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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: Ivey returns, McKeehen surprises to kick off Main Event Day 1C

11 Jul 2016

By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS -- The start of the largest single-day field in World Series of Poker Main Event history was highlighted by the appearance of two of the game’s most enigmatic players: Phil Ivey and Joe McKeehen.

For McKeehen, who has been here all summer and is once again running hot, the story wasn't his presence at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino for Main Event Day 1C, but what he had to say. As advertised, the prickly 25-year-old hasn't exactly embraced the "poker ambassador" role that typically comes with being the reigning Main Event champ. While enjoying a stirring run of success over the last calendar year that has resulted in more than $9 million in earnings, McKeehen has had his full share of beefs with the WSOP and Twitter wars with the poker media.

Defending WSOP Main Event champ Joe McKeehen impressed with his words to the Day 1C field before play began on Monday.

Defending WSOP Main Event champ Joe McKeehen impressed with his words to the Day 1C field before play began on Monday.

So when he showed up this morning for the obligatory "Shuffle Up and Deal" honors and banner unveiling that every defending Main Event winner goes through, nobody was expecting a grandiose speech as he came to the stage wearing his typical Philadelphia sports-themed t-shirt. (For those of you keeping score at home, today's choice was a red, Roy Halladay, Phillies short-sleeve with camouflage lettering and numbers).

But, as he often does, McKeehen went against the grain. While obviously uncomfortable with a microphone in his face, McKeehen used his short time at the podium to drive home three points, all of which drew approval and applause from the more than 4,000 players getting ready to try to knock him off his perch.

First, be respectful to your dealers. "They're working hard and long this summer," he said. "Try to make it easy on them." Second, no unneeded deliberation. "Please, please no excessive tanking, guys," he said. "If someone at your table is taking too long to make decisions, don't be afraid to call the clock. It's OK."

With the poker PSAs out of the way, McKeehen then went into a mode we don't see often from him, if ever. He genuinely encouraged his opponents to relish the moment, sounding more like Robin Williams in "Dead Poets Society" than the guy who has been regularly getting into inane pissing matches with strangers over the past six months.

"No matter how you approach this tournament, remember it only happens once a year, so enjoy it," he said with a tinge of passion. "Have as much fun as you possibly can and hopefully we'll see you all here next year."

With that, McKeehen exited stage left and awkwardly posed in front of the giant banner of himself that will adorn the WSOP playing area for eternity. WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart stopped McKeehen and told him, "That may have been the best speech by a former champ we've ever had."

Hours later, he was back at the poker table, making his living and delivering his signature steely-eyed glance to anyone who dared to take his chips. The champ was back in his comfort zone, but not before showing us a side we wish he'd show a little more.

Speaking of steely-eyed glances, the other big story this morning was the return of Ivey to the WSOP.

The Poker Hall of Famer is of the most successful and recognizable players in the game, with 10 WSOP bracelets, 55 cashes and more than $23 million in worldwide tournament winnings. But long gone are the days when Ivey set up his own trailer in the Rio parking lot and sweated out an entire summer at the WSOP. The 41-year-old has been absent this year, and hasn't cashed in a WSOP event since 2014.

The return of Phil Ivey at the WSOP Main Event on Monday caused quite a stir.

The return of Phil Ivey at the WSOP Main Event on Monday caused quite a stir.

Word started to circulate last night that he would indeed register for Monday's Day 1C, and the final tip that he would be in the house came about 30 minutes before play started when his longtime devotees, Pat and Mel Humphrey, were spotted on the rail.

Sure enough, Ivey appeared during the first level of the day and was escorted to his spot at Table 9, Seat 7 in the Blue section of the Brasilia Room by WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel.

During breaks, Ivey darted out of a back door in the room to avoid media and fans, but Casino City caught up to Alex Duque, one of his tablemates, during a Level 3 break.

"Man, when he sat down I almost got immediately transported back to 2009 when I’m watching the Main Event on TV and I see Phil Ivey and I see the Humphries behind him; it was actually kind of cool," said the 27-year-old Miami native, who was looking to cash in the Main Event for a second straight year. "He's been running pretty bad. He hasn't had many real playable hands. He's basically lost every hand he's played.

"You know if he wins a hand because you hear the fans cheer 'Ivey! Ivey! Ivey!' Overall, he's been very quiet. Not rude. He's just keeping to himself and playing poker."

You can bet that poker fans, WSOP suits and ESPN executives are hoping that Ivey gets hot and keeps on playing poker into early next week, when the money bubble bursts and the Main Event final table is decided. As far as we're concerned, the more Ivey at the WSOP, the better.

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