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How the final table was set

For all the millions of dollars wagered, gold bracelets handed out and fairytale endings already inked into the pages of this year’s World Series history books, the Main Event was always going to be the tournament everyone was waiting for. Duncan Wilkie reports

With a roll call of previous champions and a field packed to bursting point with some of poker’s brightest talents, the 2009 WSOP grand finale was a showpiece occasion that more than lived up to the six weeks of fervent anticipation that preceded it.

Dramatic stories were interwoven with one another as the rich tapestry of the epic 12-day saga was unfurled. Chip stacks were built like sprawling empires early on, only to crumble and be swept away as the pressure mounted and play heated up in later days.

Of course, there was controversy. Players eager to take their big shot at the staggering $61,043,600 prize pool were turned away after arriving on Day 1D only to learn that the event had officially sold out. Chip counts were misreported and Phil Hellmuth’s grandiose entrance set a new benchmark in ridiculous showmanship, but none of these footnotes would do anything to deflect the spotlight from goings-on at the felt proper.

With a total field of 6,494 runners assembling across four separate Day 1s, finding an early indication of who was set to make waves in this year’s showpiece was nigh on impossible. Of the various chip leaders that emerged in the early stages, only young Joseph Cada would prove capable of holding onto his stack into the latter stages, with his early momentum ultimately serving as the catalyst that secured him a berth at November’s final table.

Days 2A and 2B saw several seismic shifts in the Main Event pecking order as many of the early pace-setters faltered and faded away, but eventually the field began to take shape. Eric Cloutier suffered from a stray zero after his reported 150,575 turned out to be a significantly less-impressive 15,575, but he made amends by finishing on a solid 383,500 ahead of Day 3.

For the first time in the Series, the remaining competitors met under one roof as 2,044 survivors descended on the Rio for Day 3. Fellow Frenchmen Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier and Ludovic Lacay were the early movers and shakers, but British hope James Akenhead was able to stay within a double-up of the chip lead as Phil Ivey also began his ominous ascent up the ranks.

By the time Day 4 was reached, 789 players were still in the hunt and play saw many of the remaining big names begin to show their class and rise to the fore. ‘Elky’, Phil Ivey, Joe Hachem, Kenny Tran, Dan Harrington and David Benyamine all finished the day in the top 20, with Lacay powering his way to second place and Akenhead gliding into fourth as 407 runners survived.

As play wore on, defending champion Peter Eastgate clung to his title with grit and determination, and the Dane made it through Day 5 alongside Hachem as the only former champions still left in contention. However, when Hachem exited the next day in 105th and Eastgate followed soon after in 78th, it became certain that a new world champion would be crowned in November.

One man who made great strides towards filling that void was amateur player Darvin Moon, who began hoovering up stacks to assume the overwhelming chip lead by the end of Day 6. It was a mantle that he would hold all the way to the final table as the bust-outs came thick and fast throughout a furious Day 7.

With play expected to tighten up when the final 64 players returned, the big stacks made a mockery of such predictions by bludgeoning their way through the closing stages. An aggressive Antonio Esfandiari was given his marching orders when he was caught making a move by Steven Begleiter and Lacay would join him on the rail soon after as his pocket sevens failed to hold up against Jeff Shulman’s ace-king.

The final chapter came on Day 8 when 27 players returned to play down to a final table of nine. Despite seeing his chip stack sliced in half, Ivey was able to grind his way through the field while Akenhead was fortunate enough to crack aces en route to his November Nine seat. The pair were joined by French pro Antoine Saout and Kevin Schaffel whose slow and steady play throughout the final day saw them drag their way over the finish line.

However, while that quartet scavenged for the few chips that would book their place in the final, it was the two big stacks, Eric Buchman and Darvin Moon, who would have the final say in deciding the November Nine proper, with the latter delivering the tournament-defining blow. With Buchman getting action underway, Moon called and Jordan Smith put in a second raise. Only Moon wanted to play and before he knew it all the chips went in on a 8-4-2 flop with Smith’s pocket aces having been cruelly out-flopped by his wired pair of eights.

