I will definitely be checking in on the coverage over on PokerNews, where I expect we’ll be seeing every hand reported in the live blog. I’ll also be tuning in over at Bluff Magazine to their audio play-by-play, which depending on who is doing the commentating can add a lot to one’s enjoyment when following tourneys from afar.
Am not going to try to make any predictions, but did decide to share a few thoughts regarding each of the nine players. (All them pics courtesy the great Flipchip.)
1. Darvin Moon (Seat 1) -- 58,930,000
In interviews Moon insists he’s the worst player of the final nine. He also suggests he’s intending to sit tight rather than be the big stack bully early on, waiting for good cards/spots and not giving courtesy double-ups. Many have expressed doubts about both claims. I’m going to guess that Moon does, for the most part, sit tight early on, though I expect he’ll still open pots from late position and/or when picking up big hands. Sure, he can fold his way to third or fourth, but I don’t really see that happening. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a relatively early confrontation or two versus a short-stacked opponent, whether or not he desires such. How those go will likely dictate how Moon’s endgame goes -- if he were to slip back to the middle of the pack, I wouldn’t be at all surprised for him to turtle up big time.
2. Eric Buchman (Seat 6) -- 34,800,000
A ten-year pro, Buchman really only became a big stack near the very end of the eight days in July. As an experienced tourney player who already had about $1 million in tourney winnings prior to making this deep run, Buchman is a favored pick among many. The fact that he’ll get to act directly after Begleiter on most hands early on is probably a big plus as well. Many expect Begleiter to be a somewhat unpredictable element, given his amateur status and big stack, so Buchman is in good shape to choose when and where he wants to try to outplay the amateur. Of course, the short stacks on his right (Cada and Saout) may force him to abandon some hands, too. Gotta believe he’s in a good spot here and so can’t really disagree with those picking him.
3. Steven Begleiter (Seat 5) -- 29,885,000
The former bank executive is considered by most to be the one player with an above-average stack who is most likely to get himself into trouble in the early going. His amateur status, coupled with the memory of certain hands aired on ESPN in which he appeared more fortunate than skillful, has led most to view Begleiter as a target, especially for the short stacks seeking double-ups in favorable circumstances. That said, I think Begleiter -- who apparently hired Jonathan Little as a coach -- is probably aware of how he is perceived, and may well use his image to an advantage. Can’t really imagine “Begs” making it to heads-up, though stranger things have happened.
4. Jeff Shulman (Seat 9) -- 19,580,000
You’re hearing a lot of references to this being Shulman’s second WSOP Main Event final table, although technically his seventh-place finish at the 2000 WSOP ME landed him just shy of the then six-handed FT. Even so, he and Ivey obviously are the only players among this year’s November Nine who have ever gotten anywhere near capturing the ME event bracelet before. Yesterday I mentioned that interview with Phil Hellmuth on ESPN’s podcast, The Poker Edge (11/5/09). Hellmuth, whom Shulman hired to coach him for this final table, spoke of their extensive study of the other players’ styles and tendencies. With or without any guidance from others, Shulman is a crafty player who is capable of a variety of moves and who gives off little in the way of tells. He’s also smart enough to avoid unnecessary risks, as shown more than once in the ESPN coverage. Don’t know if Shulman can actually win here, but I would be very surprised not to see him part of the final five.
5. Joe Cada (Seat 7) -- 13,215,000
According to the media guide, the 21-year-old from Michigan accumulated some nice online scores prior to making his live tourney debut, earning over half a million clams, buying a house at 19, and (understandably) quitting community college. The hands shown on ESPN involving Cada mostly cast him in a favorable light, and some are quite high on his chances to break Eastgate’s record as youngest-ever ME winner. It will be interesting to see how he appears to view his 13 million-plus chip stack -- technically, he’s below average, and after just a few minutes of play when they move into Level 34, he’ll be sitting there with an “M” of less than 20. Will he feel urgency at that point or will he be sitting back while those with even fewer chips push the action?
6. Kevin Schaffel (Seat 4) -- 12,390,000
Interestingly -- though perhaps not surprisingly -- the three players at the final table whom everyone agrees should be designated “amateurs” are the three oldest players at the table: Moon (46), Begleiter (47), and Schaffel, who at 52 is the November Nine’s elder statesman. Schaffel does appear to have a lot more experience to draw from than the other two amateurs, though, having earned more than half a million in tourney winnings even before this event. He’s also made a couple of impressive runs in the Main Event before, finishing 42nd in 2004 and 324th in 2008. Of the nine, Schaffel was probably the least covered player by ESPN, and I also don’t remember reporting many (if any) hands of his when I was there this summer. So, like many -- perhaps including, most importantly, the other eight players -- I haven’t a lot to go on when assessing his chances.
7. Phil Ivey (Seat 3) -- 9,765,000
As was the case at the end of the summer, all eyes will be on poker’s “Tiger Woods.” Was listening to the Casino City Gang’s podcast from this week -- a new one I’ve started following and regularly enjoy -- and they noted with fascination how according to some sites Ivey had actually become the favorite to win it all thanks to the bets placed thus far. Obviously with Ivey -- as with Saout and Akenhead -- there’s little chance he gets anywhere today without successfully finding an early double-up. Then, who knows. Ivey becomes a true terror if he has the chips to make others abandon their hands, which -- as we saw over and over again this summer -- they will do. I’d love to see Ivey last as long as possible, but have to believe it is going to be a difficult afternoon for him.
8. Antoine Saout (Seat 8) -- 9,500,000
The Frenchman only received a bit more coverage than Schaffel on ESPN. He folded the better hand versus Ivey once. On another occasion he boldly bluffed Begleiter out of a pot with the worse hand and no draw. And he did make the WSOPE final table, too, where he finished seventh. Saout did a lot of folding near the end to survive to November, although I think now it is most likely we’ll see him (like Ivey and Akenhead) trying to make an early move to get back into contention. Remember with these short stacks that the differences in payouts among these bottom spots aren’t terribly huge: e.g., it is just a $40,000 jump from ninth to eighth, and just $104,000 from eighth to seventh. So unlike last year, when getting to eighth meant Kelly Kim won $1.28 million rather than $900K, there won’t be much incentive for the shorties to wait around in the early going.
9. James Akenhead (Seat 2) -- 6,800,000
The British pro is probably the second-most respected player at the table besides Ivey, having a number of significant cashes over the last two years, including that runner-up in a 2008 WSOP $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event (in which 3,929 entered) and a ninth-place finish at the 2009 WSOPE Main Event. Will be very dangerous should he get that double-up, and could well upset all sorts of imagined scenarios if he manages to accumulate a stack that allows him to play poker.
(EDIT [added 11/9/09]: Incidentally, if you happened to come to this post via that YouTube video with “Hard-Boiled Poker” in the title, I have no idea what the vid is or why it references “Hard-Boiled Poker.” Looks like some sort of content-grabbing thing?)