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The 40th World Series of Poker got itself firmly under way at noon yesterday with Event #1, the Casino Employees tournament. The contest was concocted by the legendary Benny Binion, as a thank you to all the staff that had made his fledgling WSOP such a success.

Proceedings were officially opened by WSOP commissioner Jeffery Pollack and the Poker Brat, Phil Hellmuth. After a short introduction from tournament director Jack Effel, Pollack took to the stage to lead a round of applause for all the Rio staff playing in the event. After some more heartfelt thanks the commissioner Mr. Hellmuth took the floor. After some tongue in cheek references to the new penalty rules he uttered the immortal words – “Shuffle up and Deal!”

All in all there were 866 casino workers who put up the $500 buy-in, slightly down from the 930 who registered last year. The prize pool topped out at $389,700, with $83,778 in line for the eventual winner. This is the official WSOP Event #1, and as such awards a shiny golden World Series bracelet is on offer, just like every other tournament.

The play was fast and loose, with half the field making their way to the rail inside the first 4 hours. There were next to no notable faces among the throng in the Amazon room, but today was not about the celebrity pros. Instead it was a thank you to all the men and women without whom the WSOP would not exist. The pace didn’t let up all day, with tournament officials electing to play on a little longer than scheduled in order to burst the money bubble.

In total 785 players were eliminated on Day 1, meaning that the remaining 81 players were all in the money. The tournament reconvenes later today with Cesar Chavez in the chip lead with 107,000 and Casey Kuhn close behind him with 101,300.

The major highlight for Day 2 out of 49 at the World Series will be the $40,000, 40th Annual No Limit Hold ‘em event. This tournament was concocted as a special celebration of the 40th anniversary of the WSOP, and is expected to draw in one of the most competitive fields in series history. Its high buy-in (the second largest ever) will guarantee only the very top players will have the bankroll to compete. Jefferey Pollack has stated his belief that “it’s a great way to bring together the best no-limit hold ’em players in a concentrated field, probably resulting in one of the best final tables anyone has ever seen.”

Some parts of the media have dubbed this “The New Main Event”, although organizers have vehemently denied this. The questions of whether or not this event will become a permanent fixture is as yet undecided. Some players, most notably Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, have criticized the new event in no uncertain terms. Mike believes that holding such an important tournament so early in the long WSOP haul risks burning out the top players too early. Time will tell if Mike is right, but we can be sure to see him along with many of his top-class compatriots at the tables at noon today.