As one who regularly follows podcasts, reads forums and blogs, and keeps up with other varieties of poker media, I suppose I’ve become somewhat familiar with the nine players’ personalities over the last 100-plus days. Can’t really claim to have that much knowledge of playing styles beyond the few hands we saw on the ESPN shows. While I was there covering the action up through Day 5 this summer -- and I watched the feature table for a few hours on both Day 6 and Day 7 -- I can’t really claim to have picked up all that much extra information that yr average ESPN viewer wouldn’t already have.
My limited knowledge ain’t gonna stop me, though, from offering a few thoughts about the remaining players here on the eve of the final table.
1. Dennis Phillips (26,295,000) -- The 53-year-old account manager for Broadway Truck Centers in St. Louis will most definitely be easy to root for tomorrow. His humble nature and dedication to charity work has won him a lot of fans during the long lead-up to tomorrow’s final table. He definitely caught some cards during those last two days of play in July -- we all saw him flop a couple of flushes there in the ESPN telecasts. But we also saw him get paid on those hands, and show a willingness to bluff (and catch others’ bluffs), too. I definitely like Phillips’ chances, though a lot depends on the table draw (not to mention how the cards go). In any event, he’s certainly one of about five players who will be seriously gunning for the bracelet and not merely to finish in the top five or six. (Check out my interview with Phillips here.)
2. Ivan Demidov (24,400,000) -- His big chip stack and third-place finish in the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event most certainly affords Demidov some extra credibility as a contender tomorrow. Some have mentioned how good it would be for poker should the 27-year-old from Moscow -- or one of the other three non-Americans still alve -- manage to take the bracelet. The fact that he played 242 hands at that WSOPE final table might mean his opponents tomorrow have gained a bit of extra knowledge about how he approaches the endgame, although without knowing hole cards it is hard to estimate the significance of such information. I’d expect Demidov to maintain his healthy chip stack early on, although he has expressed in at least one interview a willingness to flip with a shorter-stack, especially if it is with a more formidable opponent like Rheem.
3. Scott Montgomery (19,690,000) -- We all saw Montgomery luck out a couple of times on ESPN to survive, but so did most of the other nine at some point in their respective journeys. The 26-year-old Canadian finished fifth in the WPT L.A. Poker Classic early in the year. He has a mathematics degree and has done some teaching (in Japan, actually), so has a bit of smarts about him. Also has a winning, self-effacing personality, too, as evidenced on ESPN and on the 10/30/08 episode of the Pocket Fives podcast. Seems willing to take some chances and gamble it up, and so might be a target for the short stacks early on.
4. Peter Eastgate (18,375,000) -- The youngest (aged 22) of the nine, and looks it. Eastgate is the only one of the group I don’t believe I’ve actually listened to being interviewed. On the few hands shown on ESPN telecasts, he appeared to have the sort of bold, aggressive style you’d expect of a young internet-trained player. Being from Denmark, expect a lot more comparisons with Gus Hansen to be thrown around tomorrow, especially if Eastgate goes deep (which I think is very likely). Has an effective, non-expressive poker face, too, which helped him in the hand in which he knocked out Tiffany Michelle. Would not be surprised at all to see Eastgate playing on Monday when they return for heads up.
5. Ylon Schwartz (12,525,000) -- The 38-year-old chess master from Brooklyn was probably the most idiosyncratic-seeming of the nine in interviews, tossing off strange, off-the-wall comments that suggested he either wasn’t affected by the whole delayed-final-table spectacle or was pretending such. When Phil Gordon asked him what his future plans were on The Poker Edge, Schwartz responded with something about jumping off the Rio roof if he didn’t win. (As I wrote about yesterday, Schwartz also has some interesting things to say about how chess compares to poker.) From what I saw on Day 7 when watching from the stands, Schwartz was playing uber-tight in an effort to make the final table -- probably only Kelly Kim was tighter there at the end. While many think he’ll continue in that vein tomorrow and be content to finish in the top five, I’m thinking he could surprise people and play more aggressively early on. Not in a wild Jerry Yang-fashion, but be active enough that he could well accumulate chips and be around to contend at the end.
6. Darus Suharto (12,520,000) -- I heard Suharto interviewed on The Poker Edge about a month back. The 39-year-old Canadian was back at his accounting job and in fact sounded as though his job had a much more prominent place in his life than did poker or even the WSOP. The impression might be misleading, however. Even though Suharto is an amateur who only plays part-time, he has gathered some experience here lately at the EPT London and the North American Poker Championship. Even so, of all the final nine, he seems to me the most likely to sit tight from the beginning tomorrow and just try to survive the first couple of eliminations.
7. David Rheem (10,230,000) -- The Los Angeles pro was easily the most prominent of the nine both on the ESPN shows and elsewhere, thanks both to his earlier poker successes (including one televised final table at this year’s WSOP) and that bit of news about his having had an outstanding arrest warrant. Until Demidov’s deep WSOPE run, the 28-year-old seemed to be a favorite pick among many to win, but with the relatively-shorter starting stack his fate depends heavily on his being fortunate whenever he decides to make that first big gamble tomorrow. I don’t see Rheem being content to sit on his below-average stack very long tomorrow. Indeed, Rheem seems to me the most likely of the remaining players to make a Philip Hilm-like early exit.
8. Craig Marquis (10,210,000) -- The 24-year-old from Arlington, Texas was most conspicuous at the ten-handed table in July, showing an obvious willingness to go busto in his effort to exploit what had been hyped as the biggest bubble in poker tourney history. Seems like a smart, funny guy. Is a prominent contributor over on Two Plus Two where he started a Q&A thread about a month ago titled “Ask a member of the November Nine.” He didn’t answer all of the questions posed there, but did respond to many (perhaps too many, actually). A complete wild card, really, who could flame out early or gather chips and go deep.
9. Kelly Kim (2,620,000) -- The 31-year-old Californian endured a lot of ups and downs during the seven days of play, nearly busting right at the money bubble (and on a few other occasions), then limping to the finish at the very end. Sounds like a savvy tourney player who may well endure into the top six or seven spots, should he manage to double up during the first orbit or two (and then hang on after that).
I’ve established already that I’m pulling for Phillips to take it down, although as I say above I think the table draw has a lot to do with how things will go for him. Thought a little about making predictions, but taking a page from Phillips’ book of humility, I’m gonna refrain other than to say I think the non-Americans are all gonna do well tomorrow.
Unless you plan to keep yr head in the sand until the ESPN “plausibly live” show on Tuesday night, be sure to head over to PokerNews’ live reporting tomorrow to follow all of the action.