It wasn’t an easy road by any means. Eight days may not seem like a lengthy journey to most, but in tournament poker, those eight days are long, exhausting, and stressful. There were 6,494 players who started down the road, but only nine of them made it to their destination. Those November Nine were then set to take a long break and return to Las Vegas in November to play for millions of dollars and the most coveted title of poker, thus finally ending the last leg of the journey.
The 40th Annual World Series of Poker began in late May of 2009, and after 56 preliminary bracelet events, the Main Event arrived. On July 3, 2009, the first of four starting days of the $10,000 World Championship No-Limit Hold’em tournament began at the Rio in Las Vegas, and when the four days were complete, it was determined that there were 6,494 participants. They came from countries all over the world and spoke many languages, but all were there to play poker and do it to the best of their abilities.
At the start of play on Wednesday, July 15, there were only 27 players remaining in the field. The goal was to be one of the last nine standing when play ended for the day and become one of the coveted November Nine who would find their seats at the final table. Those 27 players started the action with Darvin Moon in the chip lead and ended the same. But in the meantime, the dreams of 17 men and one woman were dashed as the cards refused to cooperate.
Said woman was the first to exit on Day 8 of the Main Event. Leo Margets of Spain had been relegated to a short stack the day before, and she took her stand with in an attempt to double up, but she found herself up against the of Warren Zackey. The board only produced , and no help for Margets meant a 27th place finish, for which she received a substantial sum of $352,832.
As players exited the tournament throughout the afternoon at a rate of speed not anticipated by anyone in the room, several well-known poker pros were among the group of players accepting their fate but disappointed in what could have been. Those pros included Antonio Esfandiari in 24th place ($352,832) and Ludovic Lacay in 16th place ($500,557). And one of the chip leaders throughout the last few days of the tournament took a tremendous dive as Day 8 wore on, finally succumbing to Moon and accepting a 12th place finish, which was worth $896,730.
With the eventual elimination of Jamie Robbins in 11th place at the hands of Phil Ivey, the last ten players were seated at one table. And it took well under an hour for everyone to find their comfort zones and one player to decide to risk it all. Jordan Smith tangled with Moon to see a flop. Moon took the initiative and bet 4 million chips, but Smith check-raised all-in with pocket aces. Moon made the call with top set, showing pocket eights for the lead. The last two cards came - and , and Smith finished the tournament in tenth place with $896,730 to show for it.
That left nine players, the November Nine as they’re called because the final table will play out in early November so it may air semi-live on ESPN. The set-up of the final table, complete with preset seating assignments and chip counts, was released as follows:
Seat 1: Darvin Moon 58,930,000
Seat 2: James Akenhead 6,800,000
Seat 3: Phil Ivey 9,765,000
Seat 4: Kevin Schaffel 12,390,000
Seat 5: Steven Begleiter 29,885,000
Seat 6: Eric Buchman 34,800,000
Seat 7: Joe Cada 13,215,000
Seat 8: Antoine Saout 9,500,000
Seat 9: Jeff Shulman 19,580,000
Each of the players was guaranteed ninth place money upon their departure from the Rio, and all visited the cashier cage for checks in the amounts of $1,263,602 each. The nine millionaires then posed for group photos and discussed their WSOP experiences thus far with the ESPN camera crews before returning to their homes and lives. The WSOP Director of Communications, Seth Palansky, later released some information about the November Nine, in order to better acquaint the public with the nine players that would be touted and publicized to a degree to be determined by each over the coming months.
The chip leader with more than 24 million chips is Darvin Moon , a 45-year old logger who works and lives in Maryland. His experience with poker through the years has been mainly home games, charity tournaments, and poker nights at the VFW Hall near his home. After taking a chance and winning a seat into the WSOP Main Event through a qualifying tournament, he traveled to Las Vegas and competed in his first World Series. At the end of the day, the humble player, one of the only not to accept any sponsorship during the Main Event from online poker sites, ended up with the chip lead and will take it into the final table in November.
