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How a couple players got into the WSOP One Drop without the $111,111 entry fee

Winner of summer’s most expensive tournament to earn $4.8 million

$111,111 One Drop High Rollers No-Limit Hold'em

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Owais Ahmed takes part in the $111,111 One Drop High Rollers No-Limit Hold’em event during the World Series of Poker Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at the Rio.

Updated Thursday, June 27, 2013 | 2:22 a.m.

$111,111 One Drop High Rollers No-Limit Hold'em

Greg Merson takes part in the $111,111 One Drop High Rollers No-Limit Hold'em event during the World Series of Poker Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at the Rio. Launch slideshow »

End of Day One chip leaderboard

  • Brandon Steven 1,398,000
  • Tobias Reinkemeir 1,225,000
  • Dan Shak 999,000
  • Jason Mo 975,000
  • Chris Lee 906,000
  • Ben Lamb 855,000
  • Matt Glantz 854.000
  • Don Nguyen 847,000
  • Bobby Baldwin 839,000
  • Farshad Fardad 833,000
  • Steven Silverman 803,000
  • Jason Senti 799,000
  • Daniel Negreanu 785,000
  • Chris Moore 759,000
  • Patrick Madden 738,000
  • 108 of 166 remain going into Thursday's 11th level (1,000 ante/3,000 small blind/6,000 big blind) of play

One Drop High Rollers Payouts

  • 1st: $4,830,619
  • 2nd: $2,985,495
  • 3rd: $1,965,163
  • 4th: $1,433,438
  • 5th: $1,066,491
  • 6th: $807,427
  • 7th: $621,180
  • 8th: $485,029
  • 9th-10th: $384,122
  • 11th-12th: $308,622
  • 13th-14th: $251,549
  • 15th-16th: $208,968
  • 17th-24th: $173,723
  • Schedule: Play to continue Thursday until eight players remain. Final table is set for Friday at 1 p.m.

Owais Ahmed had several reasons to stick with his first reaction and ignore the call.

For starters, the 30-year-old poker pro from Irvine, Calif., didn’t recognize the Las Vegas-based number that popped up on his phone Tuesday afternoon. He was also preoccupied at the moment, trying to compete in a pot-limit Omaha hi-low tournament he paid $3,000 to enter at the Rio.

“I actually decided to pick up just on a whim,” Ahmed said.

It turned out to be a better call than any he could make at the table all summer at the World Series of Poker. The simple gesture of answering paid off with an $111,111 prize.

The voice on the other end told Ahmed he had won the most expensive of’s daily giveaways of tournament seats. He had won an entry into One Drop High Rollers event.

“Had I not picked up, they would have given it to the next guy,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed was one of 166 players grinding away Wednesday for their share of the $17,891,148 One Drop prize pool, including a $4,830,619 first-place prize. It was somewhat of a bad beat for the rest of the field considering thousands far more inexperienced than Ahmed were eligible to win the free seat through signing up for the WSOP’s forthcoming online poker site.

Ahmed already boasts a championship bracelet (he defeated Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi heads-up in an Omaha event for $255,959 two years ago), two final-table appearances this year and more than $1 million in lifetime earnings at the WSOP.

He wasn’t the only accomplished professional who got into the One Drop High Rollers without forking over six figures. One of his friends, Ben Lamb, received a discount of his own a few hours after congratulating Ahmed.

Lamb, the 2011 WSOP Player of the Year who has made more than $6 million lifetime at the Rio, was one of three players who won an entry by prevailing in a $5,200 mega-satellite tournament Tuesday night.

The satellite ended early Wednesday morning, so Lamb was only able to get home for three hours of sleep before jumping into the fray in the One Drop High Roller.

“I’m glad I played it,” Lamb said. “I think I would have ended up doing it no matter what. I mean, it’s a chance to win $5 million.”

The only tournament with a bigger payout all summer is the $10,000 Main Event, which starts in two weeks; the winner has earned more than $8 million in each of the last eight years.

Two of the last three Main Event champions — 2012’s Greg Merson and 2010’s Jonathan Duhamel — were seated next to each other in the One Drop High Rollers. Two-time Main Event bracelet-winner Johnny Chan and 1978 champion turned MGM Resorts executive Bobby Baldwin were also in the field.

One notable absence was Phil Hellmuth, the all-time bracelet leader with 13 wins who rarely misses a marquee event. Hellmuth advanced to the final table of last year’s $1 million buy-in One Drop tournament, placing fourth for $2.6 million.

Antonio Esfandiari, of course, won that event for $18.3 million, the biggest payout in tournament poker history.

“Definitely the apex of my career,” Esfandiari said in a bit of an understatement before instructing players to “shuffle up and deal” for this year’s event.

The success of last year’s One Drop enabled this year’s encore. WSOP officials and One Drop Foundation founder Guy Laliberte wanted to make the $1 million buy-in special by not offering the same tournament every year and decided an $111,111 price tag would suffice.

The turnout was almost as impressive as last year’s 48-player sellout. Most poker players set the over/under for this year’s version at 150 entrants, which was easily surpassed.

Only a few players had gotten knocked out of the tournament after six hours of play Wednesday. It was a tense environment for many players with what was on the line, but Ahmed had no worries.

“It lifts pressure because it’s a free seat,” Ahmed said. “You have the opportunity to win life-changing money. If anything, it’s a no-lose for me.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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