Truth is, the monumental annual spectacle which attracts women and men of all ages from more than 100 different countries around the world earnestly began long before that with the burgeoning hopes of tens of millions in all corners of the globe who each dreamed of taking his or her seat in this year’s edition of the famed “November Nine.”
Now that those many millions of aspirations have dissipated back to reality, nine remarkable men did somehow manage to separate themselves from the massive pack and survive the gauntlet of obstacles facing each player who posts the mandatory $10,000 entry fee into poker’s annual world championship. Each of the nine somehow survived a myriad of close calls, excruciatingly tough decisions, coin flips, bad beats, and physical and emotional distractions which derail most of those with less skill and determination, mixed in with an occasional sprinkle of good fortune.
This year’s November Nine lineup includes finalists ranging in age from 23 to 72, from four different nations, amateurs and professionals alike, one gold bracelet winner and eight who hope to change that, each with a vastly different and distinctive path to the height of poker’s pinnacle.
Of the final nine, only poker pro Max Steinberg, from Oakland, CA has previously tasted the sweetness of a WSOP victory. He won his gold bracelet in 2012. He also has two second-place finishes at the series.
Joe McKeehen, from North Wales, PA appears to be the player to catch, simply based on his enormous advantage as the chip leader. Sitting comfortably on more than 63 million, he has more than double the stack of his closest rival, Zvi Stern, from Israel, with close to 30 million. McKeehen has been close to the top of the leaderboard for four straight days, rarely taking any hits.
The 2015 edition of the November Nine by seat and chip counts are as follows:
Seat 1: Zvi Stern -- 29,800,000
Seat 2: Pierre Neuville -- 21,075,000
Seat 3: Joshua Beckley -- 11,800,000
Seat 4: Max Steinberg -- 20,200,000
Seat 5: Thomas Cannuli -- 12,250,000
Seat 6: Joe McKeehen -- 63,100,000
Seat 7: Patrick Chan -- 6,225,000
Seat 8: Federico Butteroni -- 6,200,000
Seat 9: Neil Blumenfield -- 22,000,000
Here are a few other fun facts about this year’s finalists:
-- Pierre Neuville, from Belgium, became the oldest player ever to make the November Nine, at age 72. Should he win the Main Event, he would become the oldest world champion in history, eclipsing the late Johnny Moss when he won in 1974, at age 67.
-- Israel has its second November Niner in history, following Amir Lehavot’s historic appearance and 3rd-place finish in 2013.
-- Italy also celebrated its second player to make the final nine, with Federico Butteroni, from Rome, making the cut. He matches fellow countryman Filippo Candio, who took 4th place back in 2010.
-- Joe McKeehen will take the biggest chip lead into the final since Jamie Gold’s miracle eight-day run back in 2006. Darvin Moon took 58.9 million into the 2009 finale (then, 30 percent of the chips in play). However, McKeehen has the number covered at more than 63 million.
Each of this year’s class of finalists has become an instant millionaire, since all of the top nine finishers are guaranteed to collect $1 million each. However, all eyes are on the top prize, which is $7,680,021 and immortality within the poker world as the new world champion, symbolized in the coveted WSOP gold bracelet.
LOOKING BACK ON DAY 7
Up to this point, players have competed for seven days and nights, consisting of more than 70 hours of actual playing time – and the most tiresome and challenging part of the long journey is still to come.
Day 7 began with 27 survivors which played down to the final 9. Action lasted nearly 14 hours.
The long day’s rising crescendo reached its high note at 1:30 am when Alexander Turyansky, from Sourbruden, Germany busted out of the unofficial final table in tenth place, essentially bubbling the November Nine.
Turyansky became the low stack, shoved, got a call, and then lost the final hand of the summer, resulting in the ultimate in agony and ecstasy – one spot away from poker’s most coveted seat softened by the consolation prize of a $756,897 payout.
No doubt, the biggest news of the day (and for many -- the ultimate disappointment) was seeing six-time gold bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu exit from the Main Event in 11th place. Negreanu, originally from Toronto, Canada and now residing in Las Vegas, has long been poker’s premier global ambassador and arguably most popular player. Negreanu was cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd over the course of several days, but eventually ran out of momentum when he became short stacked about midway through the day and was somewhat stifled by his tiny margin for error. Despite this, Negreanu graciously played to the crowd at every instant, tying his deepest run ever in the Main Event in a manner that reminded everyone why he’s so immensely popular. The $526,778 he collected for finishing two spots off the final table seemed to be the last thing on Negreanu’s mind as he fielded questions, signed every autograph, and posed for countless pictures with fans.
Other dramatic moments included the exit of Justin Schwartz, from Milford, CT in 14th place. Schwartz -- by way of his unconventional mannerisms, frequent table chatter, and odd physical characteristics -- managed to steal the spotlight away from Negreanu and others simply as a fascinating case study in bizarre behavior under the bright spotlight of a highly-intense and very public setting. Whether by design or not, Schwartz’s antics did appear to confuse many opponents over the course of the tournament, but were not enough to overturn the disadvantage of flopping an underset against and overset on what turned out to be his final hand of the 2015 series. Schwartz collected $411,453.
Also of note was the impressive performance by German players in this tournament, posting 4 finishers in the top 25, an amazing feat given there were only 82 total German players who entered the Main Event. As noted, Turyansky finished 10th. Kilian Kramer took 18th place. Anton Morgenstern came in 22nd – after coming in 20th last year! Fedor Holz finished 25th.
LOOKING AHEAD TO NOVEMBER
November Nine players will now take a much-needed and well-deserved breather from the intensity of playing in the biggest poker event of their lives. They will return to their hometowns as celebrities, anticipating a return to the spotlight of the Las Vegas stage, coming three months from now.
On November 8th, the final nine will re-assemble once again inside the cavernous Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio, ready to resume play and compete for the championship. Each player will undoubtedly bring dozens if not hundreds of family and friends, turning the championship finale into a carnival-like atmosphere.
This year, ESPN’s prime-time television broadcast will expand from two days to three days, for the very first time. Coverage starts on Sunday, November 8th at 5:30 pm PST. Play continues until just four players remain. Then, second day coverage starts on Monday, November 9th at 5 pm PST and continues until heads-up play is reached. Finally, on Tuesday, November 10th at 6 pm PST, the heads-up duel for poker’s world championship will air and play out until the winner is determined.
In the meantime, 2015 WSOP coverage will begin airing on ESPN on September 14th which runs into early November. The first three weeks of programming will air on Monday nights. Then, starting October 4th, weekly shows will shift over to Sunday nights. Weekly telecasts will include 2 hours of coverage initially, then will expand to 2.5 hours during the last four segments.
Coming on August 18th, ESPN will also show the WSOP Circuit National Championship finale in a special two-hour broadcast.
As fabulous as the 2015 WSOP has been, so far -- the best is yet to come.