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World Series of Poker Main Event: The Making of the Second ‘November Nine’

Card Player Media President Jeff Shulman and Phil Ivey Headline the Final Table

by Ryan Lucchesi |  Published: Sep 04, 2009


WSOP Bracelet

The inaugural “November Nine” experiment for the World Series of Poker main event proved to be a success in 2008. Ratings were up 36 percent for the ESPN broadcast, and unknown players became stars. World Champion Peter Eastgate, runner-up Ivan Demidov, everyman Dennis Phillips, and the only established professional prior to the final table, Chino Rheem, all benefited immensely from the publicity machine that gathered momentum during the months of downtime. Thus, Harrah’s Entertainment kept the same format for the final table in 2009, which means that the final nine players in the 2009 main event will have to wait until Nov. 7 for final-table play to resume. However, that doesn’t mean that the second-ever November Nine is without a story to tell at this time; it’s just a tale that is waiting for the final chapter.

Days 1A-1D: No Chip and No Chair
The four first-day flights for the _WSOP _main event varied in size. Day 1A (1,116 players) had a modest turnout since most players don’t want to take three days off in between play. Day 1B (873) fell on the Fourth of July, and the holiday took a huge bite out of attendance, and while the number of entrants picked up on day 1C (1,696), there were many procrastinators. Only 3,685 players had entered by that point, and a player tidal wave crashed down on the shores of the Rio on day 1D when 2,809 players entered the tournament. The real problem was that there were hundreds of players who were not allowed to enter the tournament due to the capacity crowd.

One professional who was left out of the competition was T.J. Cloutier, a member of the Poker Hall of Fame.

“Right now, I’m in shock. It’s way beyond disappointment,” said Mickey Appleman, another bracelet winner who was left out.

Hellmuth Eastgate Esfandiari

Harrah’s officials gathered the large crowd and made an official apology to those who weren’t going to be able to play, but many walked away bitter.
After the dust had settled, the official number of players stood at 6,494, which was 350 players fewer than in 2008. Yet, there was still a lot of money up for grabs, with a total prize pool of $61,043,600. Every player making the 2009 final table would become a millionaire (ninth place — $1,263,602), and the world champion would walk away with $8,546,435.

Days 2-7: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
The energy and excitement that make the main event the year’s most anticipated poker tournament were on full display during the four first-day flights. Wild costumes, questionable calls, crazy aggression, and an entrance by Phil Hellmuth as Caesar, which might have made even Julius jealous, were the highlights as thousands of players fell. At the conclusion of day 2B, after six days of play, just 2,044 players remained. Then, with stacks extremely deep, the pots began to swell. Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier won one of the first huge pots, increasing his stack to more than 1.3 million, and Ludovic Lacay approached a million by the end of day 3. Jason Alexander was eliminated on day 3, leading a collection of impressive performances by celebrities. Actor Lou Diamond Phillips would finish the highest of any celebrity — 186th, for $36,626.

Day 4 saw the money bubble come and go when 648 players remained, and by the end of the night, just 407 players remained, 33 of whom held at least 1 million in chips, including Phil Ivey. Day 5 saw Warren Zackey shoot to the top of the leader board, as Ivey remained strong at more than a million, while Card Player’s Jeff Shulman also saw his stack reach a million. The tournament had 185 players remaining by the end of day 5, and among the many professionals still in the hunt were defending World Champion Peter Eastgate and 2008 November Nine finalist Dennis Phillips.

