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Retiree checks off ‘bucket list’ item at WSOP Main Event

Just about every poker player dreams of playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event.

That was certainly the case for Craig Reifsnyder. On Sunday, the recently retired mailman from Pennsylvania didn’t have to dream any longer.

Reifsnyder played on the first of four starting flights for the Main Event, the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Hold’em World Championship, on Sunday at Bally’s. The tournament will last for nearly two weeks before crowning a champion July 16 to join the likes of Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth and Chris Moneymaker in poker history.

Reifsnyder, 57, said his father died in the past year and left him some money. Though Reifsnyder said he had never played in a tournament with a buy-in higher than $120, he came to Las Vegas and bought into the Main Event for $10,000.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “It’s always been on my bucket list, and now I can afford it. … This is something that when I’m 70 years old, if I don’t do it, I’m going to regret it.”

Reifsnyder’s chip stack slipped from the starting 60,000 to 41,000 at the dinner break, but he was in no immediate danger of elimination in the early stages of the tournament.

WSOP officials have said they expect to break the record of 8,773 Main Event entries set in 2006. With late registration available four hours into Day 2, the Main Event field and prize pool will not be set until Friday afternoon.

Day 1A had 879 entries at dinner break Sunday. Each starting flight tends to have more entries than the last, with 1D being by far the largest.

Last year, Koray Aldemir defeated a field of 6,650 entries to win the Main Event, earning $8 million. He was on hand Sunday to deliver the ceremonial “shuffle up and deal” announcement and also offered some tongue-in-cheek advice.

“If you want to win this, remember: If your opponent has a very good hand, try to have a better hand,” Aldemir said to the laughter of the crowd.

The Main Event draws arguably the most wide-ranging poker field of the year, with the rankest of amateurs playing alongside the toughest professionals.

One table made an early case for toughest in the room, with former Main Event champions Qui Nguyen (2016) and Ryan Riess (2013) seated side by side at a table that included Justin Bonomo, a three-time WSOP bracelet winner with more than $57 million in live tournament earnings.

No big-name pros were at Reifsnyder’s table, but he was keeping his goals modest.

“If I get through Day 1, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something,” he said. “If I get to the money or close to the money, I’ll be back next year. If I get blown away, this will be it. It would be one and done. I’m out of my league.”

There was nothing to be afraid of. At worst, he said with a laugh, “my kids get a little less on their inheritance.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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