Earlier this year ESPN made an announcement that stunned the poker world. For the first time ever the WSOP Main Event would play to the final table and then shut it down, taking a four-month break before playing down to the winner.
The break was designed to put some spice back in the WSOP's lackluster love life. With the extra four months, ESPN could air the entirety of the WSOP ME coverage leading up to the final table, allowing fans to pick horses and watch their favorites claw their way through a minefield of donks and pros en route to the final table.
With just three days until the final table plays out I am going to give my (somewhat) credible insight into the strategy of the November Nine - who is going to sit back and wait and who is going to bounce out early.
I looked into my crystal ball and here are my predictions. (Dollar amount after player's name is their starting chip stack.)
Action picks up again at Level 33: Blinds $120,000/$240,000 with a $30,000 Ante
1) Dennis Phillips - $26,295,000 - 109BB or an M of 42
Although Dennis comes into the final table with the chip lead, I wouldn't expect him to come out firing. Dennis seems like the type to take things slowly and see how the table is playing instead of getting too involved.
Dennis has a ton of chips - with over 100 big blinds, he can afford to see some of the smaller stacks get eliminated before getting mixed up in things. My bet is Dennis will end up playing very tight early ... he doesn't need to get himself into any marginal situations, as he has the chips to sit back and wait for real hands.
Ultimately Dennis's inexperience will be a hindrance to him. When the table gets short the players with significant short-handed experience will punish him with their aggression.
Prediction: Dennis will coast to the top 5 and will simply be outmatched as the table gets short-handed. I predict a fourth-place finish.
2) Ivan Demidov - $24,400,000 - 101BB or an M of 38
Hot on the heels of the chip leader comes the Mad Russian Ivan Demidov. While the rest of the players were sitting at home patting themselves on the back for making the November Nine, Ivan went out and final-tabled the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event.
Ivan went on to finish third in a grueling final table that lasted over 22 hours, and definitely proved it wasn't luck that got him into the November Nine. With 100BBs and only 10BB less than the chip leader, Ivan is in a great spot. He is in no rush, and can feel the table out and look for good spots.
You can guarantee that Ivan will not be getting himself into any marginal spots for all his chips. With 100BB there is no need to be reckless; he will come out playing good solid tournament poker, picking his spots and taking down small pots.
As the table gets short-handed Ivan's skills will begin to manifest themselves. He will begin to open up more pots and start to really put the pressure on the medium and small stacks.
Prediction: Ivan is my Lock of the Week (cue large lock graphic with the bolt closing with a loud thud).
There are no guarantees in poker, but barring some sick coolers I would expect Ivan to make an easy walk to the top 3, where he will begin to pound his opponents into submission. Ivan Demidov FTW.
3) Scott Montgomery - $19,690,000 - 82BB or an M of 31
With three cashes already in this year's World Series, Scott Montgomery is no stranger to going deep in tournaments.
Coming into the final table third in chips, Scott is not too far behind the other chip leaders. He has 82BB - enough to put it in cruise control to the top 5 for sure, but I wouldn't expect this Canuck to do that.
Scott is likely going to come out firing. He is known for mixing it up and trying to get folds from his timid opponents. When players tighten up he loosens up, sometimes to a maniacal degree.
While the short stacks try and milk their camera time Scott will be putting them to a decision for all their chips because as he says "Nobody wants to risk their whole tournament - nobody but me, because I don't care. I never care."
If he can put that to practice in the biggest final table of his life, he is going to be a tough player to contend with.
Prediction: Scott has the skill set to go top 5 deep, that's for sure, but he also has the ability to put himself out of contention early with one poorly timed bluff. That is the nature of the aggressive style.
Despite all that I feel that he will come third, getting eliminated by either Demidov or Eastgate three-way.
4) Peter Eastgate - $18,375,000 - 76BB or an M of 29
The Dynamic Dane Peter Eastgate is the youngest of all the November Nine at 22 years of age ... although youth does not necessarily mean less experience in this case. Peter "Isser" Eastgate regularly plays (and beats) the short-handed and heads-up $200/$400 games online.
You can guarantee that your worst $200/$400 player is leaps and bounds better than the average World Series of Poker player. Peter has the skills to make sick reads and go with them.
