Champions Invitational kicks off at the World Series of Poker

Twenty past World Series of Poker main event winners, representing a collective $78.4 million and some 70 individual event title gold bracelets, began the Champions Invitational this afternoon at the Rio.

The two-day, no-limit hold’em event culminates Monday when the winner takes home the Binion Cup, which honors the World Series of Poker’s founding family, and new car. The entry was free and each player began with 10,000 in tournament chips.

The event started with an initial hitch.

Greg Raymer, the 2004 world champion, couldn’t participate because at the time of the opening ceremony, he was the chip leader in the $40,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event that is expected to conclude late tonight. The winner takes home more than $1.89 million.

Peter Eastgate, the 2008 World Series of Poker champion, missed the opening ceremony and group photo, but arrived at the Rio in time to participate.

World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack introduced each of the past champions to the crowded poker room inside the Rio Pavilion.

Two-time World Series of Poker winner Doyle Brunson received the loudest applause from the room. Phil Hellmuth, who owns a record 11 gold bracelets, was introduced to a smattering of boos.

Poker players and fans gave warm greetings to two-time winner Johnny Chan, 2000 champion Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and 1972 champion Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, the oldest participant who will be 81 in December.

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