Margets Lichtenberger Kopp
Eastgate and Phillips were seated at the same table on day 6, where they were joined by former main-event winner Joe Hachem and two-time bracelet winner J.C. Tran to form one of the most stacked tables this deep in the main event in recent history. They quickly found themselves at the ESPN featured table, and fans packed the stands to watch. Tran (108th place) and Hachem (103rd place) fell during a rough stretch for the pros, as David Benyamine went out right behind them (102nd place), and after a strong start, Grospellier made his exit before all of them, in 122nd place. Eastgate eventually busted out in 78th place, but he proved that he was no fluke, as he did the most impressive job of defending his title since Greg Raymer finished in 25th place in the 2005 main event after winning in 2004. Phillips made it through to the end of the day with 2,305,000 in chips. Ivey really began to dominate, and ended the day with 6,345,000. Lacay continued to play well, and held 5,965,000, while Antonio Esfandiari went on a rush to increase his stack to 5,610,000 with just 64 players remaining.

Day 7 marked the painful end for many top professionals who had come so close to main-event glory and yet would finish so far away. Prahlad Friedman (64th), Joe Sebok (56th), Tom Schneider (52nd), Fabrice Soulier (49th), Phillips (45th), Eugene Katchalov (39th), and Blair Rodman (34th) were among the fallen. The final 27 players were reached just before 11 p.m., and the stage was set for the battle for spots in the November Nine the next day. Ivey had a stack of 11,350,000, while Shulman had played strong poker and increased his stack to 10,170,000. Darvin Moon led all challengers for the second night in a row, and would head to the final day of the summer with 20,160,000.

Day 8: Huge Hands on the Way to November
The blinds began at 50,000-100,000 on day 8, and eight players had at least 10 million in chips at their disposal. The average stack held 72 big blinds when play began, so everyone was digging in for a long day of poker. The question was not if the big pots would come, but when. The last woman standing, Leo Margets from Spain, was one of the short stacks when the day began, and she was the first to exit, in 27th place ($352,941). Esfandiari was the first big name to go, in 24th place ($352,832). He moved all in on a flop of 10Diamond Suit 4Club Suit 2Diamond Suit for 2.5 million, and Steven Begleiter called him. Esfandiari held pocket fives, but Begleiter flipped over the KClub Suit 10Club Suit. The turn and river missed both players, and “The Magician” disappeared.

This was a tough stretch for another big-name professional, as Ivey saw his stack drop to 5,435,000, but he dug down deep and played solid poker to fight his way back into contention. He would not go down without a fight after making deep runs in the main event in 2003, when he finished in 10th place, and in 2005, when he finished 20th. Ivey had won two bracelets already this summer, and you could see that he wanted the third to be the one that he covets more than all others. His stack had begun to grow again by the time the action played down to the final two tables.

Professional Andrew Lichtenberger exited those two final tables in 18th place ($500,577). He raised to 400,000 preflop and Moon called. The flop came 6Club Suit 3Club Suit 3Diamond Suit and Lichtenberger bet 680,000. Moon raised to 1.5 million, and Lichtenberger reraised all in. Moon made the call, and flipped over the KClub Suit KHeart Suit after Lichtenberger exposed the JHeart Suit JDiamond Suit. The turn and river missed both players and Lichtenberger was eliminated, while Moon’s stack grew to 25 million.

French professional Lacay had played eight solid days of poker and was among the chip leaders for most of the way, but his final hand came when Shulman raised to 450,000 preflop and Lacay raised all in for just over 3 million. Shulman made the call, and Lacay flipped over pocket sevens. Shulman held the ASpade Suit KSpade Suit, and the board ran out KHeart Suit 9Diamond Suit 5Spade Suit 9Heart Suit 6Club Suit. Lacay was eliminated in 16th place ($500,557), and Shulman increased his stack to 12.8 million. He had made the final table of the main event in 2000, when he finished in seventh place, and his experience showed through in his calm demeanor as the pressure mounted.

There was a small lull in the action during the next two hours of play heading to the dinner break, as only Nick Maimone was eliminated, in 15th place ($633,022). It took more than half an hour for the players to warm up after the dinner break, but once they did, their guns did not stop blazing. It was a very surprising development, considering that at that point, the average stack was 58 big blinds, but the chips just refused to stop moving.

