It’s been a month since the lives of nine people changed forever.  When nine distinctly different poker players left their homes back in early July, each was but one small piece of a 7,319 player puzzle sharing the mosaic of a common fantasy.  None of them -- not even the most confident of optimists -- could have expected to return home a few weeks later, considerably richer and more famous than when the greatest of all poker odysseys began.  Yet with the World Series of Poker Main Event final table still to come, the circus has only just begun for those who in the coming months will become poker's rock stars.  

          Indeed, each player in this year's November Nine has been transformed by a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  That transformation has also created an entirely new set of goals and expectations.  Before making the final cut, each player admitted their goal was simply to get to the November Nine.  A few players even stated being satisfied just finishing in the money.  But now, everything is different.  The end game has changed.  There are new targets.  There are bigger goals.  There are grander visions.
          Each one of the November Nine is now guaranteed no worse than a ninth-place finish,  That means each player has already received $811,823 in prize money [1].  As one might expect, all the survivors will play to win.  Yet, a few of the November Nine would consider anything other than an outright victory to be a huge disappointment.  Even finishing in second place -- which pays a whopping $5,545,855 -- would be unacceptable to at least three players who were asked the hypothetical question, Would you accept second place right now if it was offered to you?
          One by one, each finalist was queried if he would accept second place if a Faustian-type deal were proposed.  Keep in mind second place pays more than five times what each player has already earned.  It also means playing the entire duration of the final table and getting a lot of face time on television.  But it also means passing on the extraordinarily fleeting opportunity to become the world champion. 
          In no uncertain terms, three players declined our imaginary deal which was designed to test the practical versus romantic constitution for each individual.  John Racener, Filippo Candio, and Soi Nguyen each said they would rather "play to win" and take their chances, rather than to accept what is undeniably a more practical option, at least financially.  Joseph Cheong was neutral on the question.  Five other finalists -- Jason Senti, Michael Mizrachi, Matthew Jarvis, John Dolan, and Jonathan Duhamel -- each stated they would accept the proposal.   
          One thing all players can agree on is that each of the nine finalists has faced similar reactions from friends and family back home when word circulated that they had made it to the November Nine.  So, what’s it really like to be in the eye of a poker’s hurricane?  Each of the finalists were asked to reflect upon what's happened during the last month or so since returning home.  Players were asked about being local celebrities.  They responded as follows:
Jason Senti -- St. Louis Park, MN (USA)
When I returned home, the reaction was much bigger than I had expected.  I was immediately contacted by all the local news outlets and did interviews.  Since I am originally from North Dakota and currently live in Minnesota, this was a big story in both states.  I was asked to do a ton of radio interviews, appeared on television news programs, and did morning talk shows, newspaper interviews, and podcasts.

I must also say that my family and friends have been absolutely amazing.  I have always been proud of the people I have in my life.  But they really exceeded my expectations.  Many of my friends stayed up all night long during (WSOP) Day Eight, which didn't end until 8 am CST.  They were all following the online updates.  I only experienced positive responses from everyone in my life.  Some of the greatest compliments I have ever received came as result of this experience and they are from people that I have a great deal of respect for.  I don't even mean in direct reference to the achievement (of making the final table), but more about me as a person.  I am truly blessed to have so many people who are genuinely happy for me.

Within a few days of my returning home, my friends were already booking trips to come cheer for me in November.  It is difficult to coordinate ten people to go on a vacation.  But somehow between 75 and 100 friends and family have already booked their trips to come out in November.  My wife did a great job coordinating everything, and I am shocked by how many people were willing to just drop everything and schedule a trip.  It's going to be a lot of fun having everyone out there.  For many, it will be their first time in Las Vegas.

