Case Keefer / LAS VEGAS SUN
Monday, May 31, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
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Hoai Pham stood on the edge of the stage in the Pavilion Room at the Rio on Sunday and stared out at the thousands of faces watching him receive the first official gold bracelet of the 2010 World Series of Poker.
Steve Soffa, the official jeweler of this summer's World Series, used the perfect words as he presented the most desired prize in poker to Pham.
"This is your moment," Soffa told Pham.
Pham, a 43-year-old poker dealer from San Diego, became the first player this summer to enjoy a bracelet ceremony after he won the $500 buy-in Casino Employees Event for $71,424.
He smiled as Soffa and tournament director Jack Effel congratulated him and posed for pictures. Pham also stood proud as the national anthem of Vietnam, his native country, played over the speakers.
"This was my dream from a long time ago," Pham said. "I've played poker since 1995 and for the first time, my dream came true."
Giving tournament champions "their moment" is exactly what World Series of Poker officials hope to accomplish with these bracelet ceremonies.
"Everyone who was in that room and saw Hoai Pham are going to know that guy won a gold bracelet when he's walking around for the next 52 days," World Series of Poker spokesman Nolan Dalla said. "That's fitting for something as prestigious as winning a gold bracelet."
Each of the 57 champions at the World Series this summer will get the same experience as Pham in a daily ceremony at 2:20 p.m. This pageantry is a first at the World Series after 41 years.
Dalla said in the early years of the World Series, winners would be given their bracelets in front of their friends and fellow competitors at the end of the day and everyone would celebrate. When fields expanded to thousands of players in the last decade and tournaments lasted until the wee hours of the morning, the charm of that moment was lost.
Champions regularly would stumble to the cash-out window at 5 or 6 a.m., collect their money and bracelet, and leave.
"There was no kind of ceremony," Dalla said. "They were not being properly honored."
Officials decided that wasn't good enough and set up a small stage in the middle of the action at last year's World Series for daily bracelet ceremonies. This year, they've made it an even bigger event.
The ceremonies take place on the full-sized stage in the Pavilion in front of a backdrop that displays numerous bracelets.
"Visually, it's very pleasing," Dalla said. "It's got a lot of pizazz and we didn't have that last year. The World Series of Poker is consistently improving the tradition and history of the bracelet."
Some have complained about the ceremonies by saying they aren't necessary and are a nuisance to players in current tournaments.
Dalla said that was absurd based on the fact that every player who was honored last year enjoyed it. There's no doubt Pham savored his moment Friday.
"I'm very, very happy," Pham said. "Explaining it is very difficult."
Couture doesn't put up much of a fight
MMA legend Randy Couture delivered the ceremonial "shuffle up and deal" command Sunday at the World Series of Poker.
Couture then took a seat to play in Day 1B of Event No. 3, $1,000 no-limit hold'em. He didn't last long. Couture was eliminated in the third level after slightly more than two hours of play.
The survivors of the total field of 4,345 will reconvene at the Rio at 2:30 p.m. Monday.
Carnival lasts all year at the Rio. With a float occasionally passing overhead and dropping beads while feathered dancers fire up the gamblers below, the Rio tries to keep its 120,000-square foot casino jumping with excitement. Special Brazilian mixed-drinks are also served throughout the casino. The hotel suites tend to be larger than similar priced rooms on the Strip and many offer excellent views with floor to ceiling windows.
The Rio offers some quality shows like "Penn & Teller" and "Chippendales." Many come to the Rio for the nightlife at the VooDoo Lounge, located on the 51st floor, or McFadden's Irish Pub on the casino level.
Others come for a bit relaxation at the Rio Spa or pool area and still others come to shop at the hotel's 60,000 square feet of shops. In each of these endeavors, the Rio attempts to make the experience a bit more fun and spontaneous.
The Rio also offers guests a variety of dining choices from all-American food at the All-American Bar & Grille to Gaylord India Restaurant for something a little spicier and even Carnival World Buffet for the indecisive.