Shulman kicked off the post-dinner eliminations when he sent Ben Lamb to the rail in 14th place ($633,022). Lamb opened the pot for 655,000, and Shulman raised enough to put Lamb all in. Lamb made the call for his tournament life after going into the tank. Shulman flipped over the ADiamond Suit KSpade Suit and Lamb exposed a dominated ASpade Suit JSpade Suit. The board came KDiamond Suit 9Heart Suit 3Spade Suit 7Diamond Suit 2Heart Suit, and Lamb was sacrificed. Minutes later, James Calderaro moved all in on a short stack and busted out in 13th place ($633,022) when his K-J failed to improve against the pocket tens of Kevin Schaffel.

The next elimination was the most painful to watch for many, and one of the most perplexing deep-stack hands of poker this year. Billy Kopp raised to 600,000 preflop from early position, and Moon made the call from the small blind. The flop was KDiamond Suit 9Diamond Suit 2Diamond Suit and Moon checked. Kopp bet 750,000 and Moon called. The turn was the 2Heart Suit and Moon checked again. Kopp bet 2 million, and Moon check-raised to 6 million. Kopp then reraised all in for 20 million total. Moon made the call, and Kopp flipped over the 5Diamond Suit 3Diamond Suit. Moon exposed the QDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit, and when the inconsequential 7Club Suit fell on the river, Kopp lost each and every one of the 80 big blinds that he held at the start of the hand. He was eliminated in 12th place ($896,730), while Moon skyrocketed to the chip lead with 40.5 million.

Jamie Robbins departed next in 11th place ($896,730) when his K-Q ran into the A-10 of Ivey. The board bricked out, and the unofficial final table of 10 was set. The players drew for new seats and then moved to the final-table stage, which was absolutely packed with fans, media, and WSOP officials. When play resumed, the average stack contained 81 big blinds, but it took just 20 minutes for the November Nine bubble boy to bust out, courtesy of a cooler.

Eric Buchman raised to 650,000 preflop, and Moon made the call from the button. Jordan Smith reraised to 2.6 million, and Buchman mucked. Moon made the call, and the flop came 8Club Suit 4Diamond Suit 2Diamond Suit. Smith checked, and Moon bet 4 million. Smith check-raised all in, and Moon made the call. Smith turned over the AHeart Suit ADiamond Suit and Moon displayed the 8Heart Suit 8Diamond Suit for top set. The turn and river were the 5Heart Suit and 10Heart Suit, and the November Nine were set. The players bagged and tagged their chips and took a group photo, and will return to the Rio on Nov. 7 for the final table. Here is a look at the chip counts (with seat assignments):

Seat 1 Darvin Moon 58,930,000
Seat 2 James Akenhead 6,800,000
Seat 3 Phil Ivey 9,765,000
Seat 4 Kevin Schaffel 12,390,000
Seat 5 Steven Begleiter 29,885,000
Seat 6 Eric Buchman 34,800,000
Seat 7 Joseph Cada 13,215,000
Seat 8 Antoine Saout 9,500,000
Seat 9 Jeff Shulman 19,580,000

Here is what the 2009 November Nine will be playing for:
1 $8,546,435
2 $5,182,601
3 $3,479,485
4 $2,502,787
5 $1,953,295
6 $1,587,133
7 $1,404,002
8 $1,300,228
9 $1,263,602

Shulman and Ivey, you already know, and Akenhead turned heads last year at the WSOP when he finished runner-up to Grant Hinkle in one of the largest $1,500 no-limit hold’em tournaments of all time. In the coming weeks and months, you will learn more about each and every one of these players on and in the pages of Card Player magazine, leading up to the 2009 main-event final table. Spade Suit

A Closer Look at the ‘November Nine’
By Stephen A. Murphy

What’s at stake? Just $8.5 million and a world championship.

But for some of the members of the World Series of Poker’s “November Nine,” there is much more on the line. For Phil Ivey, it’s an opportunity to become a legend. For Jeff Shulman, it’s a second chance at a main-event final table.

