The November Nine

Our inside line on who’ll go home from the World Series of Poker’s final table with an $8.9 million paycheck

It’s the Super Bowl of poker, affectionately referred to as the November Nine. It will draw thousands of rabid poker fans to the Rio hotel-casino’s Penn & Teller Theater beginning Nov. 6, and thousands more will get shut out because of the limited seating, causing a spectacle much like a heavyweight boxing match.

Come the wee hours of Nov. 9, the last man standing at the World Series of Poker’s Main Event will win much more than a check for $8.9 million—he will earn himself a place in poker history and, of course, the piece of jewelry that anyone who has ever uttered the words “all in” dreams of wearing: the diamond-and-gold encrusted Main Event bracelet.

Back in July when the 41st annual WSOP Main Event began, 7,319 players (the second-largest field in history) ponied up $10,000 each with the hope of making it to this weekend’s final table.

In an effort to create more interest and allow ESPN to provide “same-day coverage” of the final table, the WSOP made the controversial decision in 2008 to add a four-month delay into the proceedings, creating the November Nine concept. The results have been rather auspicious as TV ratings have soared, and so have field prizes and sizes.

Each of the nine players who remain has their own story to tell. Here’s a look at the personalities in this year’s November Nine, as well as a forecast as to how it will all play out once the cards go in the air. (The odds, current as of Nov. 2, come courtesy of online handicapper

Follow the WSOP Finals

See it live: Play begins at noon Nov. 6 in the Rio’s Penn & Teller Theater. The tournament culminates with a two-man showdown at 8 p.m. Nov. 8. Capacity is 1,400, but the line typically starts forming hours before the doors open, at 11 a.m. Seating is first-come, first-served. Admission is free; 21 and older only.

Watch it from afar: will provide live chip counts and hand-by-hand reporting. The event will be streamed on on a five-minute delay. Coverage of the final table can be seen on ESPN from 7-9 p.m. Nov. 9.

Seat 1

Jason Senti

Age: 29
Hometown: St. Louis Park, Minn.
Chips: 7.62 million (ninth)
Odds to win: 18-to-1

Senti—who graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Dakota—is a former electrical engineer who ditched his day job to become a pro poker player three years ago. His rapid success online drew the attention of legendary online high-stakes player Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond, and the two have become close friends. Senti is more of a cash game specialist and has just two WSOP cashes to his name.

Prognosis: Senti proved he knows how to maneuver at the table with a small stack very early on in the Main Event when, during the first level, he was down to about 11,000 chips. He also was short-stacked on Day 8 when the final 10 played down to the November Nine. Senti has just 15 big blinds left and holds a brutal seat, but he has the chops to hang around and get into the top seven.

Seat 2

Joseph Cheong

Age: 24
Hometown: La Mirada, Calif.
Chips: 23.52 million (third)
Odds to win: 13-to-2

Born in South Korea, Cheong immigrated to the United States when he was 6. Last year he earned degrees in psychology and math at the University of California, San Diego, where he was introduced to the world of online poker. His studies have come in quite handy. After failing to cash in nine events at last year’s WSOP, Cheong made the money three times this year. He also went to the European Poker Tour’s London stop during the final-table delay, and took second at the £10,000 High-Roller Turbo Event, adding $260,000 to his bankroll.

Prognosis: If not for an epic bad beat dished out by Filippo Candio on Day 8—a hand well-chronicled on ESPN when his pocket aces got cracked—the mild-mannered Cheong would be the chip leader. Still, he ran very well throughout the Main Event, and is a definite threat to win, unless he falls victim to a difficult seat assignment.

Seat 3

John Dolan

Age: 24
Hometown: Bonita Springs, Fla.
Chips: 46.25 million (second)
Odds to win: 15-to-4

Much to the dismay of his parents, Dolan dropped out of Florida State in 2007 to become a poker pro. But the $50,000 bankroll he built up playing online was too much to ignore, and nowadays Mom and Dad are mighty proud of their middle child, who has added more than $1 million in live winnings to his lucrative online bankroll. The former Catholic high school baseball and football standout has struggled at the WSOP, going through a 20-tournament stretch without a cash before making the money three times this year.

Prognosis: If there’s one player who wishes there was no final table pause, it’s Dolan, who entered Day 8 with the 24th shortest stack out of the remaining 27 players, but caught fire and comes in with the second-largest stack. We’ll call for Dolan’s hot run of cards to come to an end as he is stung by having the largest stack at the table to his left.

Seat 4

Jonathan Duhamel

Age: 23
Hometown: Boucherville, Quebec
Chips: 65.97 million (first)
Odds to win: 5-to-2

One of two Canadians at the table, Duhamel—with his trademark gray-hooded sweatshirt—constantly has a look on his face that says he knows something you don’t. The approach has worked just fine for the college-dropout-turned-poker-pro who is the youngest player at the final table, but also the man with the largest stack. Since turning pro in 2008, Duhamel has been mostly an online cash-game player, but this year he managed three WSOP cashes.

