LAS VEGAS – Lady Luck showed no mercy on former World Series of Poker champs and a few contenders who thought they had a chance at the $7.5 million grand prize.
In fact, just getting a seat at the final table that begins Friday will take a staggering amount of luck. To stand a chance of winning the no-limit Texas Hold 'em (search) event, players must land superb hands and avoid bad beats.
The first round of the tournament's main event was a bust for some of the game's top professional players. After three grueling days, the field of 5,619 entrants dropped to 1,884, with more making their exit quickly at the Rio Hotel and Casino (search).
"It's insane," said former 2003 champion Chris Moneymaker (search), who got knocked out in the second round Sunday. "It's tough to make money. Every time I made money, something bad would happen. I could never accumulate any chips."
If any one theme has emerged over the hours of calling, reraising and the famous cries of "all in," it's the inescapable fact that no one is safe.
Eleven former winners have already succumbed to lackluster cards, including Moneymaker, Robert Varkonyi (2002), Bobby Baldwin (1978) and Dan Harrington (1995).
Many of the female contenders did not fare well, either. Jennifer Harman, Kathy Liebert, Annie Duke, Cyndy Violette and Evelyn Ng were knocked out in the first round.
"I guess I could give you a lot of excuses," Ng said. "But I kind of played bad."
Two other previous winners, Greg Raymer (2004) and Huck Seed (1996), were still in the game. Also still in action were favorites Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer and Sam Farha.
Johnny Grooms, tournament director, said Seed and Farha stood a good chance of making a run at the coveted title and earning the $7.5 million top prize.
Farha, a well-known pro, is looking for some serious poker redemption after Moneymaker bluffed him at the final table in 2003 and scored a huge pot of chips. Shortly after, Moneymaker toppled Farha and the infamous bluff has been immortalized thanks to ESPN.
Hollywood stars Ben Affleck, James Woods, Tobey Maguire, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Tilly, Mimi Rogers and others who've showed off their skills on Celebrity Poker Showdown also have helped secure the game's popularity.
Tilly, who won this year's ladies no-limit hold 'em event in June, lost more than half her chips early in the main event when she succumbed on Day 1.
Hopes for a woman to win the World Series for the first time appeared to rest with Barbara Enright, the only woman ever to make a final table. Enright, who boasts an icy poker face, finished in fifth place in 1995.