Nobody likes a tease, or so the conventional wisdom goes. That was certainly the general consensus when, in 2008, Harrah’s announced that the WSOP Main Event would delay its final table until November. The trial run met with a lukewarm reaction from the poker media, but it did succeed in building anticipation among the general public. A year later and the 2009 November Nine has proved considerably more successful. Thanks to a collection of decent personalities and obvious talent, the poker-world is salivating at the prospect of seeing the famous nonet reconvene this Saturday.
Play gets underway at Noon PST in the Rio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas. It could be a long night, with the clock running until the table plays down to heads-up. The final two will then make their way to the Penn And Teller theatre for a climactic 1-on-1 confrontation at 10 p.m. PST on Monday night. Forty of ESPN’s HD cameras will be recording the action, with an edited version of both nights scheduled to broadcast on Tuesday evening from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET. However, production staff have confirmed that the show may run past 11 p.m. if the action warrants an extension.
Many of the November Nine have already become well known to poker fans around the world. And a few, such as Phil Ivey, have been making a name for themselves in the mainstream press. The WSOP Main Event final table in order of chip count, is as follows:
Darvin Moon – 58,930,000
Eric Buchman – 34,800,000
Steven Begleiter – 29,890,000
Jeff Shulman – 19,580,000
Joe Cada – 13,220,000
Kevin Schaffel – 12,390,000
Phil Ivey – 9,770,000
Antoine Saout – 9,500,000
James Akenhead – 6,800,000
As you can see, reclusive logger Darvin Moon has the overwhelming chip lead, making him an early favorite for the title. However, he is also the most inexperienced player at final table. The self confessed amateur qualified for the Main Event via a $130 satellite, prompting some to compare him to legendary champ Chris Moneymaker. Since play paused back in July, Darvin has stayed true to his word. While he remained holed up in the Maryland woods, many of his compatriots have been demonstrating their prowess at poker tournaments around the world.
Kevin Schaffel, family business owner turned poker pro and Steven Begleiter, an ex-Bear Sterns strategist, both made a deep run in the recent WPT Legends of Poker. Schaffel, the oldest member of the November Nine, almost won the whole thing – ending his run in second place. Across the Atlantic, James Akenhead and Antoine Saout were replicating a feat many thought would never be seen again. Last years Main Event runner-up, Ivan Demidov, turned heads by becoming the first player to make both the WSOP and WSOPE main event final tables. This year, both James and Antoine achieved this admiral accomplishment – finishing in 9th and 7th respectively.
Eric Buchman has been laying low since the WSOP began its four month hiatus. However, he is already an established pro and regular high-stakes tournament casher since 2003. Excluding his Main Event payday, Eric already had $1 million in tournament winnings, including 9 WSOP cashes. Joe Cada has also avoided the headlines, but has been busy tearing up the online tables at which he made his reputation. Among his high profile internet cashes was first place in WCOOP Event #10.
The most controversial member of the final table has to be Jeff Shulman, the current editor of CardPlayer magazine. Shortly after he was confirmed as a November Niner, he shocked the poker world by announcing that he would throw his bracelet in the trash if he won the event. There was some speculation that his tiff with Harrah’s concerned exclusive reporting rights that CardPlayer lost to Poker News, however he claims to be protesting the greed of the WSOP owners. Over the past few months he has backed down from his outlandish claim, but still retains an air of defiance. He is also aiming for an unprecedented familial double, after his father Barry Shulman won the WSOPE Main Event in October.
Last, but by no means least, is the world famous Phil Ivey. Generally regarded as the finest poker player in the world, his presence at the final table is far and away the biggest story of the year. He has been characteristically reluctant to engage with the media, but has done a smattering of small interviews as well as a featuring on the cover of ESPN magazine. With only 9.7 million in chips he has some work to get back into contention, but every player at the table is wary of his ability. He is unquestionably the fan favorite. Despite a 49 million chip disadvantage compared to Darvin Moon, a recent WSOP.com poll saw 70% of fans predict that Phil would take down the title.
Every player at this final table has a interesting and colorful story to back up their poker abilities. Although most aficionados will be pulling for Phil Ivey, each player has brought their own cheering section to fill out a packed Las Vegas audience. Thanks to ESPN’s continued support of the WSOP, experts and laymen alike will be able to watch a slice of the action just a day after the champion is crowned. In under 7 days, two men will be waiting on the turn of a card to decide which of them becomes over $8.5 million richer.