One Drop High Roller draws 166 players, increases awareness for charity

27 June 2013

LAS VEGAS -- Seth Palansky, the vice president of corporate communications for the World Series of Poker, won't be taking over as the oddsmaker for Caesars' properties sportsbooks anytime soon.

An hour before the $111,111 One Drop High Roller was set to begin, Palansky insisted that he would set the over/under line on the tournament field at 100 players.

"Name one high roller event that's drawn a field that big," Palansky insisted, when others said that number was too low.

In the end, the tournament drew 166 players, including professional poker players like last year's $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop winner Antonio Esfandiari and a number of recreational players with pockets deep enough for the six-figure buy-in.

Of course, it's easy to beat expectations when you set the bar low, at least publicly. In reality, tournament staff was prepared for a field twice that large but were thrilled to have 21 tables in play in the eight-handed event.

"We're ecstatic," said World Series of Poker Executive Director Ty Stewart on the turnout. "There's obviously an appetite for a high stakes element to the World Series of Poker and we're excited to continue to have that in the series."

Antonio Esfandiari the $1 million Big One for One Drop last year.

Antonio Esfandiari the $1 million Big One for One Drop last year. (photo by Aaron Todd)

Three percent of every buy-in – $3,333 – is being donated to One Drop, the charity founded by Cirque du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberté. The rest of the money goes towards the $17,891,148 prize pool. First place will take home $4,830,619, the 19th-largest prize in WSOP history. The only prizes larger were Esfandiari's $18.3 million win in the Big One for One Drop last year and 17 Main Event finishes in the last 10 years.

Meanwhile, Caesars isn't taking a penny. In total, the tournament has raised $553,278 for One Drop, and may raise more depending on how generous players who finish in the money decide to be.

Esfandiari has pledged to donate an additional 1 percent of anything he wins in this or any other tournament at the WSOP, in large part because of a trip he took with Phil Laak and Jeff Gross to Honduras and El Salvador, where One Drop is working to provide residents with access to safe drinking water. And he urged his fellow players to do the same prior to the start of the tournament, getting everyone's attention by asking them to stop clattering their chips, stop talking to each other and listen.

"How many people in this room have woken up and worried about water that they're going to drink today?" Esfandiari asked. He was greeted with silence.

"How many people have woken up and worried about surviving that day?"

More silence.

Phil Laak was one of three players to travel to Honduras and El Salvador to see the work One Drop is doing there.

Phil Laak was one of three players to travel to Honduras and El Salvador to see the work One Drop is doing there. (photo by Aaron Todd)

"Nobody," he continued. "When we were (in El Salvador and Honduras), that's all we saw. People worrying about today, not tomorrow. And that's all we do here. We worry about tomorrow, what's next, what's bigger, what's better. And these families are all worried about surviving."

Stewart had nothing but praise for Esfandiari, Gross and Laak's efforts.

"There are some days that it's hard to see the collective good that comes from poker," said Stewart. "You certainly see individuals making their dreams come true, but seeing lasting collective good is sometimes challenging. . . . They went in and not only got their hands dirty and worked on the project but really connected with people and now can bring home that message," said Stewart.

Between this event and the $1,111 Little One for One Drop, a rebuy event where $111 of each buy-in goes to the charity, Caesars hopes to raise more than $1,111,111 for the charity. Last year, 11 percent of each $1 million buy-in went to the charity, raising more than $5.3 million.

"With this event we wanted to open it up to a much broader audience that may have to work very hard to be able to collect the buy-in," said Stewart. "We felt that 11 percent might have been too high to be able to see the kind of field size that we see today."

Brandon Steven is the chip leader heading into Day 2.

Brandon Steven is the chip leader heading into Day 2. (photo by Aaron Todd)

One hundred eight players survived Day 1 and will return tomorrow. Brandon Steven holds the chip lead with almost 1.4 million, with Tobias Reinkemeier in second with more than 1.2 million. Notable players eliminated include last year's runner-up Sam Trickett, Michael Mizrachi, Isaac Haxton, Brian Rast, Tom Dwan, Sam Farha, Phil Galfond, Freddy Deeb, Erick Lindgren, Eric Seidel and Jonathan Duhamel.

NOTES: Jason Mercier wasn't planning on playing this event because he was in the midst of a deep run in the $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em event. With 16 players left, he looked to become a huge chip leader before getting eliminated on a two-outer on the river. He finished Day 1 with 160,000, just over half the starting stack of 300,000. … Steven, who finished 10th in the 2010 Main Event and played in last year's Big One for One Drop, eliminated Tom Dwan by hitting trip queens on the river vs. Dwan's pocket aces. … John Juanda almost missed out on the event. He thought it started at 5 p.m. instead of noon. He got to the Rio just before the end of the second break, which was the end of the late registration period. Juanda finished the day with 720,000.

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