Every championship final table is utterly unique in its own way.  For the past 43 years, careers have been defined and legends have been made in what is indisputably the most memorable moment in the lives of nine worthy poker players.  For the millions of aspirants who didn't make the final nine, it's still the highlight of the poker year.

This year's crop of finalists is unique for what some critics might describe as "lacking star power".  Accustomed to well-known superstars including Ben Lamb, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi, and Phil Ivey – each who have taken seats at the championship final table during the last three years – this year's finale includes names which are not instantly recognizable.

With apologies to Greg Merson and Steve Gee, both past gold bracelet winners, if popularity was the sole measuring stick for success, this final table would be a total crapshoot.  Nonetheless, this year's so-called October Nine because it's being played in October, rather than the customary November dates) provides us with a rare opportunity to witness the manifestation of not only poker greatness but supreme trial under fire.  The championship finale also gives rise to the very real possibility that one or more of these extraordinary finalists may eventually follow in the footsteps of predecessors, who have met the test of willpower at the final table, but have stood the test of time over the dec
 
The World Series of poker has featured many memorable moments, which were not readilty apparent when they first happened.  Want proof?

Consider that when 27-year-old Stu Ungar upset poker great Doyle Brunson in the 1980 Championship, he was relatively unknown outside the gambling world.  Now, his name is synonymous with poker genius.

Consider that when 26-year-old Phil Hellmuth stunned the poker world and denied legend Johnny Chan his chance to win three consecutive World Championships back in 1989, many fans and observers were disappointed that an “unknown” player had usurped all the publicity and managed to win the title.  Of course, from that moment forward, Hellmuth not only surpassed most of Chan's numbers went on to smash just about every meaningful record in WSOP history.

Then, consider the time when an amateur poker player named Chris Moneymaker changed everything, igniting what has been called “the poker boom.”  Back in 2003, many critics fancied runner-up Sammy Farha's suave demeanor, which might have been far more alluring as a television attraction.  As things turned out, Moneymaker's staggering victory may have been the greatest single thing ever to happen to the game.

Hence, we've seen that championship final tables are not necessarily the end of the road, but rather the beginning of a far more fascinating journey.  Since 1970, each champion has gone one to take his rightful place in poker history.  It remains to be seen which of this year's finalists will see his name etched into the proverbial granite pillar of eternity. to be forever celebrated as the “2012 World Poker Champion.”

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Monday at 4:37 PST, on a Las Vegas stage  typically accustomed to acts illusion and wizardry, the nine finalists in this year's World Championship will each enjoy their own magical moment.

Indeed, Penn and Teller may have taken the night off, but nine very talented performers hope to enjoy what they hope will become a magical experience.

Today's playing session is the culmination of a very long break – 103 days and nights to be exact – in anticipation of the moment that is every poker player's dream – to play at the World Series of Poker Main Event Championship final table.

Once a capacity crowd takes their seats inside the Penn and Teller Theatre, players will be introduced on camera followed by cards in the air about ten minutes later.  Action will last and play will continue until only three players remain.

In past years, the initial playing session (the first of two) has lasted anywhere from 10-14 hours.  That means the most fortunate surviving finalists will probably exit the stage very late on Monday night, or perhaps early on Tuesday morning.  Even though the day will be long, sleep will be the last thing on the minds who those who make the cut on Monday.

The three finalists will return to compete for the coveted world championship title at 5:35 pm on Tuesday.  Play will last until the 2012 World Champion has been determined. 

Seating inside the Penn and Teller Theatre is free and open to the public.  However, Monday's session has already reached full capacity.  Seating will gradually re-open as players, and their loyal contingent of family and friends exit the theatre.  This means open seating will probably not be available to the public until sometime late Monday evening.  The public is invited and encouraged to attend.

However, seating should be readily available on Tuesday evening, since only three players will remain.  Poker players and fans are welcome to come down to the Rio Las Vegas and witness poker history.

For those who want to follow the action on television, viewers may tune in to ESPN2 on Monday at 5 pm PST or check it out on WatchESPN.com.  Tuesday's coverage will be shown on ESPN, starting at 6 pm PST.

Poker players and fans may also follow detailed coverage here at WSOP.com.  We will also post regular updates and features of things happening behind the scenes, here at the Rio.

Monday and Tuesday promise to be exciting nights in poker and the opportunity to see nine exceptional poker players put to the ultimate test.  It remains to be seen who will collect the $8,351,853 top prize, the gold and platinum WSOP bracelet, and the universally-acclaimed title of World Champion.