Mona Shield Payne
Sunday, July 8, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
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Marco Ritter had aspirations of becoming the next Pius Heinz, Joe Cada, or of course, Chris Moneymaker when took his seat Saturday afternoon at the World Series of Poker Main Event.
The event has spiked in popularity over the years since poker hit the ESPN airwaves, giving 20-somethings such as Ritter the dream of becoming poker’s next star. Saturday was the first day in that journey for the 1,066 professionals and amateurs alike who started in the $10,000 buy-in, No Limit Hold ’em tournament at the Rio — the first of three opening rounds with a first-place prize estimated at about $9 million.
Ritter’s quest to greatness, however, was short-lived.
The 26-year-old German busted out just 68 minutes into play when his two pair didn’t hold up against established professional David Williams’ straight.
Ritter, while taking the walk no player wants to make out of the Amazon Room at the Rio after being eliminated, was clearly disappointed. His bad beat story will surely have some similarities with the others in a field of players that organizers expect has exceeded 7,000. The final tally won’t be official until registration closes Monday during the third leg of the opening round.
Ritter said he was ahead after flopping two pair against Williams’ gut-shot straight draw. But Williams, who took second in the 2004 Main Event, got the card he needed to send Ritter to the rail.
“It’s insane. I lost every pot I played,” Ritter said.
The 1,066 who bought in Saturday was an increase of nearly 20 percent from the 873 from last year’s initial starting day. The tournament, which is in its 43rd year, runs daily through July 16 until nine players remain. The final table resumes in October with the champion also winning the highly sought-after bracelet — this year, it’s been redesigned by Jason of Beverly Hills and includes more than 160 grams of 14 karat gold and 35 carats of diamonds.
The riches make losing that much tougher. After all, this isn’t your typical Saturday afternoon sit-and-go.
“As soon as you bust out, this is the one tournament you can’t wait to get back into,” said Seth Palansky, the tournament’s veteran spokesperson.
And you can’t leave Moneymaker off the list. The accountant won a seat at the Main Event by winning a $40 online tournament, then bested notable professionals for $2.5 million and the 2003 title. That’s around the same time as ESPN started its heavy coverage, creating a perfect match: Moneymaker, an average guy and player, thriving on the game’s biggest stage to become a millionaire while the world — last year, participants came from 85 nations — dissected his every move.
Make no doubt about it, Saturday is comparable to the Super Bowl and Christmas for the players.
“This is everything they (the players) looked forward to all year. This is an exciting day,” Palansky said.
The event attracted players from the sports and entertainment arenas, including actors Kevin Pollak and Ray Romano, and Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo playing Saturday. Past main event champs Heinz, Peter Eastgate (2008) and Joe Hachem (2005) each also started Saturday.
Like Ritter, who was playing in his third Main Event, they each share a common goal. “I didn’t come all this way thinking I wasn’t going to win,” Ritter said. “Of course, it’s disappointing.”
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.