The 2016 World Series of Poker November Nine is a pretty diverse crew.
You’ve got a long-time poker vet in Cliff Josephy, online grinders in Gordon Vayo, Jerry Wong and Griffin Benger as well as recreational players like Fernando Pons.
It’s an interesting bunch and it’s been fascinating watching the saga unfold on ESPN over the last few weeks.
With the final table set to kick off this weekend we thought it would be a good time to illustrate some of the slightly lesser-known aspects of this year’s November Nine.
1. Cliff Josephy Ran a Massive Backing Operation
Ever wonder how Cliff Josephy got the nickname “JohnnyBax”?
At one point Josephy, along with Eric “Sheets” Haber, ran a large poker backing operation that included some of the biggest names in online MTTs.
For those unfamiliar with backing (or staking), it’s essentially paying a portion of a player's buy-in for a percentage of any winnings.
One of the players they backed? One Joseph Cada.
That means Josephy already has a great deal of experience with the pressures of the November Nine as he was on location to advise Cada in 2009.
That worked out OK with Cada walking away $8.5m. No one knows how much Josephy received of the massive haul but rumors were of 50%.
He’s got a chance to out-do that score this year.
2. Qui Nguyen is a Professional Baccarat Player
During the WSOP broadcast on ESPN it came to light that Qui Nguyen listed his profession as “Baccarat pro.”
How does that work exactly? Not totally sure.
Baccarat is a game of chance, or at the very least the house still has a slight edge (unless you’re Phil Ivey), so the long-term viability of such a profession may be tricky. But that doesn't take away from its awesomeness.
Nguyen is the only Las Vegas resident at the final table so expect a huge rail at his side.
Another fun fact about Nguyen (besides that you can stake him for the final) is that he wore a very distinctive Rocket Raccoon (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame) hat the entire Main Event.
No word as to whether the hat will return for the final table. But it has too, right?
3. Gordon Vayo Started Playing Poker Very Young
Twenty-seven year-old Gordon Vayo told the cameras this summer that he started playing poker when he was very, very young.
Just how young? Vayo didn’t say exactly but he did mention that he made more than his parents (both teachers) when he was still in high school.
Apparently Vayo’s parents tried to restrict him from poker but he always found a way to play. It led to him getting expelled from high school three weeks before graduation.
These days Vayo’s parents are very supportive of his career choice, which shouldn’t be that tough considering he has a shot at $8m+. Still Vayo understands where his parents were coming from looking back at the situation.
“It’s not something I would recommend to people of a similar age,” joked Vayo in his ESPN interview.
4. Kenny Hallaert is Also a Tournament Director
If you noticed Kenny Hallaert directing any action during the WSOP Main Event coverage it’s probably because he’s also a bona fide tournament director.
Hallaert recently worked as TD for the Unibet Open and obviously has a firm grasp of tournament poker rules. Always nice to have a fallback if this poker thing doesn’t work out!
(Photo provided by Unibet Open)
5. Michael Ruane Has a Twin Brother
If for any reason Michael Ruane couldn’t play the 2016 WSOP Main Event he would have one hell of a substitution option (if that was ever allowed).
Michael has a twin brother named Jimmy and they both play poker. Jimmy is six minutes younger than Michael.
Jimmy and Michael actually have a banner with their names on it from playing basketball at their high school in Maywood, New Jersey.
Michael is a part of a very big family as he actually has two more brothers and a sister.
6. Vojtech Ruzicka Could Be First Czech Winner
Vojtech Ruzicka wasn’t the loudest player during the WSOP Main Event playdown but he has a chance to do something that no one else can.
Ruzicka could become the Czech Republic’s very own Chris Moneymaker.
That’s right, although Martin Staszko finished runner-up to Pius Heinz in 2009, there has never been a Main Event champ from the Czech Republic.
You’ve got to think that might do something for the growing poker scene in the country.
7. Griffin Benger Was a Legit eSports Champion
You know how everyone says that Griffin Benger was a video game champion? That’s no joke.
Benger garnered considerable fame on the old-school Counter-Strike 1.6 circuit as ShaGuar.
The Torontonian was a member of elite Counter-Strike squads NoA and Team 3D around 2001-2007. He won several major events including the 2007 CGS World Championship.
Remember this was before League of Legends and DOTA 2 took control of the eSports scene and Counter-Strike was arguably the biggest game in town so it was a pretty big deal in the fledgling eSports community.
Benger retired from competitive video games around 2008 and moved on to poker. He also got a degree in sports journalism, which was useful during his recent stint as a Global Poker League commentator.
Check out this in-depth doc we shot with Benger a few years ago to get the inside scoop.
8. Jerry Wong Experienced a Brutal Beat in the 2012 WCOOP
New Yorker Jerry Wong, who plays online as hummylun, is no stranger to bad beats.
In 2012 Wong nearly made the final table of an absolutely massive World Championship of Online Poker Main Event.
There was $1.6m up top so suffice to say everyone wanted to make the final table (especially considering there was a good chance of a chop).
Wong had pocket aces and extracted maximum value from an opponent on a 7♦ 3♦ 2♥ Q♠ board from an opponent who inexplicably had pocket sixes. Unfortunately a six spiked on the river and that busted him in 11th place.
One of Wong’s friends Shane Schleger called it “One of the most disturbing beats I’ve ever seen.” Wong definitely has some run-good saved up for the November Nine!
9. Fernando Pons Made Dan Colman Swear
Spaniard Fernando Pons might be the least experienced player at the final table but that didn’t stop him from knocking out some of the best poker pros in the world along the way.
Pons made an unusual play against Colman when he checked A♦ J♠ on a flop of J♥ 7♠ 2♣. That seemed to induce an all-in shove from Colman on the 3♠ turn.
Colman thought he was good with J♣ 9♣ and let an expletive fly when Pons flipped over ace-jack.
It was one mistake but it cost Colman his tournament. He was gracious in defeat, however, and shook everyone’s hands before heading for the exit. You can watch the hand here.
Meanwhile Pons could become the first Spaniard since Carlos Mortensen in 2001 to win the Main Event.
The 2016 WSOP Main Event final table begins this Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016 and PokerListings will be on hand to provide live updates, news and photos from the epic event. You can follow along through our WSOP home page.Poll
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