It was a big point of discussion when PokerStars came up with the idea of the PokerStars Players’ Championship. Just how big would it be? Would those who didn’t get Platinum Passes – the $30K “golden ticket” that was handed out to over 300 people over the last year – come out? As it turned out, the bosses at PokerStars had nothing to worry about as a record setting field for a $25,000 buy in tournament turned out, with late registration still going on until Day 2 starts tomorrow.

Those Planes Must Have Been Packed…

From the start of the day, there were clues that this monumental occasion was upon us. The 320 Platinum Passes would have all day (and then some) to come to the felt, but the number that popped up on the screen after the cards hit the air (courtesy of Ultimate Fighting Championship announcer Bruce Buffer’s talents) stunned many in attendance at the Atlantis Resort Casino. The tournament clock showed that 728 players had entered the tournament from the opening bell, crushing the largest ever $25,000 tournament ever held.

The previous record holder dates back more than ten years ago. The 2007 World Poker Tour World Championship at the Bellagio saw 639 players pony up the $25,000 buy in for a shot at poker glory. That prize pool ended up at nearly $15.5 million, with Carlos Mortensen taking the championship and the $3.9 million-plus bounty. Contrast that event with the PSPC; from the opening bell, the 728 entries built a prize pool of over $18 million and, with the remainder of the day left for players to come to the tables (and registration open until the start of Day 2 on Monday), there were serious thoughts about the field cracking the 1000-pllayer mark.

The numbers kept climbing as the eight levels of paly for Sunday proceeded. By the time the first break of the day came at the close of Level 2, there were 918 players on the tournament clock. By the midway point of Level 6, the magical 1000 player mark was cracked and, by the time the end of Level 8 came on Sunday evening, the total player count hit 1014 players and could get even bigger before late registration closes on Monday.

Don’t Call it a Comeback…

With PokerStars providing so much of the prize pool – not only did they pony up the Platinum Passes, PokerStars will tack on another $1 million for the eventual champion – there were several names from the past who showed up to take their shot at the big prize. Gus Hansen, Terrence Chan, Vanessa Selbst, David Williams, Dustin Dirksen, Jennifer Harman and Natasha Mercier all were a part of the field. So were the celebrities as golfer Sergio Garcia, former Boston Celtic Paul Pierce, skateboarder Tony Hawk and actor Norm MacDonald were all seen on the PSPC tables.

Unfortunately, the news wasn’t good for some of these folks. Garcia was an early departure, followed by MacDonald and Hawk, while Selbst and Harman struggled to keep their original 60K stake. But they would make it through the day, unlike such players as Joe McKeehen, ‘Chino’ Rheem, Bryn Kenney, Rainer Kempe, Erik Seidel, Koray Aldemir, Adrian Mateos and Maria Ho that will no longer be a part of the action (the PSPC is an old-fashioned “freezeout” with no rebuys).

Shakerchi Leads the Way

The day smiled kindly on Talal Shakerchi as he slowly worked his stack up through the day. He would take over the lead about halfway through Level 6 after a clash with Daniel Strelitz. On a flop and turn of 7-4-6-7, Shakerchi put out a big enough bet that Strelitz would have to call off for his tournament life. The 80K pot would have brought Strelitz back to life and, after deliberating for a great deal of time, he made the call.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong decision. Strelitz’s 8-6 had caught middle pair on the flop and two pair on the turn, but Shakerchi crushed him from the onset with pocket fours for a flopped set and a turned full house. Drawing dead to another six or seven for a better boat, the river trey did nothing to help Strelitz as he headed to the door and Shakerchi surged to the lead.

Shakerchi will have that lead come tomorrow morning over this unofficial Top Ten:

1. Talal Shakerchi, 425,300
2. Dan O’Brien, 301,200
3. Shyam Srinivasan, 254,000
4. Jonathan Dokler, 240,100
5. Juan Ollero, 228,900
6. Scott Margereson, 221,600
7. Adrien Delmas, 211,500
8. Steven van Zadelhoff, 210,000
9. Kristen Bicknell, 207,900
10. Luiz Duarte, 207,000

The 740 remaining players will find out two things on Monday when they return for Day 2. The registration window closes, so they’ll know just how big the field is going to be, and they’ll learn what the prize pool will be. Considering that it is already over $25 million (not counting the champion’s extra $1 million), the inaugural PokerStars Players’ Championship has to be considered a rousing success.

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