Prognosis: During the final hours of play in July, Duhamel chipped up significantly and enters with what would appear to be a commanding lead, big enough that he could probably fold his way into fourth place. But history has proven that the chip leader doesn’t always waltz into heads-up play. We’ll call for a third-place finish.

Seat 5

Michael Mizrachi

Age: 29
Hometown: Miami
Chips: 14.45 million (seventh)
Odds to win: 6-to-1

“The Grinder” will be the most recognizable face at the final table and will attract the most raucous fan base. It’s been an extraordinary 2010 WSOP for Mizrachi, who cashed in five events, including a victory in the prestigious $50,000 Players Championship that earned him a cool $1.5 million. A Main Event victory would not only secure him WSOP Player of the Year, but would also catapult him to the top of the all-time poker earnings list with a mind-boggling $18 million in career-winnings.

Prognosis: The affable Mizrachi—the lone November Niner with a WSOP bracelet—told us if he can survive until it becomes five-handed, he’ll “turn it into ‘the Grinder Show’ and take the whole thing down.” The problem is that he’ll suffer the same fate as Phil Ivey last year when no one dared mix it up with the most dangerous player at the table, eliminating his chances to double-up early.

Seat 6

Matthew Jarvis

Age: 26
Hometown: Surrey, British Columbia
Chips: 16.70 million (fifth)
Odds to win: 10-to-1

Jarvis provides a compelling story line for ESPN. His father Norm, a former professional golfer, was diagnosed with cancer just before the WSOP and Jarvis nearly decided to skip his trip to Vegas. But his father urged him to go and do his thing. Now, he’s on the precipice of making poker history. During the delay, Jarvis earned his second-career WSOP cash in London at the £1,000 No-Limit Event. He also captured the $5,000 Heads Up Event at the Canadian Open Poker Championship.

Prognosis: Like the last two Main Event champs—Joe Cada and Peter Eastgate—Jarvis enters with a medium-size chip stack and is proven at heads-up play and in deep-stack tournaments. “I have the best seat at the table,” he says, noting the bigger stacks will be to his right. “I like my chances.” So do we. Let’s call for Jarvis to cash a 10-to-1 ticket and become the first Canadian to wear the coveted Main Event bracelet.

Seat 7

John Racener

Age: 24
Hometown: Port Richey, Fla.
Chips: 19 million (fourth)
Odds to win: 13-to-2

The sleek-looking Racener has a knack for making spectacular entrances. On his 21st birthday—the very first day he could play live poker as a pro—he took third at a WSOP Circuit Event in Atlantic City and won $103,000. Since then he has earned 12 WSOP cashes and has made a final table in each of the last three WSOPs, so he’s as dangerous as anyone at the table. Racener also proved his short-stack prowess when he went from just 10 big blinds on Day 6 to sitting at the final table.

Prognosis: Racener has more live cashes than anyone in the November Nine and has the benefit of a great seat, sitting across the table from the deep stacks. “I’m real comfortable with my position,” he says. “I don’t mind being middle of the pack.” Racener is a sure thing for the final three and we wouldn’t be surprised if he walks away with the bracelet.

Seat 8

Filippo Candio

Age: 26
Hometown: Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy
Chips: 16.4 million (sixth)
Odds to Win: 11-to-1

Candio is the first Italian to make the WSOP final table and probably the most electrifying November Niner. He’s passionate about his game, sometimes too much so, as seen by the penalty he received on Day 6 for excessive celebration. But the striped-sweater-wearing native of Sardina—an island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy—is more than just flash. His previous biggest score came at the 2009 Italian Poker Tour Championship. The self-declared Disney Films fanatic is a confident live tournament player, since that’s the only form of legal poker in his home country.

Prognosis: Something tells us a spirited deep run at the November Nine is in the cards for Candio. But his run of great cards will eventually expire, and in the end his trouble controlling his emotions will doom him.

Seat 9

Cuong “Soi” Nguyen

Age: 37
Hometown: Santa Ana, Calif.
Chips: 9.65 milion (eighth)
Odds to win: 16-to-1

Nguyen is the senior member of the November Nine, and he symbolizes the WSOP mantra that “anyone can enter, anyone can win.” That’s because he is also the lone amateur at the table, and the Main Event was just the fourth live tournament he ever entered. Nguyen continues to log 40 hours a week at his job with a medical supplies company back home and says even if he shocks the world and wins the bracelet, he won’t quit his day job. “I could never turn my back on my boss and co-workers,” he says.

Prognosis: Nguyen, who came to America from Vietnam when he was 2, says he’s been “living a dream” ever since he made the November Nine. But he’s realistic about his chances. “I have the worst seat at the table. I have the least amount of experience, but I have more life experience than anyone else. That’s going to be a huge help.”