Healthy Bardah eyes fourth straight Main Event cash

Ronnie Bardah still has no explanation for the mysterious illness that hospitalized him three years ago.

“Maybe some kind of virus or a bug that nobody knew how to diagnose,” Bardah said.

At the end of his successful run at the 2010 World Series of Poker, Bardah, a native of Brockton, Mass., was hospitalized with an undetermined neurological disorder that caused numbness in his face and extremities. Now healthy, Bardah was one of the thousands of players at the Rio Convention Center on Saturday for the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold ’em World Championship tournament.

“I do a lot of traveling, so I don’t know what hurt me,” Bardah said. “I was in really, really, really bad shape. It was something I wouldn’t wish upon nobody.”

Bardah said he first started feeling ill when he returned from a trip to Israel three weeks before the start of the 2010 WSOP. After finishing 24th in the Main Event, Bardah started showing strokelike symptoms and was in the emergency room soon after. Doctors ruled out Bell’s palsy and suspected Bardah might have been suffering from anxiety.

“I was always outgoing and happy. I’m not one of these kids that gets depressed and gets anxiety over nothing,” Bardah said. “I was getting anxiety because of the way I was feeling, not because I have anxiety.”

Bardah moved to Thailand and took up Muay Thai, and he also started eating healthier. Last year, Bardah won the $2,500 six-handed limit hold ’em event for his first WSOP gold bracelet and finished in the money in the Main Event again.

“It just took me awhile of changing a lot of different things and lifestyle, not doing those 24-hour binges that these poker players do,” Bardah said. “I let my own body beat it, so I’m very happy about that.”

Bardah is in search of a record-tying fourth straight Main Event cash, and he got off to a good start. Playing at the featured table with 2009 Main Event champion Joe Cada, bracelet winner Dominik Nitsche and Russian bombshell Tatiana Barausova, Bardah doubled up early with pocket kings and spent most of the afternoon among the chip leaders until losing more than half of his stack after the evening dinner break.

The Amazon Room at the Rio was a sea of lucky shirts and eclectic hats. Players started the tournament with 30,000 in chips, and action lasted until early Sunday. The Main Event continues today at noon with Day 1B, the second of three starting flights.

“This is the Super Bowl of our sport,” defending champion Greg Merson said. “It’s an incredible experience.”

Merson was one of three former Main Event winners to begin play Saturday, along with Cada and 2011 champion Pius Heinz. After a slow start, Merson had a healthy chip stack at the dinner break, while Heinz was eliminated Saturday evening.

Mark Jeffreys was the first player eliminated from the Main Event, as his pocket queens fell short against the pocket aces of Angel Funes Rios. Six-time bracelet winner T.J. Cloutier was also eliminated early Saturday.

Actors Kevin Pollak and Jason Alexander also were popular figures as the duo sat at adjacent tables for much of the afternoon. Pollak played one hand while doing an impersonation of Christopher Walken, while Alexander, who played George Costanza on “Seinfeld,” lost almost half his stack early and was eliminated in the evening.

“The joke of my poker career is that everyone looks at me as a formidable player. I’m a knowledgeable player. That doesn’t make me formidable,” Alexander said.

Contact reporter Dave Schoen at or 702-387-5203.

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