After hours and hours and days and days of the 2009 World Series of Poker, we have finally reached the final table of the Main Event. The mysterious November 9 have emerged from the sea of tables clustered inside the Rio. This year’s group is a diverse mix of people, from rank-amateurs through online wizards, right up to a man at the very top of the game. There’s even a villain who has trashed the prestigious nature of the competition in favor of a rebellious spectacle. In short, it looks set to be one of the most interesting final tables in recent memory.
The introduction in 2008 of the 4-month final table delay has made the characters at the final table all the more important. From now until they reconvene, the focus will be on their personalities and poker credentials. So who are these illustrious finalists?
Darvin Moon (58,930,000)
The outright chip leader is every bit the every-man. A self employed logger who won his entry via a charity tournament, Darvin is the archetypal amateur making good on the American Dream. The Oakland native has been more than modest, attributing his huge chip stack to a lucky run of hands. Of the 6,494 players who entered the main event Darvin quipped that, “I’d guess about 6,300 of them are better poker players than I am.”
Some members of the media have been quick to draw comparisons between Moon and Moneymaker. Hopes are that a Darvin victory, combined with the annulment of the UIGEA, will spark of a second poker-boom. As it stands the affable 45 year-old has given a lukewarm reception to the wave of media attention headed in his direction. According to PokerRoad.com he doesn’t have an email address and has claimed that, “As soon as I go home, I go back into the woods. When it’s time to come out, I’ll come out.”
James Akenhead (6,800,000)
The UK pro is unequivocally the short stack, and faces a tall order to make it to the final few players. The 25 year old has had a string of successes across the UK and is generally regarded as one of the nation’s finest players. PokerStars is claiming that James qualified for the main event via one of their online satellites, but he was sporting large Full Tilt patches in post-tournament interviews. Despite his excitement at reaching the November 9, James is behaving like the consummate professional player. “To win, you have to be focused on coming first. The fame that comes with all this is obviously big, but I haven’t thought too much about it. I’m just going to take it as it comes and focus on the poker.”
Phil Ivey (9,765,000)
The one man at the final table who needs no introduction. When you ask the top professionals who they think is the finest poker player in the world you hear the name Phil Ivey mentioned more than any other. His presence at this final table plays a large part in making this such an intriguing contest. He has typically shunned media attention, but will undoubtedly become the focus of the hype as it builds toward November 7th.
“You have no idea how bad I want this,” he told a scrum of reporters after play ended on Day 8. “Today was a bad day, but I made it,” he added, after grinding back from two early setbacks with pocket Jacks. Phil is undoubtedly the finest player at the table, but his relatively short chip stack means that it will be a tall order to win the tournament. Not that this seems to have diminished his appetite. “I would love to play through right now,” he commented, before heading straight to Bobby’s Room for some high stakes cash games.
Kevin Schaffel (12,390,000)
The semi-retired businessman is the oldest member of the November 9 and has so far avoided the bulk of the media attention. Kevin claims that rather than engage in lengthy interviews and promotional events, he would like to return to his hometown of Ft Lauderdale, Florida and play golf. Despite this, PokerStars is reporting that they have signed the 51 year old as a sponsored player. He has high level tournament experience, with two WSOP main event cashes and two WPT cashes to his name.
Steven Begleiter (29,885,000)
A world away from Darvin Moon is Steven Begleiter, a former high level employee of the collapsed bank Beat Stearns. He worked for the firm for 24 years before leaving during the take-over by JPMorgan Chase. The 47 year old won his entry in a local poker tour, and had a sizeable contingent on the rail to support him. Steven predicts that legions of followers from his hometown of Chappaque, New York will join him at the final table in November.
Eric Buchman (34,800,000)
Buchman is a hard-edged tournament pro with an eye on the big prize. “I don’t really care about getting recognition,” he claimed. “I’m just here to win money.” His large stack and tournament credentials make him one of the favorites to win the top prize. He already has nine WSOP cashes, including four this series. He even made the final table of a $2.5k Omaha/Stud Hi/Lo event earlier this year, finishing in 6th place. The minimum 9th place main event money brings his lifetime tournament earnings to over $2.2 million.
Joe Cada (13,215,000)
The youngest player in the November 9 would also become the youngest player ever to win the main event if he were to capture the coveted bracelet. Peter Eastgate broke Phil Hellmuth’s 19 year old record when he won last year at the age of 22. Joe Cada is a full year younger and would set a record that would be difficult to break, given the minimum gambling age of 21 in Las Vegas. The online pro is no stranger to tournament success, and has been turning a profit for some time. “I’ve been doing it for a living for four years. I started playing professionally when I was 17.”
Antoine Saout (9,500,000)
The second European at the final table is a 25 year old from Saint Martin de Champs in France. The former engineering student has only been a poker pro since October, but has already vindicated his choice of career. As was recently reported on FlopTurnRiver, Antoine is an Everest Poker qualifier. Read more about him here.
Jeff Shulman (19,580,000)
The last player on our list is the self appointed villain of the final table. Jeff is the editor of Card Player Magazine and has some decent live tournament success. He has made the audacious claim that he will throw the Main Event bracelet in the garbage if he emerges victorious in November. “It’s about my lack of respect for the WSOP and the management here and what they’ve done to the players.” Jeff is reportedly unhappy with the way the World Series is run and is looking to make a provocative statement.
When the story first leaked, Shulman’s petulance was believed to be a reaction to the way in which the WSOP dealt with media rights. CardPlayer was formerly responsible for providing live tournament coverage for the WSOP, before the exclusive rights were sold to PokerNews. Although Shulman publicly denies this as a motive, members of the poker media have reported that Shulman made claims to the contrary. If he does win the $8.5 million first prize it could develop into one of poker’s biggest ever controversies.