Nobody really knew what to expect as the 53 preliminary events at the '08 WSOP wound to a close in mid-July. The Main Event, the poker tournament upon which thousands of would-be pundits hang the fate of the industry as a whole, had seen a dip in attendance in 2007, falling to 6,358 entrants after 2006 saw fully 8.773 take part in the epic campaign.
With the UIGEA still in effect and the ability of poker rooms to buy in their qualifiers still hamstrung, another drop in numbers for 2008 seemed likely, particularly with the near-uniform drop in attendance at other high-profile $10,000 buy-in tournaments around the world.
Meanwhile, the World Series and its organizers at Harrah's faced Jerry Yang's relative invisibility following his 2007 ME victory, the battle to become his successor attracted 6,844 entrants, an increase of 486 and a far cry from the disastrous drop that many had feared.
Most of the poker world's biggest names showed up and most of them (including Daniel Negreanu, J.C. Tran and Phil Ivey, among many others) were busto before the end of the first day of play, having failed to negotiate the minefield of abhorrent play that characterizes this, the world's biggest poker lottery.
Still, when the dust settled on the fourth and final first day of the tournament there were plenty of big names left among the 3,663 survivors, including former WSOP Main Event champs Yang, Jamie Gold, Joe Hachem, Chris Moneymaker, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth, all fighting for a piece of the $64,333,600 prize pool and, hopefully, that $9,119,517 first prize that ranks second on the list of highest awarded in WSOP history.
An ungodly total of 666 finalists would eventually partake in said prize pool, with the unluckiest of the lucky merely doubling their investment and the top 1% of the field earning six figures or better for their performances. The nine final-tablists are each guaranteed at least $900,670 for their time, with second place a whopping $5,790,024, almost $80k more than Greg Raymer took for first in the 2004 Main Event.
As action wore on through the two Days 2 and beyond, a number of potential stories sprang to the fore, including the play of industry insiders Kara Scott and Jeremiah Smith. Scott, the Canadian-born hostess of the European Poker Tour, told PokerListings.com that her opponents "never think a girl will three-bet without a hand. I can get away with murder." Scott rode her homicidal instincts to a spot amongst the chip leaders on Day 2 and would eventually walk away in 104th place, claiming $41,816 for her time.
Meanwhile, Smith, a former blogger-turned-Full Tilt Poker employee, looked like he could take down the whole ordeal as Days 2 and 3 moved along. Smith played the tournament's middle stages like a deep-stacked cash game and used that strategy to amass a mountain of chips, with which he then proceeded to bully his tablemates into submission.
Smith was responsible for the most painful elimination of the tournament, and perhaps the year, when with the bubble a hair's breadth away he put a shorter-stacked opponent all-in with 9♣ 6♣ to his unlucky rival's pocket queens. A good spot for Player 2 pre-flop, but the flop came T-8-7 with two clubs and Miah'd flopped the nuts, good enough to send his opponent home wondering what wrong he'd done in his previous life.
Smith is well-known for accumulating a lot of chips, but he's also known for blowing them off rather quickly, and the implosion began on Day 4 and concluded on Day 5, just as Tiffany "Hot Chips" Michelle was taking over the reigns as Player to Watch.
Michelle, an on-camera host in the poker industry with little big-time tournament experience, built her stack from $900k to $3 million on Day 5, jumping to the attention of every ESPN camera within a 50-mile radius and giving Harrah's staff goosebumps at the prospect of a comely young woman amongst the November Nine.
Michelle would bring her stack up to third place overall with 27 players remaining on Day 6, outlasting the likes of Kido Pham and Phil Hellmuth, but would falter surprisingly early on the final day of WSOP ME play in July, hitting the road in 17th place as the highest-finishing female in WSOP ME history and taking $334,534 in consolation money after running top pair, aces, into Peter Eastgate's flopped top set. Cooler.
A few hours after Michelle's elimination only 11 players remained, with a surging Dennis Phillips having taken over top spot on the chip leaderboard. Then Joe Bishop collapsed, doubling up Darus Suharto with top top against the Canadian's overpair, and the field was consolidated into one 10-handed final table for the biggest bubble any of the finalists had ever played.
Craig Marquis found himself all-in behind early in the 10-handed proceedings, holding A♠ Q♥ to Dean Hamrick's pocket queens in an all-in pre-flop confrontation, but after the flop brought two hearts the turn was the 4♥ and the river the 5♥, giving Marquis the sick heart flush and crippling Hamrick on the play.
It wouldn't take much longer for Hamrick to disqualify himself from contention. The Michigander shoved with A♠ J♣ and found himself racing Marquis' pocket queens, and after the board brought naught for either player Hamrick was cheesed, out in 10th place as the forgotten November Tenner.
With that, the November Nine was set and the WSOP paused until early November, aka now, and after four months' worth of rest, relaxation, preparation and anticipation our nine finalists are returning to the Rio in Las Vegas alongside the PokerListings.com crew to play out the thrilling conclusion.
For a better look at all of our finalists, check out our cornucopia of awesome blogs and interviews or better yet, study our video interviews with the finalists in the new PokerListings TV section. Then hit us back on Sunday on the live updates page as action begins at noon Pacific time from the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. We'll play down to the last two finalists before ending the struggle with a heads-up battle royale on Monday night.
Here are the seating positions and chip counts for your November Nine:
|Seat 1||Dennis Phillips||$26,295,000|
|Seat 2||Craig Marquis||$10,210,000|
|Seat 3||Ylon Schwartz||$12,525,000|
|Seat 4||Scott Montgomery||$19,690,000|
|Seat 5||Darus Suharto||$12,520,000|
|Seat 6||David "Chino" Rheem||$10,230,000|
|Seat 7||Ivan Demidov||$24,400,000|
|Seat 8||Kelly Kim||$2,620,000|
|Seat 9||Peter Eastgate||$18,375,000|