The World Poker Tour has settled down in Durant, OK, for the WPT Choctaw. Over the next few days, some of poker’s best and a host of Okies (and some Texans, maybe a few Jayhawks) will battle it out for poker supremacy. Day 1A is in the books and it is Texas’ Viet Vo atop the standings as the field nearly reached the $1 million guarantee for the tournament.

Strong Field from the Start

The WPT Choctaw might have been concerned about the size of the field, but those concerns were dismissed from the start of the day’s play. 148 entries were in the books after a single level of play with plenty of star power taking their skills to the felt in the unlimited entry format. Four-time WPT champion Darren Elias was one of those players on the table from the starting gun, using his image – and his chips – to hammer his opposition and more than double his stack within 90 minutes of the start of play. But Elias wasn’t the only top professional on the baize for some poker on Friday.

Shankar Pillai, Dutch Boyd, Joe Elapayaa, Jared Griener, Ari Engel, Marvin Rettenmaier and the defending WPT Player of the Year Art Papazyan were intent on building healthy stacks and avoiding the pressures of having to come back on Saturday to work. Two players stepping to the felt on Friday were a bit intriguing, however.

After his stirring run at the World Series of Poker Championship Event – and the follow up of winning “The Closer” to take his fourth bracelet – some might have thought that Joe Cada would have wanted to stay home in Michigan to take a bit of a breather. Apparently the 2009 World Champion has had enough of a break, however, as he found himself on the tables in Oklahoma on Friday. Unfortunately for him, Cada would be eliminated in the last level of the evening and will face having to come back on Saturday if he is to go to Day 2.

The other player who was a bit of a surprise in Choctaw was the legendary Men “The Master” Nguyen. Nguyen made a run at taking the inaugural championship for Season XVII, the WPT Gardens Poker Festival championship in Los Angeles last month, before falling in third place. Few expected the wily veteran to come to Oklahoma to take part in this event, however. “The Master” proved to be more than up to the task, working his way to the fifth largest stack in the room by the end of the night.

Vo on the Go

Vo turned out to be the star of the show on Friday as he never seemed to make an incorrect decision. In the final level of the night, Vo would leap into the chip lead when, on a Jack-high flop, Vo called a flop bet from his opponent. This played out similarly on the turn and river, with Vo just calling his opponent’s bets. At showdown, his opponent had flopped top pair of Jacks with his A-J, but Vo calmly turned up pocket Kings to crush those Jacks and scoop up a pot that pushed him into the lead over the 70 players remaining.

1. Viet Vo, 458,500
2. Brady Holiman, 440,000
3. Randy Skeel, 395,000
4. Art Papazyan, 385,000
5. Men Nguyen, 365,500
6. Peter Nguyen, 339,000
7. Julio Marines, 323,000
8. Andrew Crookston, 321,000
9. Eluterio Rodriguez, 316,000
10. Nicholas Pupillo, 304,500

Those who will be coming back on Saturday for a second taste of the WPT Choctaw include Cada, former WPT Choctaw champion Jason Brin, Chance Kornuth and Boyd.

With 279 entries already in the books, the WPT Choctaw is only a handful of players away from meeting the guarantee set by the Choctaw Casino Resort of $1 million. But it’s going to have a way to go if it is to reach last year’s total of 924 entries and even more work to do if it is to break the 1175 entry record set in 2015. Still, it is obvious the players are in town and ready for action as the WPT Choctaw’s second Day One starts at noon on Saturday.

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