The strangest experience for me so far, came during a radio broadcast.  I did an interview with Paul Allen, who is the radio voice of the (NFL's) Minnesota Vikings.  He does the play-by-play announcing and hosts a popular sports talk show in this area.  A week or so after my radio interview, all the Minnesota sports talk was around the potential return of Brett Favre to the Vikings this year.  During his show, in reference to the Vikings trying to get Favre to come back for another season, Paul Allen asked, 'How can we go Jason Senti on this and get to the final table -- which would be the NFC Title Game?"'   Many of my friends and family were listening to the show live, and it became a pretty big topic of conversation.  Getting mentioned in a conversation about Brett Favre.  Now, that's pretty surreal.  All around, it has been both a great and crazy experience.
Joseph Cheong -- La Mirada, CA (USA)
By the time I got back home, most of the people I am close to had already heard about me making the November Nine.  There were a few friends I hadn't seen in quite a while that I broke the the news to.  They were pretty surprised.  A couple of my friends thought I was kidding at first.  In general, everyone's been very congratulatory about it.  

I did have a few friends that I hadn't talked to in a long time contact me.  They were poker fans who happened to be keeping up with the Main Event online updates.  I'm not the best at keeping in touch with people, so it's really great I could reconnect with some of my friends because of this experience.

Jonathan Duhamel -- Boucherville, Quebec (Canada)

My family and friends were really happy about me making it to the November Nine.  To my family, it was a big surprise to see me go that far.  They know I'm serious about poker.  But I guess they were just not sure I could make it all the way to the November Nine, especially coming into the final table as the chip leader.
My close friends had a different reaction.  They made fun of me, more than ever before.  They got upset when I told people (in media interviews) that I beat them pretty often.  Now, they all want to play with me and give me the most embarrassing loss I've ever had.

I've also had a lot of people coming up to me and reminding me we had a beer like six or seven years ago.  Because of that, we're close friends and need to hang out together.  I've also had people I've never heard of before trying to get in touch with me so that they can ask me to lend them some money. 
The most unusual story?  I had a 63-year-old woman come up to me and basically tell me that if I'm looking for a girlfriend -- she's single!

Soi Nguyen -- Santa Ana, CA (USA)
Wow!  How do I describe how the past month of my life has been?  Coming home, I was both exhausted and super excited at the same time.  My family, friends, co-workers and community were all so supportive and encouraging.  I think the dust has now settled somewhat, but now that ESPN is starting to broadcast the Main Event and show us on television, I’m sure things are going to even get crazier.  

I went to a local nightclub the week after getting back in order to celebrate.  When the promoters of the nightclub found out I was coming they used it as a marketing ploy to bring in more customers.  Another unusual thing that happened was when I went to a local card club and noticed a guy reading the latest issue of Card Player magazine with all the members of the November Nine on the cover.  He took a look at me and then looked down at the cover, and then back up to me, then down at the cover again.  I’m sure he realized it was me.  That was pretty cool to be recognized like that.  I have also been approached out in public in my community.  I've even been asked to sign autographs.  

However, of everything that has happen to me since my return, I would say the most exciting thing was my experience with my 12-year-old son.  He is now at that age when hanging out with your father isn’t that cool anymore.  When I returned home and asked him what he thought about it, he told me he was proud of me.  I talked to him about the possibility of me going pro and explained that if I did decide to go pro that I would be away from home more.  He said it would be cool to see my dad playing on television and he could tell all his friends that I was his father.  I think my cool level has now gone up with him.  That's a special thing to happen that I had not expected.  To have your son think you are cool -- no amount of prize money can beat that.  

          Poker’s biggest night – actually biggest three nights – takes place in early November when the final nine players still alive in the WSOP Main Event return to the Rio Las Vegas to take their seats at the final table.  The championship final table, also known as the November Nine, begins on November 6th.  The initial session of play will trim the nine finalists down to just two survivors.  Those two players return two days later on November 8th to play heads-up for the 2010 world championship.  The following night, the WSOP Main Event finale will debut on ESPN.  This year’s winner will receive at least $8,944,138 in prize money, the coveted WSOP gold bracelet, and designation as the official 2010 world poker champion.
Note:  The other five November Nine players will share their experiences in PART 2.
Footnote 1:  Final table payout figures do not include interest on the additional prize money, which is to be added later to the remaining prize pool.