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Players turned away at WSOP

World Series of Poker officials blame the Fourth of July holiday for the reduced number of entries in this year’s main event.

Don’t expect tournament planners to make the same mistake next year, though.

The $10,000 no-limit Texas hold ’em World Championship drew 6,494 entries, official said after figures for the four-day opening round were added up Monday night,. That was 350 fewer players than a year ago.

However, more than 500 potential participants were turned away Monday on the final opening day because tournament officials said the Rio had already reached its seating capacity. Many players competed on tables set up outside of the Rio’s tournament poker room inside the resort’s convention pavilion.

"There is no question that our strong preference was to have a bigger main event this year if possible," said Harrah’s Entertainment Vice President Jeffrey Pollack, who serves as the commissioner of the World Series of Poker. "We tried to accommodate every player we could, so it was disappointing in that sense. We simply ran out of space."

Pollack said tournament officials will examine what happened with the main event’s opening four days this year when planning 2010 . Still, with more than 60,000 players competing in 57 events over the past six weeks, Pollack termed the 2009 World Series of Poker a success.

"We never want to be in the business of turning people away," he said. "There was plenty of opportunity to play in the main event."

The main event’s opening round was expanded to four days a few years ago to accommodate a growing field. On Monday, 2,809 players took part in the tournament.

Among the more than 500 players rejected were some top professional poker players, including five-time gold bracelet winner Ted Forrest and six-time gold bracelet winner T.J. Cloutier. Hundreds of hopefuls waited in the hallways at the Rio to see if they could get into the tournament, which had plenty of seats available during its first three opening days.

On Friday, 1,116 players participated in the tournament, but only 873 signed up to play on Saturday, July 4th. On Sunday, 1,696 players competed.

Tournament officials warned on Sunday that they expected the event to sell out on Monday.

This year’s champion in the main event will take home almost $8.55 million. Last year, 22-year-old Peter Eastgate of Denmark won $9.15 million.

The nine players who reach the final table in this year’s main event will each take home more than $1 million. This year’s main event will pay 648 places.

"This is only the second time in the tournament’s history that all nine players at the final table are guaranteed $1 million," Pollack said.

Players will compete over the next week to whittle down the field. The final table of nine will be determined July 15, and the players will return to the Rio in November to play for the title.

On Tuesday, players who survived Friday and Saturday’s opening rounds competed while Sunday’s and Monday’s competitors will play today.

Fourteen former champions of the World Series of Poker, including Eastgate, survived the first day and will advance to the next round.

Moving into the second day of competition is CityCenter Chief Executive Officer Bobby Baldwin, who took time away from his job duties at the MGM Mirage-owned $8.5 billion development Monday to play in the main event.

Baldwin won the World Series of Poker in 1978 when he was known as "The Owl," the quiet and studious professional poker player from Oklahoma. When he won the title at Binion’s Horseshoe, he beat a field of 42 players to win $210,000.

Baldwin has won four World Series of Poker bracelets, his last coming in 1978. The last time he cashed in a World Series of Poker event was 1994, when he finished 24th in the main event, winning $16,800.

Baldwin had 70,900 in tournament chips, the 305th best of Monday’s competitors. Players were given 30,000 in tournament chips to begin play.

Some celebrities still alive in the main event were actresses Jennifer Tilly and Shannon Elizabeth, actors Brad Garrett, Jason Alexander, Lou Diamond Phillips and Marlon Wayans and Jordan Farmar of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

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