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Some say the “fad” is dead, but spend the early weeks of summertime in the Las Vegas desert and you’ll see poker’s popularity is still alive and well.
The members of this year’s World Series of Poker main event’s final table were determined Wednesday, as just nine players remain from the over 6,400 men and women who started the tournament on July 3. These nine card sharks will now wait until November to play out what will certainly be an entertaining final chapter to this year’s version of the “Greatest Show on Felt.”
In a tournament that featured such celebrities as Lakers guard Jordan Farmar, recent “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” contestant Lou Diamond Phillips, and everyone’s favorite quirky bald-headed Seinfeld pal, Jason Alexander, it was the likes of a magazine publisher, a financial executive, and a self-employed logger from Maryland who were amongst those to survive the 52-card battle thus far.
Your chip leader, with arguably the coolest name out of the final 9, is 45-year-old Darvin Moon, the humble small-town logging business owner from Maryland. Moon has more than 25% of the remaining chips in play, and unless his focus is thwarted over the next few months, he has to be the favorite going into the November Nine’s showdown for the $8.5 million prize.
Next in line is the 28-year-old poker pro from New York, Eric Buchman. Buchman already has nine WSOP cashes and four cashes on the World Poker Tour to his credit in his young career. Coming in behind him is Steven Begleiter, another New Yorker. The 47-year-old is a former exec with Bear Stearns, the investment firm that was bought out by JPMorgan Chase & Co. early last year. The Chappequa native won his WSOP seat through a year-round, 20-person poker league called the Newcastle Poker Tour.
Following up the two New Yorkers is Jeff Shulman, the most controversial member of the November Nine. His brash WWE-like behavior heading into the final table will guarantee that the lenses on the ESPN cameras will focus squarely on him come showtime. Shulman, the editor of the popular Card Player magazine, has publicly stated that he will throw the coveted WSOP bracelet in the garbage if he wins it.
“It has nothing to do with Card Player no longer having exclusive rights to WSOP coverage,” said the Vegas native. “It’s about my lack of respect for the WSOP and the management here and what they’ve done to the players. That said, I still wouldn’t wear it if I was best friends with them. When I had a chance to win years ago, I said I wouldn’t wear it. I’m shocked that people wear those ugly things.”
Shulman also has barked that if he wins, he’ll “never play at the Rio or WSOP again. If I win, I’ll never play poker again.” We’ll see what happens with this hot head in the fall.
In fifth place heading into November play is Joe Cada, who will have his sights set on making both money and history in his attempt at taking home the “ugly” bracelet. Cada, just 21 years old, would break last year’s champion Peter Eastgate’s record, to become the WSOP main event’s youngest champ ever if he wins. Cada’s no spring chicken in the poker world though, as he began his professional poker career at just 17. His instant fame could make him poker’s “next big thing,” especially if he can survive to the finish.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the final tournament’s oldest remaining player is 51-year-old Floridian Kevin Schaffel, a semi-retired businessman who plans to take some time away from poker over the weeks to come, keeping his mind occupied with golf instead.
Next, in the 7th spot, is one of poker’s greatest players in the world, the charismatic Phil Ivey. At just 33, Ivey is already a poker legend. The seven-time WSOP tournament winner has already won two gold bracelets in smaller events at this year’s series, and hopes to triple up in November. He is already guaranteed his best main event finish yet, after placing 10th in 2003, 20th in 2005, and 23rd in 2002. Not including his eventual main event winnings, this year he has already earned $3.46 million at the WSOP. He may be miles behind the leader, heading into the final table action with less than 5% of the chips remaining, but there’s no doubt every player’s focus will be on Ivey come November.
Rounding out the remaining field in the final nine is the table’s international flair, as France’s Antoine Saout and English pro James Akenhead enter play as the two short stacks of the group. Saout, 25, is a relative newcomer to the poker world, having only played on the live tournament circuit for just 10 months. Akenhead, 27, has the longest odds to emerge victorious this fall, as he’ll hope to go worst to first and pull the ultimate upset.
Nine guys with a wide array of backgrounds, but with one common goal. Ok, maybe eight and a half million goals. The debate on whether poker can be billed a “sport” or not can wage on, but there’s no doubt November’s final table will be competitive, dramatic, and very entertaining.