For Darvin Moon, the overwhelming chip leader, it’s a chance to continue to defy the odds and make his fellow $30 tournament competitors back home proud. For Steven Begleiter, it’s about proving that he and his beleaguered former colleagues can be successful in their newest endeavors.

Every one of these nine players has something to play for besides the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Here are their stories.

Darvin Moon
Darvin Moon, 45, logger, Oakland, Maryland
First in chips with 58.93 million

Darvin Moon may be more comfortable with a chain saw in his hands and work boots on his feet, but the small-town logger has more than held his own in the 2009 WSOP main event. When play was suspended for the November Nine, Moon had established himself as the overwhelming chip leader with nearly 59 million in chips — over 24 million more than his closest competitor.

But don’t think for one second that his enormous chip lead has gone to his head.
“There were 6,494 players in the main event this year, and there were probably 6,300 people in it who are better than I am,” said Moon.

At a time when many poker players proclaim their greatness and pat themselves on the back for their play, Moon says that he is just on the run of his life.
He found himself with the opportunity to play in the biggest tournament of the year thanks to a satellite tournament he won at Wheeling Island Casino in West Virginia.

He entered the $130 qualifier because he loves the competition of poker. Once he won it, he was faced with a decision. He could play or take the $10,000 buy-in and return home.

He almost took the $10,000 and invested it into his small, three-man logging business, which also employs his brother and his brother-in-law.

“The timber industry is terrible right now,” said Moon. “I told my brother that I was just going to take the money, because it would help us with the business.”
His brother’s response was: “You’re a fool. Play. We don’t need that $10,000 in the business. We’ve never had it there, and we don’t need it now.”

So, in the spirit of good competition, Moon decided to play. Two weeks later, he was guaranteed to win more than $1.26 million, and with his immense lead, he will likely win much more.

When asked what he might buy with his new fortune, not too much came to Moon’s mind.

“My wife wants a lawn mower, but we don’t need a lawn mower,” said Moon. “But I told my dad that if I win, I’m buying him a new pink Cadillac.”

Eric Buchman, 29, professional poker player, Valley Stream, New York
Second in chips with 34.80 million

Eric Buchman is second in chips at the final table, and it’s hard not to like his chances in November. Going into the main event, he had nine previous cashes in the WSOP, including two final tables. He’s also cashed in four World Poker Tour events in the last five years.

Eric Buchman

The 29-year-old from New York graduated from SUNY Albany with a bachelor’s degree, but never joined the 9-to-5 workforce. A recreational poker player throughout college, he soon realized that he was making some nice money from his hobby by the time he was a senior.

“When I was a senior in college, I would go to Foxwoods or the Mohegan Sun on the weekends, and I was able to build a little bankroll by the time that I graduated,” said Buchman, who was playing mostly $20-$40 and $30-$60 stakes at the time.

Right out of college, he won a $300 rebuy tournament at the Tropicana for $15,000, and then hit a casino promotion jackpot for $222,000, instantly giving the new college graduate a legitimate bankroll. Pretty soon, he went from $20-$40 to $150-$300.
Steven Begleiter
He has yet to win a bracelet, with his best finish in a WSOP event coming in 2006, when he was the runner-up in a $1,500 limit hold’em event, for $174,938. But he’s been playing since 2003, and with his experience and chip stack, he firmly believes that he has a great chance to take this one down.

Steven Begleiter, 47, investment banker, Chappaqua, New York
Third in chips with 29.885 million

Steven Begleiter witnessed firsthand the epic rise and fall of Bear Stearns, the global investment bank and securities trading and brokerage firm.

“If you look through the old Bear Stearns annual reports, you’ll see my picture in them,” said Begleiter, who worked for the firm for 24 years, the last nine of them as the head of corporate strategy. “And if you read some of the books that come out about the demise of Bear Stearns, you’ll see my name in them.”

