One of the most bizarre days in recent WSOP memory concluded on Monday with the November Nine playing down to the final two.

Coming up next, two Americans – Jay Farber and Ryan Riess – will face off in a heads-up showdown for the Main Event Championship title, along with the fame and fortune of winning poker's most illustrious annual event.
 
For both of these finalists, the road leading to this point has taken a number of odd twists and turns.  Consider some of the things that happened on November 4th, which was slated as stage one of final table play.  Several memorable highlights (some might say lowlights) took place, which occurred at the table, as well as away from it.

When cards were pitched into the air at about 4:45 pm, it appeared that the audience might be in for a long stretch.  In fact, it took only 171 hands, a lightning-fast pace compared to most final tables in the televised era, to whittle the finale from nine players down to two.  Here are some of the many highlights and memories from this day.

After action kicked off with a bang, as Mark newhouse got it all-in against Marc-Etienne McLaughlin holding pocket queens to McLaughlin's pocket kings, only to flop a queen and double up, play slowed to a virtual crawl.  Even with the early double though, Newhouse was still the first to hit the rail, losing a race with pocket nines against ace-king, when a king flopped. 

Only two hands later, David Benefield made his exit.  He was short on chips and hoped to move Jay Farber off his hand with an all-in raise.  Unfortunately, Farber had ace-king, which steamrolled Benefield's king-deuce.  Benefield later explained he could have moved his opponent off most hands with that raise, only this time, Farber actually had a big hand, creating obvious difficulties.  Benefield, a college student and former poker pro who talks passionately about making the game a part-time pursuit while pursuing other interests (he's majoring in Political Science and Chinese language studies) dismissed the bust out hand as just being part of the game.  He said he savored the experience and hopes to occasionally come back again and play at the WSOP in the future.

After Ryan Riess took the chip lead for the first time, Michiel Brummelhuis was eliminated, thus missing out on the opportunity to become the first Dutch World Champion in history.  The 32-year-old poker pro from Amsterdam picked up pocket nines, which was dominated and then flattened by Ryan Riess' monster cards, pocket aces.

Once the field got down to six, that set the stage from one of the most baffling two hours ever to take place at the WSOP.

First, at what amounted to the evening's midway point, an overly enthusiastic spectator, dressed as a panda, in the crowd dived onto the stage, causing a panic for a few moments, as witnesses tried to recall what they had just seen and experienced.  As things turned out, the individual in the faux poker was motivated by a cash offer to do something really silly.  He really accomplished that mission.  The panda was hauled away by security and the casino did its best to move on with the show.

That said, the course of events at the final table over the next hour was extraordinary.  In an amazing and unforeseeable sequence, four players we eliminated within the next 20 or so hands.  McLaughlin, from Canada was the first casualty, finishing in sixth place.  He suffered every poker player's worst nightmare, being dealt pocket kings against what turned out to be Jay Farber's sledgehammer, pocket aces. While the hand dashed McLaughlin's hopes, the biggest pot of the tournament sent Farber's stack soaring into six-figure territory, giving him a commanding chip lead.

In less than an hour, he'd be joined in the rail by poker pro and start of day chip leader JC Tran.  To the surprise of many, Tran bit the bittersweet pill this most on this occasion. 

The Sacramento-based poker pro had the weight of the world on his shoulders during much of this event.  He was the most well-known player in the November Nine.  Many observers speculated that this would be the year that a highly-regarded pro would win the title, rather than a relatively unknown player, as has been the case over the past decade.  With the chip lead and two bracelets two his credit, it looked like Tran was primed to win.

Tran later spoke at a press conference where he revealed that he experienced the coldest run of cards he'd ever seen at any final table.  Despite holding the chip lead, his stack didn't last under those adverse circumstances.  Sure, with sheer talent and patience, he managed to last to fifth place, but the seven-figure score was bittersweet. 

Sylain Loosli hoped to become the first World Champ from France, but his all-in move with queen-seven late, hoping to steal a round of blinds failed when Ryan Riess's ace-ten held to eliminate Loosli in fourth.

Only a short time later, the last remaining gold bracelet winner, Amir Lehavot, was getting low on chips and moved all-in with pocket sevens.  It proved to be a case of terrible timing.  Ryan Riess woke up with pocket tens, leaving the Israeli drawing to slim odds and just a few outs.

Once Lehavot was knocked out, the final two players were set.  When play resumes, Farber will begin with the chip lead, holding 105 million to Riess' 85,675,000.  With blinds at 500,000/1,00,000 though, each player has plenty of chips to work with and this match is far from over.  Action concluded at about 1:30 am.  The heads-up finale is set to begin on Tuesday, starting at 5:45 pm PT, with the action getting underway on ESPN at 6pm PT/9pm ET.  This means that all that's left is the heads-up showdown to determine who will be the 2013 WSOP Main Event Champion.

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