It only started a few days ago, but the 2023 World Series of Poker has taken no time to reach full speed. The halls of Paris Las Vegas and the Horseshoe have been bustling and the first jewelry is reaching its deserving champions. In the books already is the traditional WSOP starter, the Casino Employees Event, while a big money event will conclude on Thursday in deciding its victor.

California Dealer Wins Casino Employees Tournament

The traditional starting event for the WSOP, the $500 Casino Employees Event, reached its conclusion on Wednesday night. In the end, Parkwest Casino 580 table games dealer Peter Thai emerged as the winner after a stirring battle with James Urbanic. The event also is a good precursor that the 2023 WSOP could be on pace to shatter previous records.

Thai came to the final day of Event #1 in a decent position with his 391,000 in chips (19th place), but he was able to grind that up as Wednesday’s action wore on. Thai was amongst the chip leaders at the start of the nine-handed final table, but he would suffer some adversity. In what would become a theme of the final table, Urbanic and Thai clashed early in a hand that saw Urbanic force Thai off his hand with an all-in bet that Thai couldn’t call.

The situation didn’t get much better for Thai – at least not immediately. He would double up Bruce Jiang on two occasions, forcing Thai back into the pack. A monster hand against Urbanic, however, would revive Thai and send him on course to the title.

On a flop of 2-2-7, Urbanic would once again use the power of his large stack by shoving in on Thai. This time, however, Thai made the call. Thai’s pocket eights needed a great deal of help against Urbanic’s pocket Jacks, and that help would come on the river in the shape of another eight. That double-up by Thai gave him the chip lead and, from there, he would surge to the title.

Thai would use a double knockout of Jiang and Benson Tam to rocket over sixteen million chips, then knocked out Paul Blanchette in third to break 20 million and go to heads up with Urbanic for the bracelet. Facing such a huge disadvantage, Urbanic put his final chips in with the “computer hand” (Q-7) and it didn’t hit against Thai’s K♣ 10♣ (especially after two tens flopped to give Thai trips). In one swing, the tournament was over, and Peter Thai was the champion of the Casino Employees Event.

1. Peter Thai, $75,535
2. James Urbanic, $46,690
3. Paul Blanchette, $33,051
4. Bruce Jiang, $23,738
5. Benson Tam, $17,303
6. Sean Belfour, $12,802
7. Keith McCormick, $9617
8. Joe Pavan, $7337
9. Lisa Eckstein, $5686

Six-Handed $25K High Roller Features Big Names

Today will mark the final table of Event #2 of the 2023 WSOP, the $25,000 Six-Handed High Roller No-Limit Hold’em tournament, and nine competitors will be back to decide first the official (six-handed) final table and then the champ. France’s Axel Hallay will lead the gold rush on Thursday with his 7.98 million chips, but a host of top pros are on his trail.

Unlike the Casino Employees Event, which saw an increase in players compared to 2022, the $25K event saw a decrease in players compared to last year. Twenty additional entries came in before the start of action (late registration was open until the start of Day 2) that brought the field size to 207, down from the 251 entries in 2022. Still, there’s a more than $4 million prize pool to fight over, and nine men will take part in that fight today.

Behind Hallay, the field is tightly bunched. Chris Moore (4.455 million) has a slight edge over Joey Weissman (4.15 million), with Sean Winter and Chance Kornuth lurking in the middle of the pack. Many people’s eyes will be drawn to the bottom of the leaderboard, however, where one Jake Schindler is with 1.205 million in chips.

Schindler has been bedeviled by accusations against him of online cheating, which curbed his participation in the 2022 WSOP. Even though he cut his activities short last year, Schindler still was able to capture his first WSOP bracelet in the $50K version of this tournament. Although he may be persona non grata to most in the poker world, there are no prohibitions from Schindler’s participation in the 2023 WSOP and he must be considered a threat.

Here’s how the leaderboard looks for Event #2:

1. Axel Hallay, 7.98 million
2. Chris Moore, 4.455 million
3. Joey Weissman, 4.15 million
4. Alexandre Vuilleumier, 3.975 million
5. Sean Winter, 3.945 million
6. Chance Kornuth, 2.605 million
7. Ren Lin, 1.5 million
8. Jake Schindler, 1.205 million
9. Elior Sion, 1.202 million

Release the Hounds!

To say the pace of play has picked up at the 2023 WSOP would be an understatement. Three tournaments, including the freeroll Tournament of Champions and Day 1B of the “Mystery Millions,” will move their action along on Thursday. Simultaneously, three OTHER events, including one online tournament, will open their action. Get used to it…it is going to be the usual breakneck pace for the World Series of Poker, and we haven’t even reached the first weekend yet!

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