The culmination of two months of intense live tournament poker at the World Series is as always, the determination of the nine players who have won their way to the WSOP Main Event Final Table. Every one of them has been paid the minimum $1 million, but one of them will walk away with first prize money of $8 million, come November.
This year’s November Nine is headed by well known online player Cliff “Johnny Bax” Josephy. He is the chip leader and will begin the final table with a stack of 74.6 million chips—just over 22% of the chips in play.
Josephy is the oldest player at the table at 51 years of age. He’s the only player who already owns a WSOP bracelet, actually two of them, and his dream is for the magic third to come in the most prestigious poker tournament of all.
He won’t get a clear run at the title though. There are eight other players determined to deny him victory as they pursue their own dreams of poker glory—and the staggering $8 million which goes to the winner.
The complete November Nine, plus their chip counts is:
The result of the 2016 WSOP will be settled over the weekend of October 30 – November 1, earlier than previous years so as not to clash with the US Presidential elections. The complete run down of who’s who is as follows.
Known as Johnny Bax online, Josephy hails from New York. His previous bracelets came in a $1,500 Seven Card Stud event at the 2005 WSOP and the $3,000 No-Limit Hold’em event in 2013.
Josephy was one of the first online players to turn staking players into a serious business. Famously, he backed Joe Cada who won the Main Event in 2009.
"I've experienced this a few times," Josephy told ESPN. "I was in that audience the first two years of the November Nine, with Ylon Schwartz in 2008 and then Joe Cada in 2009. I will know what to expect, and it will not intimidate me one iota."
Even though Qui Nguyen is a poker pro living in Las Vegas, he’s not made an impact on the live tournament scene. He only records $52,986 in lifetime tournament poker winnings.
Just by making the final table, he’s multiplied that by a factor of almost 20!
Nguyen’s main games are the cash games at the Bellagio and Aria casinos where he plays at stakes of $1-$3 to $10-$20. He goes by the nickname “Tommy Gun.”
At 39 Nguyen is one of the oldsters at the table, but still decades younger than the two oldest players at the 2015 Final Table. Belgian player Pierre Neuville was 72 when he sat down to play, and Neil Blumenfield was 61.
Gordon Vayo fits the profile of a Main Event winner well. He’s a California poker pro with 26 career cashes in WSOP events worth over $608k. Total career earnings from live tournaments are just shy of $1 million, and this summer he has played in 21 bracelet events during the WSOP, cashing in eight.
Vayo is 27, and on a roll. His lucky moment of the Main Event was when he was all in pre-flop with A-K and found his opponent holding A-A. Only straights, flushes or a couple of kings on the board could save him—but he was saved, lived to play on and finally found himself at the Final Table.
Kenny Hallaert is lea than half the age of his fellow countryman Pierre Neuville who made the November Nine last year.
The 34 year old Belgian has an impressive record of 22 WSOP cashes and over $1.3 million in career winnings, including a sixth place finish in the 2011 EPT Deauville for $210,962.
He also picked up $182,348 for finishing fifth in the very first WSOP Colossus event which attracted 22,374 entries.
Poker Pro Michael Ruane is more accustomed to the cash game tables and until his deep run in this year’s Main Event, had amassed no more than $44,962 in live poker tournament winnings.
He experienced the great joy of being chip leader for a while when the field had been whittled down to just 33 players.
Michael Ruane leads with 33 players remaining, less than 30 minutes to play at the current level. pic.twitter.com/I4DVZQbFNP— WSOP (@WSOP) July 18, 2016
Ruane is 28 and plays online in the regulated market in New Jersey. In the past he has headed to Montreal, Malta and Costa Rica to keep playing on PokerStars.
It will be a first for the Czech Republic if Vojtech Ruzicka manages to take home the bracelet and $8 million first prize. Martin Staszko got close in 2011 with his second place finish, a target which Ruzicka will be looking to beat.
Ruzicka has17 previous WSOP cashes totaling $138,585 and has won $1,149,027 lifetime on the live poker circuit. He also won the 2013 EPT Deauville High Roller No-Limit Hold’em event for $426,907. He certainly has the skill necessary to fight his way back up the field to get into contention.
The ninth place prize money of $1 million, is the second million that Griffin Benger has pocketed from his poker career. He won the PokerStars Shark Cage TV poker game in London in 2014.
Benger is 31 and lives in Toronto, making him the only Canadian player at this year’s final table. He’s been a world champion before, so the TV lights and stress of the final table atmosphere may not disturb him as much as some of the other players.
He used to be a member of a top esports team and won the CounterStrike 1.6 World Championship in 2007. The team split $250,000 in winnings, a long way short of his payday for the Main Event. He will not be regretting his decision to switch from esports to poker.
In total, Benger has won $2,395,406 in live tournaments, so despite his shorter chip stack, he will provide formidable opposition at the final table.
Jerry Wong is definitely running short of chips, but he has 19 previous cashes at the WSOP and total live tournament winnings of $1,317,539 in live poker tournaments, including $725,000 for finishing third in the 2013 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA).
He will need an early double up to put himself in a position to move up the leaderboard, but he will be hampered in this by the even shorter stack of Fernando Pons.
The difference between ninth and eighth place money is $100,000. That money jump can make it difficult to get all the chips in, when by waiting a few hands the short stack can be knocked out.
Folding a few extra hands could make Wong an extra six figures, but successfully mounting a challenge as a shortstack could result in a payday of millions. It’s a tough position to be in.
34 year old Wong lives in Brooklyn, New York, which makes him a relatively near neighbour to chip leader Johnny Bax. New York is getting two shots at bringing home the de facto poker world championship bracelet, that’s more chances than most countries get!
Spain’s hopes of a second Main Event champion rest with Fernando Pons. He could go home in glory if he can make a miracle come back and match Carlos Mortensen’s feat of winning the WSOP Main Event in 2001.
Anything can happen if the cards fall right, so Pons is by no means out of the running, buyt more than one double up will be needed for him to build a playable stack.
Pons has just over $10,000 in life time tournament winning, so the minimum $1 million he is taking home from Las Vegas is by far his biggest score.
When Carlos Mortensen won in 2001, the first prize was $1.5 million. If Pons can finish fifth or better, he will get bragging rights for winning more cash than Mortensen, even if the bracelet doesn’t make it to Spain.
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