World Series of Poker showdown begins, first player out

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Less than five minutes in, after four months of waiting for his chance at $7.6 million and the title of World Series of Poker champion, 26-year-old Patrick Chan was the first to be felled by chip-leader Joe McKeehen in this no-limit Texas Hold 'em matchup.

The professional poker player that came into the competition in 8th place went all-in with just several million worth of chips and a king-queen combo. McKeehen, holding more than 10 times as many chips, showed an ace and a four, winning the hand after the five community cards were revealed and couldn't save Chan.

For Chan, it was simple math. On its own, his king-queen combo was a strong hand.

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"I'm just glad I made it to this far. I appreciate the friends and family that came for me. I guess it just didn't work out today. But it's just poker."

A three-day poker-playing marathon begins in Las Vegas as nine men battle for the annual World Series of Poker title and chance at $7.6 million.

They last matched wits in July for the series' Main Event and return Sunday at 5 p.m. PT to the Rio All-Suites casino-hotel with their remaining chips for the final matchup after outlasting several thousand players, with each paying $10,000 for the chance to win the no limit Texas Hold 'em event.

Two of the "November Nine" nearly missed their own chance.

Neil Blumenfield of San Francisco was laid off from his tech job in the two weeks before the Main Event start and he weighed saving his $10,000 entry or playing. Israeli player Svi Stern entered a few Series events but flew home before the Main Event, changed his mind and flew back in time to give it a try. Now both are already $1 million richer and hoping for more.

The World Series of Poker tradition got its start in 1970 with casino owner Benny Binion as an invitation-only event so casual the ultimate winner was chosen by the other, usually older, guys at the table. The sport's popularity caught fire in 2003 when Chris Moneymaker, an accountant at the time, won it all, giving hope to amateur poker players. Caesars Entertainment Corp. bought the tournament in 2004.

The latest World Series of Poker tournament began in May and continued for 51 days with 68 events, culminating with the annual Main Event. It's a grueling multi-day marathon of poker-playing that whittled down the competition from 6,420 entries to nine players, all guaranteed at least $1 million each with the last man standing winning a total of $7.6 million.

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The amount is lower than recent years because World Series of Poker organizers spread out the awards to the top 1,000 finishers after getting feedback from players. Last year, first-place winner Martin Jacobson won a guaranteed $10 million.

For 23-year-old Tom Cannuli, a man who has lost three young friends to car accidents and illness since 2012, more than money is at stake. With an eye on his own legacy, his World Series of Poker Main Event appearance is one step toward becoming part of poker's history.

"This is just the start of me," he said.

He'll be wearing three wristbands during the final days of the event with the names of each of his friends who died: Ryan "Pooh Bear" Cluss, Josh "Fitz" Fitzpatrick and Vito Trudente. And he'll have a coin sitting atop his cards that belonged to his father's friend "Mojo," who introduced him to poker when Cannuli was a teenager.

"They believed in me," he said.


Freelancer Dan Michalski in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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