What a day! What a couple of weeks! What a summer!
The World Series of Poker Main Event has reached what has become its traditional climax-before-the-climax, with this year's massive field of 6,865 players having finally been reduced down to a final table of nine.
The whole world was watching over the last several days as chip leaders emerged, short stacks were busted, and the nine eventual survivors craftily negotiated their way to earn return tickets to November's final table. And the world will be watching again four months from now -- in many cases rooting on their own as this year's final table will have a most international feel. These final nine come from all parts of the globe -- Ireland, England, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Germany, Belize (by way of Lebanon), and the United States -- further underscoring how poker truly is the world's game.
The day began with the Anton Makiievskyi the leader among the final 22. A wild first level of play saw the field cut to 15, with Makiievskyi still in front but Eoghan O'Dea closing in fast. Those two both had crossed the 30-million chip milestone by then, at the time about twice what nearest challengers John Hewitt and Ben Lamb had. But another level's worth of big pots and high drama tightened the race anew.
Three more would fall before dinner -- Andrey Pateychuk (15th), Scott Schwalich (14th), and Konstantinos Mamaliadis (13th) -- then soon after players returned Bryan Devonshire would succumb in 12th. Devonshire lost the majority of his chips on two different hands in which he held king-queen each time and failed to catch against opponents holding an ace.
With 11 left, we began seeing an increasing number of three-, four-, and even five-bets with all-ins involving the short stacks interspersed in between. As the chips moved around, Makiievskyi maintained his big stack, with Hewitt, O'Dea, and current WSOP Player of the Year points leader Ben Lamb all accumulating as well. Eventually the last Canadian in the field, Khoa Nguyen, ran pocket tens into Martin Staszko's kings to go out in 11th, and the final ten redrew for seats around the last table of the summer.
From there the pace slowed considerably, and many began to recall the six hours it took a year ago for the final ten to become nine. During the first two hours few big pots were played, with O'Dea and Staszko nudging out ahead of the field while Badih Bounahra and Matt Giannetti became increasingly short.
On the first hand of Level 36, Matt Giannetti found a hand worth chancing -- -- and got a caller in John Hewitt who held . Giannetti dodged a bullet among the five community cards, and survived with a double-up. Another hour would pass, with a few three-bets and an all-in shove by John Hewitt that went uncalled, but otherwise small exchanges of chips. Then Giannetti, having become short again, found himself all in once more with , this time against Ben Lamb's . Giannetti's jacks held a second time.
Soon came another all-in shove, this time by Bounahra, with Hewitt once more being the one willing to call. Bounahra had and was in a dominating position versus Hewitt's . The board brought one queen but no other help to Hewitt, and suddenly he'd become the short stack with just over 4 million -- not even nine big blinds.
It wasn't long before Hewitt's short stack went into the middle, with the Costa Rican hoping his would hold against O'Dea's . The flop came a most worrisome (for Hewitt) , then the on the turn sealed it -- Hewitt had bubbled the final table in 10th! The November Nine was set!
Here are the seats awaiting the players when they return, and the stacks of chips that will be sitting in front of each:
Seat 1: Matt Giannetti (24,750,000) - Matt Giannetti of Las Vegas is a 26-year-old poker pro who previously attended the University of Texas. He has a number of cashes to his credit dating back to 2006 totaling nearly half a million dollars, including 10 at the World Series of Poker. His best previous finish in the Main Event was 521st in 2006 (for $22,266).
Seat 2: Badih Bounahra (19,700,000) - Badih Bounahra is a 49-year-old businessman and father of three originally from Lebanon now residing in Belize City. He says he learned poker from television, and cheekily names seven-deuce offsuit as the "best hand in my eyes." He has a few cashes to his credit, including one WSOP cash from 2008 in a $2,000 NLHE event.
Seat 3: Eoghan O'Dea (33,925,000) - Eoghan O'Dea of Ireland is a 26-year-old student who says he first learned poker from the popular U.K. show "Late Night Poker." His poker resume includes a number of cashes dating back to 2005, including three already at this summer's WSOP. He's the son of the famous poker player Donnacha O'Dea, member of the European Poker Players Hall of Fame.
Seat 4: Phil Collins (23,875,000) - Phil Collins is a 26-year-old poker pro originally from Rockford, Illinois who now calls Las Vegas home. As his online handle "USCphildo" indicates, he went to the University of South Carolina where he met his wife, Katie. In addition to his numerous online successes, Collins has a number of live cashes to his credit (including one at this year's WSOP), although his payday for this year's Main Event will well exceed all of those.
Seat 5: Anton Makiievskyi (13,825,000) - Anton Makiievskyi of Dnipropetrousk, Ukraine is playing in his first-ever WSOP. He's looking to be the fifth Ukrainian to take home a WSOP bracelet this year, which would pull Ukraine into a tie with Canada for the second-most bracelets of any country behind the U.S.
Seat 6: Sam Holden (12,375,000) - Sam Holden is a 22-year-old poker pro from Canterbury, England. The former student is making his WSOP debut this year, and this marks his first WSOP cash. He has a few scores from the UK & Ireland poker tour, including a first-place finish last month in a NLHE six-handed event, though no previous cashes above four figures.
Seat 7: Pius Heinz (16,425,000) - Pius Heinz of Cologne, Germany is a 22-year-old student who first learned poker via home games with friends. This marks his first WSOP, and it has been a successful one, including a final table in Event No. 48 ($1,500 NLHE) where he finished seventh to earn $83,286.
Seat 8: Ben Lamb (20,875,000) - Ben Lamb's poker resume is easily the most extensive of the remaining players, including more than $2.5 million in career winnings and numerous WSOP successes. "Benba" earned his first WSOP bracelet this summer in Event No. 42, the $10,000 PLO Championship, and added a couple more final tables to put himself in first place in this year's WSOP Player of the Year race. Today Lamb ensured he'd surpass his previous best showing in the WSOP Main Event, a 14th-place finish in 2009.
Seat 9: Martin Staszko (40,175,000) - Martin Staszko is a 35-year-old poker pro from Trinec of the Czech Republic who previously worked in the automotive industry. Stasko has four cashes at the WSOP already this summer, his best finish being 39th in the $1,500 PLO8 Event No. 51.
There will be 34 minutes and 57 seconds left in Level 36 when play resumes in November, with the button starting in seat 9.
We've all four months now to get to know these nine further. Much attention will be given to chip leaders Martin Staszko of the Czech Republic and Eoghan O'Dea of Ireland, although a lot of the talk between now and then will undoubtedly concern Ben "Benba" Lamb and the continuation of his remarkable 2011 WSOP run.
Good night to all and many thanks for following. See you in November, when from these final nine a new world champion will be determined!