Begleiter, the father of three, admits that things didn’t end well at his last job. The giant firm collapsed last year after federal officials wouldn’t intervene, and it was eventually sold to J.P. Morgan.

“I was there the day we were sold to J.P. Morgan last year,” said Begleiter. “I did well there, but obviously it didn’t end well.”

Begleiter learned how to play poker from his father, watching over his shoulder when he was just a boy. He made his WSOP main-event debut last year, using $5,000 of his winnings from a local poker league and $5,000 of his own money to participate in the event. Although he didn’t cash, he had a great time.

This year, he won $10,000 in the poker league and headed back to Vegas for a second try. This year’s attempt went just a little bit better. With nine people left, Begleiter finds himself in fantastic position to contend for the world championship.

But more than the money and more than a chance to be called a world champion, Begleiter really wants to celebrate this accomplishment with his wife and children, ages 11-16.

“You know, when you’re a teenager, you look at your parents like, ‘Who are these idiots?’ when they’re telling you what to do. I just want to see the look on their faces when it sinks in that their dad actually made the final table,” said Begleiter. “Of course, their dad is an idiot, but at least he made the final table.”

Jeff Shulman
Jeff Shulman, 34, president and publisher of Card Player magazine, Las Vegas, Nevada
Fourth in chips with 19.58 million

In 2000, Jeff Shulman was poised to become the world champion of poker. He was the overwhelming chip leader of the main event with just seven players remaining. But he lost to a two-outer in a huge pot and then ran his pocket kings into pocket aces, and suddenly, he was eliminated in seventh place.

“I had all of the chips, and then two hands later, I was bust,” said Shulman, who is the president and COO of Card Player Media. “Actually, it didn’t even bother me at first. I was so pumped to win $145,000, and I was so new to poker.”

But the wave of emotions in seeing a main-event win slip away would eventually hit him.

“The next day, when I was driving home from work, I had to pull over to the side of the road when it hit me, and just kind of let it out for a few seconds,” said Shulman. “I realized that I didn’t win $145,000, I really lost a million, or whatever.”

However, Shulman recovered nicely. Entering this year’s main event, he had accumulated approximately $1.3 million in tournament winnings with consistent results in several of the most respected events, including five cashes in the $25,000 World Poker Tour Championship.

He is the only player of this year’s November Nine who has been to the main-event final table before. Not even the great Phil Ivey can say that, with his best result coming in 2003 with a 10th-place finish.

Joseph Cada, 21, professional poker player, Shelby Township, Michigan
Fifth in chips with 13.215 million

Just one year after Peter Eastgate broke Phil Hellmuth’s record of being the youngest main-event champion in history, Joseph Cada has the chance to outdo them both.
Joseph Cada
At the wide-eyed age of 21, he is easily the youngest player at this year’s final table, and could become the youngest world champion ever. But despite his youth, he does have experience — as he’s been playing poker professionally for a couple of years now, after dropping out of a community college in his home state of Michigan, and he feels comfortable with how he stacks up against the rest of the table.

“Of course, I’m very surprised to make the final table, just because of how big the player field was. You have to run good, even if you’re a really good player. There’s a ton of good players who played this tournament,” said Cada. “But I like my chances. There’s still a lot of poker to be played.”

Kevin Schaffel, 51, semiretired after running a printing business, Coral Springs, Florida
Sixth in chips with 12.39 million

Burnt out and ready for a change, Kevin Schaffel closed up the family printing business that he had been a part of for the last 30 years. He had no idea what he was going to do or what profession he was going to pursue. Having always been successful at the poker table, he decided to try to make a living playing poker.

“I had been successful over the years in cash games, playing $10-$20 no-limit,” said Schaffel. “But I found that playing poker [for a living] wasn’t so easy. I started running really bad, and I had never experienced running bad for such a long period of time. I needed to show so much patience just to limit my losses when I was running bad.”
Kevin Schaffel
Despite having had a rough time at the table, he decided to play the main event — a tournament in which he has had a history of success.

