outlasting 475 people and taking home $708,973.

This year the buyin has increased to $7,500 and less people are competing for first place. 261 total people gathered at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, ready to play cards for four days (they hope) and win a first prize of $493,815.

Because the final table was planned for Day 4, 255 people needed to be eliminated within three days, and this caused tournament directors to plan for a very long Day 1. Day 1 ended up taking 14 hours, with a total of 186 eliminations.

Day 1 saw a lot of pros seated at the same tables due to arriving at the event late. Registration was permitted until the end of the first level, and even though spaces were allotted at the tables for late registrations, this time the number of latecomers surpassed the number of free seats. Consequently, after the empty seats were filled, every subsequent latecomer was seated at the same table. This created some pretty stacked tables! For example, one table sat all of Lee Watkinson, John Phan, Mike Matusow, Greg Mueller, Vanessa Rousso and Tran (who, as I’ve already mentioned, won the event last year). Another table featured Jonathan Little, David Levi, Chau Giang, J.C. Alvarado, David Pham and Tuan Le. Needless to say, these pros were not exactly impressed a the lack of dead money at their tables! Maybe they’ll start waking up a bit earlier from now on … or at least registering in advance!

As mentioned earlier, 186 people were eliminated in Day 1 which meant that 75 people survived. Phil Ivey, arguably one of the best players in the world (actually, I don’t think anyone can dispute that), finished the day with the chip lead, boasting a 179,900 stack. Eli Elezra followed closely behind with 178,800 chips. Other notable names include Hasan Habib in 7th place and Bill Edler in 10th. The average stack at the end of the long day was 52,000 chips.

Day 2 proved to be much shorter, starting with 75 people and playing down to 27. The day started out fast and furious, quickly eliminating people left and right. As the money bubble approached, however, things slowed down considerably and people bided their time in a bid for a seat on Day 3. As to be expected, Ivey played great and just kept building a lovely chip stack (I’m a woman, I’m allowed to use that word). He surrendered the chip lead, but still finished the day with a healthy 286,100 chip stack (good for 5th place). Something incredibly interesting about Ivey is the fact that he’s never cashed a WPT event without making the final table (which is six people in these things). Will that trend continue on Day 3?

Jason Potter finished Day 2 with the chip lead, enjoying a 351,700 chip stack. He played smart poker on the money bubble and was able to take advantage of tight players to chip up to first place. Jordan Rich, a ‘young gun’ with almost $600,000 in live tournament winnings over the last few years, was close behind in second place after Day 2 with 327,900 chips. Rich was seated with Erick Lindgren at the start of the day, and he was able to amuse Lindgren for some time while he read Lindgren’s strategy book at the table (World Poker Tour: Making the Final Table) and picked his brain on some of its key points.

Some other notable cashes from Day 2 include Michael Mizrachi in 6th place and David Pham in 8th. Zach Hyman, another ‘young gun’ finished the day in 4th place, just ahead of Ivey with 298,000 chips. Hyman is best known for winning the Wynn Classic last year in Vegas, beating a stacked final table including Mike Matusow, Ted Forrest, Chau Giang, Johnny Chan, and Michael Mizrachi. He has won over $800,000 in tournaments in the last year alone! Elezra, Habib, and Edler all missed the cut and busted throughout the course of the day.

Day 3 takes place today, and hands are being dealt even as I write this. Day 3’s purpose is to go from 27 players to the final table, which will seat six players as per WPT tradition. Be sure to return to the FTR Blogs on Saturday because dthorne04 is going to continue what I’ve started and give you some details on both today’s festivities and then the final table (which takes place tomorrow). As always, thanks for reading!