The 2024 World Series of Poker kicked off with what will likely be one of the highlight tournaments of the summer yesterday, the debut edition of the $5,000 Champions Reunion No-Limit Hold’em Freezeout event. All former WSOP Main Event champions received a free seat in the tournament, but with that gift comes a cost: a bounty on their heads. It’s not a cash bounty, though. Anyone who eliminates a former Main Event champ from the tournament receives a free entry into this year’s Main Event.

The 22 past Main Event champions who took to the felt on Tuesday were, in no particular order (bold indicates those who moved on to Day 2):

Joe McKeehen

Phil Hellmuth

Koray Aldemir

Jamie Gold

Chris Moneymaker

Tom McEvoy

Qui Nguyen

Daniel Weinman

Ryan Riess

Berry Johnston

Greg Merson

Scott Blumstein

Espen Jorstad

Greg Raymer

Phil Aldemir

Johnny Chan

Dan Harrington

Huck Seed

Brad Daughtery

Robert Varkonyi

Erik Seidel

Jim Bechtel

Leading the 99 players who survived from the original field of 493 is none other than 2016 WSOP Main Event champ Qui Nguyen, with 663,000 chips. It’s a tight race at the top of the leaderboard, though, as Xiaohu Liu is just 2,000 chips behind and Asher Conniff looms in third place with 641,000 chips.

Last year’s Main Event winner, Atlanta’s Daniel Weinman, is tied for 34th place with 269,000 chips.

There was some champ-on-champ violence, as well. In a battle of the blinds, Chris Moneymaker (2003 champion) put his last 45,000 chips at risk pre-flop with pocket Kings. The legend Johnny Chan (1987, 1988, lost to Mike McDermott heads-up at the Taj) made the call with A-K and took the lead on a 7-Q-A flop. The turn and river were of no help to Moneymaker and he was resigned to hit the rail.

So now Johnny Chan not only received a free buy-in into this $5,000 tournament, but he has also earned the $10,000 seat in the Main Event. It’s good to be the king.

The opening event ended Day 1 close to the money – 74 players will cash. The min-cash is $9,141 and the winner will bank $408,468. Of course, there are also several Main Event bounties out there, juicing the prize pool. The 99 remaining players will return at noon local time to play another ten levels.

In addition to the Reunion event, three more tournaments will be in action on Wednesday: Day 2 of the $500 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em event, and Day 1 of both the $500 WSOP Kickoff No-Limit Hold’em Freezeout and $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo 8 or Better.

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