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The Next Great Poker Story

by Bernard Lee |  Published: Dec 01, 2013

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Bernard LeeThe 2013 November Nine is only weeks away from reassembling at the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. All of us will be riveted to the stage, eagerly waiting to see who will capture the most coveted bracelet in poker. Not only will the 2013 champion win almost $8.4 million, but he will also be immortalized as the latest World Series of Poker (WSOP) main event champion.

So many of these past champions have had memorable stories leading up to their championship victory. Last year, Greg Merson captured the hearts of the poker world with his open and honest admission of his battles with drug addiction. The 2009 WSOP champion, Joe Cada, became the youngest main event champion ever, eclipsing the mark set by Peter Eastgate just the previous year. And of course, who can forget the tale of the Tennessee accountant who parlayed a $39 online satellite into $2.5 million, sparking a revolution aptly named the Moneymaker Effect.

At this year’s final table, all nine players have stories about themselves. Ultimately, whoever wins the main event will have his added to WSOP folklore. Since the inception of the November Nine back in 2008, I have been fortunate to interview almost every member of the November Nine (only one I missed was last year’s Andras Koroknai as he declined to be interviewed) on my radio show. You can hear all of my past interviews on Roundersradio.com or download them via iTunes.

This year, I have interviewed the final table members and here is a synopsis of each of their unique stories heading into the final table (in chip order).

JC Tran (38 million in chips)

The most decorated player at this final table, Tran is a two-time WSOP bracelet winner (2008 $1,500 no-limit hold’em; 2009 $2,500 pot-limit Omaha), World Poker Tour (WPT) winner (2008 WPT World Poker Challenge), 2006 World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) main event champion and Season 5 WPT Player of the Year. With more than $10 million in career earnings (live and online), Tran has been playing on the poker circuit for over a decade. However, he is no longer playing only for himself. Tran has become a devoted family man and now plays for his wife, two-year-old son and their future daughter, who is due this coming November. With his new responsibilities, Tran has admitted that he better understands the value of money, especially for his young family. Having represented the Asian Poker Tour, Tran would definitely help expand poker in Asia with a victory at the WSOP main event.

Amir Lehavot (29.7 million)

The oldest player at the final table at 38 years old, Lehavot may not be one of the big names at the final table, but he definitely has the experience on the big stage. Lehavot is the only player other than Tran at the final table to have captured a WSOP bracelet (2011 $10,000 pot-limit hold’em championship). Additionally, he final tabled the 2011 WPT L.A. Poker Classic, finishing in fourth place. Originally from Israel, he currently lives in Florida and started a poker-training site, Pokerwit.com. Currently, he wants to stay under the radar, and is trying to stay out of the media leading up to the November Nine.

Marc-Etienne McLaughlin (26.525 million)

A full-time entrepreneur, McLaughlin does not consider himself a poker professional. Nevertheless, the 25-year old has had an incredible record in the WSOP main event over the last five years. In three of the last five years, he has finished in the top 90 (2009: 30th place; 2011: 86th place; 2013: minimum ninth place). Good friends with 2010 WSOP main event champion Jonathan Duhamel, McLaughlin could become the second French Canadian to win the WSOP main event in the last four years.

Jay Farber (25.975 million)

As a Las Vegas VIP host, Farber has run into his fair share of poker players. He realizes that he is far from a professional poker player, having only about $2,000 in career earnings (the least ever for a November Niner). However, the 28-year-old will be able to talk with some of the best poker minds in the world leading up to the final table. Additionally, he could have one of the most decorated rails at the final table, which may include poker pros Ben Lamb, Shaun Deeb and Vanessa Selbst, all of whom were rooting him on Day 7. If Farber does capture the 2013 WSOP main event, I’m sure that he will throw one of the most memorable parties in Las Vegas to celebrate his victory.

Ryan Riess (25.875 million)

The youngest member of the November Nine, Riess is carrying the weight of the entire WSOP Circuit on his shoulders. Having cashed in his first major event back in October of 2012 at the WSOP Circuit main event in Hammond, Indiana, the 23-year-old graduated from Michigan State University shortly thereafter. With his second place finish in Hammond, he began with a solid bankroll as he pursued his dream to become a professional poker player. Riess followed the WSOP Circuit with one of the goals to qualify for the WSOP National Championship, which he achieved. Overall, the 2013 WSOP was extremely successful for the WSOP Circuit grinders as Jonathan Taylor, Loni Harwood, Bryan Campanello and Jonathan Hilton all won their first WSOP bracelets. Riess has stated that he will utilize many of them as coaches for the November Nine. Nevertheless, if Riess can capture the WSOP main event, he will outshine all of them. Finally, he could become the second player from Michigan to win the WSOP main event in the last five years (Joe Cada won in 2009).

Sylvain Loosli (19.6 million)

After Antoine Saout came so close to winning the 2009 WSOP main event (remember his pocket queens were cracked by Joe Cada’s pocket deuces three-handed), Loosli was inspired to master the game of poker. Additionally, after watching his fellow countrywoman, Gaelle Baumann, come so close to making the final table, as she was the October Nine bubble girl last year, he was determined to make a solid run in this year’s WSOP main event. If Loosli wins the main event, he would become the first Frenchman to hold the crown and would suddenly be revered as the father of French poker.

Michiel Brummelhuis (11.275 million)

By making the November Nine, Brummelhuis became the first Dutch player to make a WSOP main event final table (in 2004, Marcel Luske was the final table bubble boy while he mentored runner-up David Williams during the event). However, the 32-year-old poker professional has something more important on his mind before the final table: the birth of his first child. Nevertheless, similar to his fellow November Niner, Sylvain Loosli, he could become the first player from his country, the Netherlands, to hoist the WSOP main event bracelet.

Mark Newhouse (7.35 million)

Back in 2006, Newhouse was one of the young rising stars in poker. Having won the WPT Borgata Open and final tabling a WSOP event earlier that summer, Newhouse’s future seemed boundless. However, bankroll mismanagement, playing too big and not valuing money all led to his eventual downfall. With the support of fellow poker pros and good friends Huck Seed and Joe Cassidy, Newhouse dug his way out of his financial and mental hole. He developed the discipline and mindset to become a successful poker player once again. If Newhouse is able to capture the WSOP main event, Newhouse’s journey from the bottom back to the top would be complete.

David Benefield (6.375 million)

Better known as “Raptor” to the online poker community, Benefield was a high stakes online regular during the 2000s and a successful online poker instructor. Overall, he was recognized as one of the best online poker players of his generation. Thus, the poker world was shocked to hear that he was “retiring” from poker in 2009 to attend college. He had been a student at Columbia University. However, he still dabbled in poker and loved to play at the WSOP, which turned into a magical run during this year’s main event. Taking a break from his studies this fall, the well-spoken Benefield plans to play a lot of tournaments, live and online, to prepare for the biggest stage in poker.

In the end, all of these gentlemen are dreaming of one moment: capturing the 2013 WSOP main event bracelet. From the chip leader, JC Tran, to the short stack, David Benefield, I wish all of them good luck. And as I always say at the end of my radio show,
“May you always go in with the best hand…And may you never get unlucky! ♠

Bernard Lee is a poker columnist for ESPN.com, author of “The Final Table, Volume I and II” and radio host of “The Bernard Lee Poker Show,” which can be found on RoundersRadio.com or via podcast on iTunes. Lee has over $2 million in career earnings and is also a team member of RunGoodGear.com. Follow Bernard Lee on Twitter: @BernardLeePoker or visit him at www.BernardLeePoker.com.