The long wait is finally over. 

The moment every poker fan has been waiting for has finally arrived.

Poker's most exciting day and thrilling night is about to begin. 

When the nine finalists in this year's World Series of Poker Main Event return this Sunday from a nearly four-month hiatus and take their seats on the Penn and Teller Theatre stage in Las Vegas, each has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the most celebrated group of poker players in history.  Only one name can and will be indelibly inscribed alongside the legendary champions of the WSOP’s glorious past – forever linked with Moss, Brunson, Ungar, Chan, and the other members of the game’s most elite fraternity.

In a sense, WSOP Main Event champions are very much like astronauts and Best Actor Oscar winners.  They are so few in number, that their scarcity alone makes them special.  Indeed, just as only a handful of men have ever walked on the moon or stood at the apex of Hollywood’s supreme achievement, only 35 poker players in history have won the game’s top honor.

On Sunday, November 6th at 11:30 am (Las Vegas time), the WSOP will crown "number 36."  It will be a coronation worthy of a king.  Millions of poker fans all over the world will tune in to watch the latest poker’s latest chapter being written.  For the first time ever, we will be able to watch the final table live -- from the first hand that’s dealt to what promises to be an exciting and unpredictable finish. 

For the most part, most viewers have little or no connection to the players.  But we will watch anyway – some out of curiosity, some out of national pride, some out of a love for the game, and others who are fond of the majesty surrounding a special moment in time that takes place just once every 365 days.

No one knows who will win, or what will happen.

Indeed, nine poker players from seven different nations make this most internationally diverse collection of finalists ever assembled for a championship finale.  Belize, Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Ukraine, and the United States are among the countries in the running to lay claim to being the home of poker’s reigning world champion.  No doubt, viewers on every continent will tune in and potentially make Sunday’s broadcast the most widely-watch live poker event ever.

The WSOP Main Event began last July with 6,865 entries.  The nine remaining players, also known as poker’s “November Nine,” will be competing for what remains of an initial prize pool that was nearly $65 million.  The final nine will carve up the remaining $28,279,223, with $8,715,638 ultimately going to the new champion.

Sunday's poker action is expected to last most of the day and run into the night.  Play will continue until just three players remain.  The finale will then take a one-day recess, with the final championship session to be played on Tuesday.

For the first time, ESPN2 will televise every hand of final table action.  Player hole cards will also be shown (for the first time in a semi-live format) on a 15-minute delay.  ESPN2 and ESPN3 begins coverage at 12:30 PST.

The final act of poker’s greatest drama will play out when action resumes with the final three players on Tuesday, November 8th at 5:30 pm (Las Vegas time) and will continue until the new 2011 World Poker Champion is crowned.

Poker’s flagship network ESPN will carry Tuesday’s three-handed play in its entirety, in the same format as Sunday’s action -- with player hole cards being shown, on a 15-minute delay. Coverage on ESPN and ESPN3 will begin at 6 PM PST.

The new format marks a historic milestone for poker.  After ground-breaking coverage of the championship event over the summer when several days of the Main Event included a telecast of two feature tables (on a 30-minute delay) for the first time; this finale marks the first time the entire final table of the world’s most prestigious gaming event will be shown to viewers around the globe with only a 15 minute delay from play in the actual event itself.

No longer will ESPN post-produce the coverage for quick turnaround.  Instead ESPN is committing to coverage across ESPN and ESPN2 to document every flop, turn and river card dealt at the finale.  Based on previous final tables, this is expected to be up to 18 hours of coverage.

Poker fans in the United States will be able to view the action on the ESPN family of networks (including ESPN3 for both days coverage), while viewers outside the United States will be able to watch the stream on WSOP.com or ESPN International networks with planned coverage.

As was done during the summer, hole cards will not be revealed to viewers until the hand has been completed.  This directive ensures zero impact on players during a live hand.  Viewers may see any cards that determine the final winning or losing hand in some manner after the hand is completed – which takes place on 15-minute delay.