Eric Buchman, a 28-year old from Valley Stream, New York, will enter second in chips in November, but he will be no stranger to final tables or the professional poker tournament scene. Coming into the 2009 Main Event, he already had over $1 million in live tournament earnings to his name and nine WSOP cashes, including final tables in 2006 and 2009 in preliminary events. He also had four World Poker Tour cashes and a New England Poker Classic victory on his resume from 2004. One of the most experienced of the nine players, his experience in poker will likely give him a bit of an edge at the final table.
Steven Begleiter is one of the older members of the November Nine, coming in at 47-years old and hailing from Chappaqua, New York. The former finance employee of Bear Stearns plays poker as a hobby and has no official record of tournament cashes. Third in chips going to the final table, the recreational player will be one of the underdogs as far as experience but one of the favorites of the everyday poker players around the world.
Jeff Shulman is fourth in chips and is no stranger to the poker industry. The 34-year old is the editor of Card Player magazine, where he works with family members Barry and Allyn. His experience with poker through the years goes beyond the magazine, though, as his record shows cashes as far back as the year 2000. In fact, he finished seventh at the final table of the 2000 WSOP Main Event and has had numerous other WSOP cashes and final tables through the years. Prior to the 2009 Main Event cash of $1.2 million for this final table, he already had more than $1.3 million in tournament earnings to his name.
Joseph Cada is the youngest of the bunch, ringing in at the young age of 21. The Michigan resident only began playing live poker in 2009 and had two cashes at the 2009 WSOP in preliminary events, though his online poker resume shows more than $500,000 in tournament winnings from the internet. After being introduced to poker by friends, he has now reached the ultimate final table in a very short amount of time and looks to bring an online poker pro vibe to the action in November.
Kevin Schaffel is the senior-most member of the table at the age of 51. The Coral Springs, Florida, man boasts of being a recreational poker player, having enjoyed the game since he was 11-years old. Primarily, he plays in home games with family members, concentrating most of his time on family after having run a printing company for 30 years.
Phil Ivey is easily the most recognizable and will be the most discussed member of the November Nine. Almost everyone in the world who knows poker is familiar with the name, and his presence has been felt everywhere from European tournaments to the highest stakes cash games in the world at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where he plays regularly for hundreds of thousands - sometimes millions - of dollars with the likes of Doyle Brunson, Jennifer Harman, and Daniel Negreanu. Prior to his November Nine cash, he had accumulated more than $10 million in lifetime earnings, which is quite astounding considering he is only 33-years old. Already considered one of the best poker players in the world with titles ranging from the WPT to the Monte Carlo Millions, he lit up the 2009 WSOP by winning two preliminary event bracelets to make his grand total seven. His spot in poker history is already solidified, but to add a WSOP Main Event victory to his resume would be a great moment for him and poker fans worldwide.
Antoine Saout is one of the two non-American players at the final table. The 25-year old hails from Saint Martin des Champs, France, and is relatively new to the poker scene. He has played major tournaments in Europe, even final tabling a Spanish Poker Tour event in 2008, but the 2009 WSOP Main Event is clearly his most lucrative and recognized score to date. He will come into the final table as the second lowest player in chips, but carrying the pride of France on his shoulders could do wonders for his confidence.
James Akenhead is the other European at the table, and the 26-year old will be one of the most experienced of the nine. The former railroad conductor moved into the world of professional poker several years ago and had nearly $1 million in live tournament earnings prior to the 2009 WSOP Main event, much of that coming from a 2008 WSOP final table where he finished second in a $1,500 NLHE tournament for more than $520,000. Frequently traveling Europe and cashing in tournaments has become a lucrative pastime for the Londoner, but a WSOP Main Event win would certainly be a feather in his cap.
All November Nine players will be competing for the following prizes when they return on November 7:
1st place: $8,546,435
2nd place: $5,182,601
3rd place: $3,479,485
4th place: $2,502,787
5th place: $1,953,395
6th place: $1,587,133
7th place: $1,404,002
8th place: $1,300,228
9th place: $1,263,602