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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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Around the WSOP: High Roller for One Drop dramatics upstage first two days of Main Event

11 Jul 2016

By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS -- The energy was back at the World Series of Poker Main Event on Sunday, but like the day before, it was the big names and madcap dramatics of the $111,111 High Roller for One Drop No Limit Hold'em Championship that stole the show at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.

It's not that the first two days of the Main Event have been a disappointment. Saturday's opening Day 1A drew 764 entries, up from last year's opening flight of 741, but with the High Roller for One Drop only in its second day of play, many notable players like Phil Hellmuth, Jason Mercier, Fedor Holz, Antonio Esfandiari, Erik Siedel and Joe McKeehen weren't in the Main Event field.

Antonio Esfandiari pleads for cards moments before getting eliminated by Dan Smith in the High Roller for One Drop Event on Sunday at the WSOP.

Antonio Esfandiari pleads for cards moments before getting eliminated by Dan Smith in the High Roller for One Drop Event on Sunday at the WSOP.

And the fans took notice — there seemed to be as many railbirds in that small section of the Amazon Room as there was for the entire Main Event field.

Sunday was a different story. When play kicked off for the day with past November Niners Neil Blumenfield, Federico Butteroni, Tom Cannuli, Pierre Neuville, Phil Collins and Jay Farber doing the "shuffle up and deal honors," there were more than 1,200 players registered for the Main Event. And by day's end, 1,733 players had come through the doors, including former champs Johnny Chan, Martin Jacobson, Greg Raymer, Robert Varkonyi and Tom McEvoy; Hall of Famer TJ Cloutier; pros Bernard "ElkY" Grospellier, Jason Somerville and Vanessa Selbst; and 2016 Poker Players Champion Brian Rast.

But even with all of that firepower, it was the High Roller for One Drop event that commanded most of the attention — again. Midway through Level 2 of the Main Event, the final 13 players of the One Drop began to take their seats at the featured table stage, and fans and media were drawn to the area where the likes of Holz, McKeehen, Scott Seiver and the short-stacked Esfandiari — all of whom were chasing chip leader Dan Smith — were unbagging their chips.

The evening climaxed around 8:30 p.m. local time when Holz went on a ridiculous heater, ousting McKeehen, Brian Green and Jack Salter, all in about eight minutes. Holz — who entered the day more than 17 million chips behind Smith and had already eliminated Nick Petrangelo from the festivities about 40 minutes earlier — was suddenly the commanding chip leader.

When heads-up play began, the soon-to-be-23-year-old German held a 56,275,000-35,250,000 advantage in chips, and the featured table area was packed. Drinks were flowing and the crowd was getting louder as Smith managed to turn the tables and take back the lead. Undaunted, Holz battled back — and when he finally prevailed, just after 11 p.m., he immediately jumped into the arms of his supporters.

Holz was overcome with emotion as he accepted his first WSOP bracelet, saying, "Usually I'm very good with words, but right now I have none." And who could blame him? Holz said it was "clearly" the biggest triumph of his career, which now includes nearly $19 million in earnings after taking home the $4.9 million on Sunday.

As Holz spoke to the throng of media, you would have never known that just steps away the game’s most prestigious tournament was slowly grinding along. The Main Event will get its headlines and dominate the poker Twitter feeds starting Monday, when a very busy Day 1C takes place.

But opening weekend was upstaged, and it belonged to the High Roller for One Drop event and the estimable Fedor Holz.

* * *

One of the more recognizable faces of the 819 players in the Ladies Event — eventually won on Sunday afternoon by 37-year-old poker dealer Courtney Kennedy — was Cheryl Hines, the actress best known for her role as Larry David's wife in the HBO comedy hit "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Actress Cheryl Hines competed in the WSOP Ladies No Limit Championship.

Actress Cheryl Hines competed in the WSOP Ladies No Limit Championship.

The 50-year-old Emmy Award nominee has been a regular on the charity poker event circuit over the years, but this was just the second time she'd entered the WSOP Ladies Event. She was eliminated shortly after the dinner break on Day 1 ("I'm glad I don’t have to pay my rent from playing poker," she cracked), but from the sounds of it, this won't be her last attempt at winning a WSOP bracelet.

"It's a really, really fun event," said Hines, who also starred in the poker movie "The Grand" in 2007 with Woody Harrelson and Ray Romano, and confirmed she will be part of the ninth season of "Curb," which is scheduled to begin filming again early next year following a five-year hiatus. "The people are so nice. It's a really relaxed atmosphere and it's fun to talk to people all over the world. Plus, you don’t have to pay $10,000 to get in."

Of course, there was one player in the event that did indeed pony up $10k, and his name is Tony Ruberto.

Since the WSOP — or any Nevada business, for that manner — cannot exclude a certain gender from entrance or participating, there is a 90% discount for female players for the event. The obvious goal here is to dissuade men from playing, but Ruberto reportedly lost some sort of evil prop bet.

Casino City was told that Ruberto, who has five WSOP cashes this year and, according to The Hendon Mob has $1.9 million in career earnings, sheepishly showed up at his table and apologized to his opponents, letting them know he was not there to make a spectacle of himself or the tournament. He was promptly eliminated before the dinner break on Day 1.

* * *

As we wrote about last week, Jason Mercier has been tearing apart this year’s WSOP, with his tally now up to 10 cashes and two bracelets.

As a result, Mercier is running away with the race for WSOP Player of the Year with 2,121.60 points entering the Main Event. According to the GPI, however, 14 other players were still alive to win the award, but they’d have to go on some kind of crazy steamer and hope Mercier cools off.

As of Sunday morning, the "closest" players to Mercier were Paul Volpe (1,566.04), Benny Glaser (1,553.41), Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi (1,535.82), Justin Bonomo (1,515.94) and Robert Mizrachi (1,472.58).

Mercier, by the way, made some news off the felt on Friday when he proposed to girlfriend and fellow poker pro Natasha Barbour on the featured table stage, moments after she busted from the $5,000 No Limit Event in third place.

* * *

NASCAR driver Jason White was in the field on Day 1B. According to the WSOP Media Guide, White recorded the highest Main Event finish by an athlete in 2014 when he took 348th place. The only other athletes to cash are NHL goalie Roberto Luongo in 2012 (634th place) and Olympic skier Petter Northug in 2010 (653rd).

Other professional athletes to show up through Days 1A and 1B include ex-NFL Pro Bowlers Richard Seymour and Antoine Winfield, who both spoke to Casino City about their poker "careers."
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