This year’s group of finalists promises to put on a terrific show.  The November Nine players and their respective chip counts are as follows:

1. Martin Staszko – 40,175,000
Staszko, of Trinec, Czech Republic, is a 35-year-old poker professional. He is the first Czech ever to make a WSOP Main Event final table. In addition to poker, he plays competitive chess and tennis for pleasure. He said it would be “unbelievable” to be the first person to bring a Main Event gold bracelet back to the Czech Republic.

2. Eoghan O’Dea – 33,925,000
O’Dea, of Dublin, Ireland, is a 26-year-old student. The son of Donnacha O’Dea – widely regarded as the greatest Irish poker player of all time – Eoghan is becoming quite the poker force himself. He now has a total of six WSOP cashes, five of which he earned this year. The father-and-son tandem now has a total of three WSOP Main Event final tables, with Donnacha having finished sixth in 1983 and ninth in 1991. It is the first time in WSOP history a father and son has made it to the Main Event final table.

3. Matt Giannetti – 24,750,000
Giannetti is a 26-year-old, self-taught poker professional from Las Vegas. Prior to launching his poker career, Giannetti graduated from the University of Texas. During the break in play, Giannetti was the only member of this November Nine to achieve victory in another tournament.

4. Phil Collins – 23,875,000
Collins, 26, of Las Vegas, Nevada, is a professional poker player. His considerable entourage at the Main Event spurred on the former University of South Carolina student by loudly singing lyrics by the famous musician with whom their friend shares his name. Collins’ chip count kept him near the top of the leader board for much of the past few days, leading to numerous amateur renditions of “In the Air Tonight” echoing throughout the tournament room.

5. Ben Lamb – 20,875,000
Lamb, 26, is enjoying a career year at the WSOP, leading the race in Player of the Year points. In addition to making the Main Event final table, Lamb’s other accomplishments at this year’s WSOP include a gold bracelet win, a second-place finish and eighth- and twelfth-place tournament finishes. The Tulsa, Oklahoma, native now boasts a total of 12 WSOP “in-the-money” finishes that have paid more than $2.1 million in total prize money (excluding the minimal ninth-place money he is guaranteed for making the November Nine).

6. Badih Bounahra – 19,700,000
Bounahra is the oldest member of the November Nine. At 49, the resident of Belize City, Belize, has been playing poker for about six years. Away from the felt, Bounahra says he enjoys fishing and sleep.

7. Pius Heinz – 16,425,000
Heinz is a 22-year-old student and poker professional from Cologne, Germany. He is the first German ever to make it to a WSOP Main Event final table, a feat he accomplished after a promising seventh-place finish in a previous WSOP event.

8. Anton Makiievskyi – 13,825,000
Makiievskyi, of Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, is a 21-year-old aspiring poker pro. When he isn’t competing on the felt, he enjoys cycling and anything pertaining to music, particularly teaching himself guitar and drums. This year marked his first trip to the WSOP in Las Vegas. Makiievskyi hopes to become the fifth Ukrainian to win a gold bracelet at the 2011 WSOP.

9. Sam Holden – 12,375,000
Holden, a 22-year-old professional poker player from Sussex, Great Britain, will enter the final table as the short stack. This first-time WSOP participant will need to pick his spots carefully in November if he is to bring poker’s most prestigious title back to England.

In addition to the first-place prize of $8,715,638, prize money for the remaining eight spots is as follows*:

2nd place: $5,433,086
3rd place: $4,021,138
4th place: $3,012,700
5th place: $2,269,599
6th place: $1,720,831
7th place: $1,314,097
8th place: $1,010,015
9th place: $782,115

When play resumes on November 6th, the players will pick up with 34 minutes and 57 seconds remaining in Level 36. The antes will be $50,000 and blinds will stand at $250,000 and $500,000.
*The final nine players each received ninth-place prize money upon reaching the final table.. 
 
COMING IN PART 2, WILL BE A VIEWERS GUIDE TO SUNDAY'S ACTION, WITH SEVERAL NOTABLE THINGS TO WATCH FOR WHEN PLAY BEGINS.