The hand held and with that timely elimination, the final table was set. All eyes will now be on the nine survivors as they prepare to contest poker’s ultimate prize from 7-10 November.

Know Your November Nine

Darvin Moon – 58,930,000

As the biggest stack at the final table, Darvin Moon will also return to the Rio in November as arguably the least experienced of the final nine. The West Virginian’s deep run in the Main Event represents the first noteworthy cash of his poker career and comes only as the result of him winning entry to the tournament via a satellite at his local casino. However, despite his amateur roots, Moon has the chip stack to do some serious damage come November.

Eric Buchman – 34,800,000

Having already notched nearly $1 million in tournament winnings, New Yorker Eric Buchman is no stranger to the pressures of playing a major final table. His biggest cash to date came at a WSOP circuit event two years ago and he also narrowly missed out on a bracelet in 2006 when he finished runner-up in a $1,500 NLHE tournament. Even so, wherever Buchman finishes at November final table, his pay-out will far eclipse the sum total of his previous career winnings.

Steven Begleiter – 29,885,000

Steven Begleiter is an enthusiastic amateur who has been playing the game with his friends for as long as he can remember. His entry into this year’s Main Event actually came as a result of him winning a seat through his home-game league, and the other lucky league members will chop 20 percent of whatever Begleiter earns at the final table. As a result, Begleiter has been vociferously supported throughout the tournament and will no doubt bring an army with him when he returns in November.

Jeff Shulman – 19,580,000

Certainly the live wire at the final table, Jeff Shulman is best known for being the editor of an American poker magazine, but he earned further notoriety last month for suggesting that if he won the Main Event he’d throw the bracelet in the bin. Shulman later clarified that his comments were a reflection on the way that he feels the WSOP has been managed in recent years and added that he was bemused by the poor quality of play that he’d encountered in this year’s tournament.

Joseph Cada – 13,215,000

At just 21 years of age, Joseph Cada is the youngest player at the final table by some distance and could break Peter Eastgate’s record as the youngest Main Event winner when he returns in November. Known online as ‘jcada99’, the young pro has had several decent results in Full Tilt’s various Sunday tournaments and also scored two cashes in smaller buy-in events at this year’s Series. Now enjoying a much-needed summer break from the game, Cada will return to the Rio refreshed and ready.

Kevin Schaffel – 12,390,000

Kevin Schaffel is a 51-year-old father of two who is currently experiencing his second deep run in a World Series Main Event having previously finished 42nd in the 2004 WSOP some five years ago. Naturally, the Floridian’s wealth of experience will come in handy when play resumes in November, but with just $168,000 in live tournament winnings to his name, the final table pay-out will represent by far the biggest cash of a career that has also included successes on the WPT and EPT.

Phil Ivey – 9,765,000

Undoubtedly the man all eyes will be on when the Main Event gets back underway, Phil Ivey is by far the marquee name among the nine finalists. The seven-time WSOP bracelet holder won two events at this year’s Series and despite his chip disadvantage, will go into the final table in fine form. Rather ominously for the rest of his opponents, Ivey has revealed that he has a few ‘plans’ ahead of the final and the Full Tilt pro could well steal the show when play resumes.

Antoine Saout – 9,500,000

Hailing from Morlaix, France, Antoine Saout is one of only two non-US players at the final table. The online pro is a well-known MTT specialist in Europe and has earned a fierce reputation online for crushing tournaments on Everest Poker, where he won his seat into the Main Event. Certainly, the Frenchman’s popularity with fellow Everest qualifiers will grow exponentially now that his final table berth has secured them all a share of a healthy $1 million bonus.

James Akenhead – 6,800,000

The other ‘foreigner’ at November’s final table is British pro James Akenhead, who will return as the tournament’s shortest stack. As a member of London’s highly-rated poker clique, the Hit Squad, Akenhead is arguably the most technically gifted player at the final table after Ivey. A largely unknown quantity to his American opposition, the young pro will be keen to avenge his near miss in last year’s $1,500 NLHE event, where he finished runner-up to Grant Hinkle.
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