The entire poker world is anxiously awaiting the final table of the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, which will be played this November.  The finalists have been dubbed the “November Nine” because of the four-month delay of the final table.  It’s a final table that has created tremendous interest because it has everything – an amateur with a massive chip lead, three guys in their 20s, and great players from around the world.  It’s also got Phil Ivey – and that is huge for the WSOP.

I often get asked, “Who do you think is the best poker player in the world?”  Well, when asked the same question years ago, Doyle Brunson said, “You judge a hunter by the number of furs he brings home”  (I love that phrase).  Well, nobody has brought home more “fur” than Phil Ivey.  I consider Phil Ivey to be the best player in the world.

Ivey is the best in every poker category you can come up with – cash games, tournament poker, and online poker.  I would bet that he’s the most successful cash game player of all-time and he will become the all-time tournament money leader if he finishes in fourth place or better at the WSOP Main Event final table.  If he’s not the most successful online player out there, then he’s certainly one of them.  When it comes to playing poker (and that includes all games), put Ivey at the top of your list.

One thing’s for sure – in addition to most players, Harrah’s, the WSOP, and ESPN are thrilled that Phil Ivey is at the final table. Because he’s there, I look for ratings for the WSOP final table to at least double from last year.  And that’s good for poker.

OK, here are the November Nine and their chip counts:

Darvin Moon – 58,930,000
Eric Buchman – 34,800,000
Steven Begleiter – 29,885,000
Jeff Shulman – 19,580,000
Joe Cada – 13,215,000
Kevin Schaffel – 12,390,000
Phil Ivey – 9,765,000
Antoine Saout – 9,500,000
James Akenhead – 6,800,000

The November Nine chip leader is Darvin Moon.  He’s a 45 year-old amateur poker player from Oakland, Maryland.  Playing in his first-ever big-time tournament, he could become the next Chris Moneymaker.  Moon is an amazing story.  He won his seat in a qualifying tournament in West Virginia and thought about taking the $10,000 first place prize and putting it in the family business.  His brother talked him out of that and encouraged him to go ahead and enter the WSOP (brother knows best).  Experience or not, with nearly 60 million in chips, I can’t imagine anyone being a bigger favorite than him to win.  Will it be a “Full Moon” in November?

Starting in second chip position with nearly 35 million is Eric Buchman.  Eric is a 29 year-old pro from New York.  He’s been a pro for about 10 years and this marks his 23rd cash at the WSOP.  Prior to this tournament, he had nearly $1 million in career tournament cashes.  With his experience and chip count, he could be the man to beat.

In third chip position with nearly 30 million is 47 year-old Steven Begleiter from Chappaqua, New York.  He was a strategist for the investment bank Bear Stearns for nearly 25 years.  He qualified for the WSOP Main Event on the Newcastle Poker Tour and poker league.  He’s really popular there, as he plans to donate 20% of his winnings to his poker league.  Now that is a friendly game!

The only guy who has been to the WSOP Main Event final table before is 34 year-old Jeff Shulman, the editor of CardPlayer Magazine.  He’ll be starting out in fourth chip position with nearly 20 million.  Shulman created a controversy by saying he would “throw the bracelet in the garbage if I win”  (that’s because of his strong opinion of unfair media treatment by the WSOP).  Like most, I’m shocked by that statement considering Shulman is in the business of promoting poker.  Shulman’s experience could bode well for him in November, but hopefully he’ll change his mind about throwing the bracelet in the garbage.

On a side note, that 2000 WSOP Main Event is still vivid in my mind because I felt I had a real shot to win it.  I ended up finishing in 12th place and was knocked out by Shulman (who was the big chip leader at the time and won a race for all of my chips).  It turned out to be a heartbreaking tournament for Shulman as well because, for the first time in WSOP history, only six players made it to the TV table and Shulman was the massive chip leader with seven players left.  He ended up going out seventh.

The youngest player at the table, 21 year-old Joe Cada from Michigan, will be starting out in fifth chip position.  If he wins, he will break Peter Eastgate’s record of being the youngest WSOP Main Event champion ever.  Cada plays a lot of heads-up poker and likes his chances if he gets short-handed.  He’s young, confident in his abilities, and believes he’s got a good chance to win.

Kevin Schaffel, 51, has been playing poker for 30 years.  This super nice Floridian claims to be “semi-retired,” but he is a scratch golfer and plays a lot of poker.  Do you think he works much?  Kevin recently finished second in the WPT’s Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino and, I can tell you, he played very well there.  If he doesn’t dub any shots on the green felt in November, he could very well be crowned champion.

Phil Ivey is “the man” at any poker table.  Although he’s starting in seventh chip position with less than 10 million in chips, many are wagering on him to win.  I’m sure he feels pretty good about his chances and why wouldn’t he?  He’s already won two bracelets at the 2009 WSOP and then bet $20,000 on himself to win the Main Event at 100-1 odds when there were still 2,400 players left!  Like many, I would love to see Ivey win.  I think it would be great for the poker world if the greatest player in the game won the biggest event in poker.

Antoine Saout, 25 years-old and from France, will be starting in eighth chip position.  He qualified for this tournament by winning a $50 online satellite.  Word has it that he crushes online tournaments.  I know some French players who really respect his game.   When he told his mom he wanted to become a poker pro, she was not happy.  With this finish and becoming a guaranteed millionaire, mom has changed her mind.  “Bon chance,” Antoine!

James Akenhead, 26, from England, discovered poker a few years ago while he was pursuing his other love, pool.  He practiced pool 10 hours a day and was ranked 15th in the U.K. in nine-ball at one time.  Akenhead has been a poker pro for three years and several top players from England have told me that he’s a very tough player.  Although he’s starting on the short stack, if he can double up early, they really like his chances.  A Hall of Fame poker player once said, “Poker is like pool.  Some days you make every shot and other days you hit nothing but the rail.”  Can this pool player parlay the short stack into the title?

One thing’s for sure:  It’s going to be a great final table in November.  Like all poker players, I can’t wait.

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