Given that he's one of the better players remaining, you can expect him to chip up and look to avoid marginal spots for all his chips. Probably the most experienced short-handed player, Peter will be a major threat as the short stacks get eliminated.
Prediction: Peter Eastgate is a legitimate contender for the bracelet. If he can accumulate some chips he can really terrorize the table.
Because he has the most short-handed experience of any of the remaining Nine, I really feel that his expertise will transfer over and make for an interesting top 3, before he eventually bows out second.
5) Ylon Schwartz - $12,525,000 - 52BB or an M of 20
Ylon Schwartz is a chess hustler-turned-poker pro with a slew of solid tournament results. With over 12 lifetime cashes in the World Series of Poker and more deep runs in the PokerStars Sunday majors than we can count on one hand, Schwartz is no luck sack.
With a medium stack his action is not yet forced, but he will not want to wait too long before making a move.
I would expect Ylon to see how the table is playing before getting too involved. As the day progresses you will see the players begin to open up their play; Ylon will be no different.
Prediction: I expect Ylon to play a solid tournament game and likely outlast some of the shorter stacks. In the end he will fall short of the top 5 with a sixth-place finish.
6) Darus Suharto - $12,520,000 - 52BB or an M of 20
Darus Suharto comes into the final table in the middle of the pack with just over $12 million chips. With only two million in chips separating fifth and eighth, there is going to be jockeying for position.
I expect Darus will likely stay out of this. As one of the players with the least experience Darus will likely play supertight, hoping to just eke his way up the pay ladder.
Prediction: Darus, barring a sick run of cards, is outmatched, and with a medium stack will likely just have to live with moving a couple spots up the pay table. I predict a seventh-place finish for the Canadian.
7) David "Chino" Rheem - $10,230,000 - 42BB or an M of 16
Chino is one of the better players at the table. His aggression and his willingness to go with his reads result in his stack going up and down like a yo-yo. Since Chino is one of the smaller stacks you can expect him to come out swinging.
With the majority of the players taking a wait-and-see approach, I expect Chino to start getting involved immediately. If he gets some chips to work with, Chino will be a force to be reckoned with.
Prediction: Chino could go very deep in this final table. With the right rush of cards and the right moves he can either win this or be first out. I feel that his attempts to chip up may be his undoing.
I pick Chino to go out second, in eighth place. Not necessarily due to bad play, but more due to being aggressive at the wrong time with players to act behind him who have real hands.
8) Craig Marquis - $10,210,000 - 42BB or an M of 16
Craig Marquis got into poker when he went over to David "Raptor" Benefield's house for a party, saw the type of success he was having playing poker and thought, "Hey, I can do this too."
With friends like Raptor and Tom "durrrr" Dwan, you can bet that he drew on their knowledge as a resource when approaching this final table.
As the final-table bubble approached, Craig was one of the few players still actually playing poker and accumulating chips. You can bet that when the play picks back up Craig will be right back at it, attacking weakness and punishing the players trying to move up.
Prediction: Craig will come out firing and ultimately stay alive long enough for a top 5 finish before bowing out a very respectable fifth.
9) Kelly Kim - $2,620,000 - 11BB or an M of 4
Kelly is the shortest at the table, and with good reason. As the final table approached Kelly stopped playing poker, hoping to eke his way into the final table and some notoriety.
With just over 10BB Kelly should be in push-or-fold mode. He should look to be getting it in often in an attempt to double up and take a run at it. However, he will likely play just as tight as he did before the final-table bubble.
Prediction: Kim plays like a nit until he's down to four big blinds and a pot-committed big blind looks him up and sucks out on Kim's real hand. Kim out ninth.
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All in all this is shaping up to be a hotly contested final table. We will see if ESPN's strategy of delaying the final table works in creating a buzz about the WSOP among the masses.
I for one know where I will be Nov. 11: on the edge of my seat watching the thrilling conclusion to the biggest tournament of the year!
The 2008 WSOP Main Event final table resumes this Sunday, Nov. 9 and will play down to the next world champion of poker on Monday night. To find out more about the final nine players, check out our Nine Lives documentaries in the new PokerListings TV section, and follow all the action live in the PL.com Live Tournaments section.