“My first main event was in 2004, and I came in 42nd, the year that Greg Raymer won. Then last year, I came in 324th,” said Schaffel. “And this year, of course, I’m here at the final table, so I’ve done really well in the main event.”

Phil Ivey, 33, professional poker player, Las Vegas, Nevada
Seventh in chips with 9.765 million

Many people consider Phil Ivey to be the best player in the world. After winning two events in the 2009 WSOP, he now has seven bracelets at the age of just 33. No player in history has won that many bracelets by that age, and only five have ever won more.

Now, he has the chance to win the main event, a task that no big-name pro has accomplished since poker exploded in 2003, thanks to Chris Moneymaker and added ESPN coverage. With a win, he would further cement his legacy as one of the best to ever play the game.
Phil Ivey
“So far, I’ve just made the final table, which is a pretty big accomplishment. Winning it would be the top of the line for me,” said Ivey. “I can taste it now. I’m right in the hunt.”

Ivey will go to the final table in November seventh in chips. After receiving $1.26 million for making the final table (equivalent to the ninth-place payout), Ivey moved into third place on the all-time tournament winnings list with $11.47 million. Only Daniel Negreanu ($11.50 million) and Jamie Gold ($12.18 million) have won more money in tournament poker, but Ivey can pass them both with a fourth-place finish or better.

With the blinds at 120,000-240,000, Ivey has more than 40 big blinds — a stack comfortable enough that many people still make him one of the favorites to win the tournament, despite being one of the short stacks.

Antoine Saout, 25, professional poker player, Saint-Martin-des-Champs, France
Eighth in chips with 9.50 million

Ten months — that’s how long Antoine Saout has reportedly been playing live-tournament poker. Let’s just say that he has learned quickly.

The 25-year-old former engineering student turned pro earlier this year, and won his seat into the main event courtesy of an online tournament on Everest Poker.
Antoine Saout
The French pro likely made a lot of people very happy with his performance. Everest Poker had a promotion to split $1 million among all players who qualified for the main event from that site if anyone made the final table.

Saout will try to represent France well in the final nine. He was one of a number of his countrymen to make a deep run in this tournament, including the highly touted Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier and Ludovic Lacay.

James Akenhead, 26, professional poker player, London, England
Ninth in chips with 6.80 million

James Akenhead is officially this November Nine’s short stack. But don’t expect that to rattle the talented Brit, who has been at a televised WSOP final table before, and has said that he’s seen all there is to see at a poker table.
In his first attempt at winning a bracelet, he played a masterful final table to eventually get heads up with Grant Hinkle. Despite entering heads-up play at a huge disadvantage, he worked himself back to even after two hours of what he described as “perfect play.”

Frustrated, Hinkle began to get aggressive, shoving all in preflop on a regular basis. “He finally cracked. My plan worked perfectly,” said Akenhead. “I just had to wait for a hand.”

That hand came soon enough, as he was dealt A-K. When Hinkle pushed all in with 10-4, Akenhead snap-called and was on the verge of winning his bracelet. Lady Luck, however, was not on his side. Hinkle’s measly 10-4 soon became gold as he flopped an unlikely full house and won his first bracelet.

Akenhead turned pro three years ago — an impromptu decision that he made after winning more money playing online poker in a single night than he did in an entire year in his job as a train driver in England.
James Akenhead
He discovered the game a few years before that when he was pursuing his other love, pool. At one point, he was ranked No. 15 in the UK in nine-ball.
Using his intense work ethic, learned from practicing 10 hours a day at pool, Akenhead has quickly established himself as a talented young pro. With his poker background and his hunger, he likes his chances, even as a short stack.

“The payout structure is quite flat in the beginning [of the final nine payouts],” said Akenhead, hinting that he might not hold back just to try to inch up a spot or two in the money. “Hopefully, it goes well.” Spade Suit