The November Nine
We are now less than a month away from the WSOP Main Event final table. The decision by Harrah's Entertainment to postpone the final table for 117 days doesn't appear that it will pay off as they had hoped. To their chagrin, none of the nine players at the final table can be appropriately described as highly marketable. With five tables left, there was promise for a final table with at least one headlining player. Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, and poker bombshell Tiffany Michelle were all vying for a spot among the "November Nine", but they were ousted in 45th, 30th, and 17th place, respectively.
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Unfortunately for the poker world, it appears our game which relies so heavily on the success of eye-catching TV personalities to generate industry growth (does the name Moneymaker ring a bell?) may have to accept another year in which the World Champion is altogether mediocre from a marketing standpoint. With that less-than-inspiring prelude, here are the 2008 November Nine:
Dennis Phillips - USA - $26,295,000
At the age of 53, Dennis Phillips is the oldest participant at the final table. On the bubble of the Main Event, I remember looking at the table next to mine to see an older gentleman remove his St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap and hand it across the table to Jeff Madsen for an autograph. "This is such a fishy tournament! We're almost in the money and players are asking other players for their autographs!!," I thought. Lo and behold, by reaching the final table with the chip lead, that older gentleman has proven that just because you're starstruck by Jeff Madsen doesn't mean you can't succeed in poker. Phillips will bring a humble, "average-Joe" persona along with a huge chip stack to the final table. The poker world should be rooting for Phillips to go wire-to-wire in victory; his Moneymaker-esque charm makes him the most marketable player remaining in the tournament.
Ivan Demidov - Russia - $24,400,000
Thanks to players like Alexander Kostritsyn, Alexander Kravchenko, and 27-year-old final tablist Demidov, the poker world is beginning to realize that Russian players are a force to be reckoned with. Demidov's marketability at this final table was nearly catapulted to insane heights thanks to his showing in this year's WSOP Europe. He had the chiplead at one point with four players remaining, but had to settle for third place. Winning the WSOP Main Event on both sides of the pond in the same year would have made Demidov an overnight poker celebrity. He can still make this possibility a reality; I think you have to make Demidov the odds-on-favorite to win this tournament. If he does, he'll be the first Russian World Champion.
Scott Montgomery - Canada - $19,690,000
One of two Canadians in the November Nine is Scott Montgomery. He was relatively unheard of in the poker world prior to 2008, but has made a name for himself by making the TV final table of the WPT L.A. Poker Classic. The 26-year-old Montgomery is poised to do what fellow countrymen Daniel Negreanu, Gavin Smith, Tuan Lam, and Nenad Medic have never done: bring a World Championship back to Canada.
Peter Eastgate - Denmark - $18,375,000
Of the countless Europeans to participate in the WSOP Main Event, Dane Peter Eastgate is the only one representing the continent in the November Nine. At age 22, Eastgate is one of two players (Marquis) with a chance to beat Phil Hellmuth's record for youngest WSOP Main Event Champion. Hellmuth was 24-years-old when he won in 1989. In one fell swoop, Eastgate can erase Gus Hansen's massive lead as the winningest Danish poker player. Hansen's $7.3M in career winnings might be three times more than any other Dane, but Eastgate is in prime position to win the $9.15 first-place prize.
Ylon Schwartz - USA - $12,525,000
Ylon Schwartz is easily the most eccentric player in the November Nine. Prior to being introduced to poker, he made a meager living playing chess on the streets of New York. Now 38, Schwartz's 12th career cash at the WSOP will be large enough to cement chess-hustling securely in his past. While waiting to see how large that cash will be, Schwartz joked that he planned to spend his 117 days of waiting sitting in a hammock with a bottle of tequila.
Darus Suharto - Canada - $12,520,000
Darus Suharto is one of two players at the final table (Rheem) with a previous lifetime cash in the WSOP Main Event. Originally from Indonesia, he finished 448th in the 2006 Main Event. Needless to say, the $26,000 payday from that showing will pale in comparison to this year regardless of how the final table plays out. Darus has spent his time since July working his job as an accountant. One might figure anything short of a ninth-place meltdown should result in his employer receiving a resignation letter.
David "Chino" Rheem - USA - $10,230,000
The most well-known player in the November Nine prior to the start of the Main Event is "Chino" Rheem. A Los Angeles-based poker pro, Rheem has over $500,000 in career winnings thanks in part to two career WSOP final tables. In 2006, he finished 2nd to Allen Cunningham in a $1,000 Rebuy event. His aggressive style should help make for a more interesting final table.
Craig Marquis - USA - $10,210,000
Twenty-three year old Craig Marquis isn't sitting as comfortably as fellow youngster Eastgate, but he too has a chance to be the youngest Main Event champion. Perhaps no one on this list is friends with the right people more than Marquis; his friendship with David "Raptor" Benefield and Tom "durrr" Dwan is something he hopes can payoff in a superior game plan prior to the final table. Marquis has three previous lifetime cashes at the WSOP, all of them small.
Kelly Kim - USA - $2,620,000
The "Just Happy To Be Here" award goes to Californian Kelly Kim who will arrive to the final table nursing a very short stack. Kim's presence should have an interesting effect on the early game play at the final table. Others will be expecting him to bust out in 9th place ($900,000), in order to secure their legacy as WSOP millionaires.