It’s October 30, and you know what that means- it’s finally time for the November Nine to return to Las Vegas for the final table of the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event. Scheduling jokes aside, these next three days are poker’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, and with a championship bracelet of the world’s most prestigious poker tournament and $8 million up for grabs, you better believe things will be intense at the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
6,737 players paid $10,000 to enter the Main Event this year, and through seven straight days of competition in July, nine managed to lock up $1 million and earn themselves a chance to play for the title live on ESPN. Coverage will start at 8:30 eastern time on ESPN before moving to ESPN2 at 11pm eastern. Monday’s coverage will begin on ESPN2 at 8pm, while the finale on Tuesday moves back to ESPN’s main channel at 9pm. WatchESPN will also be live streaming the entire event. I will also be live-tweeting at twitter.com/TopLevelSports
The remaining competitors include both professionals and amateurs, and players from five different countries. The chip leader entering the final table is also the oldest and most experienced player, 50-year-old Cliff Josephy. Josephy is the only November Niner with a previous WSOP bracelet, having two to his name.
However, unlike last year where the chip leader heading into the final table, Joe McKeehen, held over twice as many chips as anyone else and three times the average stack, the chips are more evenly distributed this year, meaning while McKeehen was largely unchallenged for the title, this year’s outcome is much more uncertain. While Jerry Wong and Fernando Pons enter short stacked and will need to double up early to enter the mix, current seventh place Griffin Benger enters with over 50 big blinds, a very playable stack. This means two things: first, it’ll be a long road for the eventual champion; second, this final table won’t be over quickly.
Here’s a look at how each player currently stands, and my opinions on each.
Seat 1- Jerry Wong: One of the more accomplished players remaining, Wong has well over $1 million in live tournament earnings. Interestingly, Wong was the tournament chip leader at the end of day five with a stack larger than the one he enters the final table with. This isn’t Wong’s first major final table, as he finished 3rd in the 2013 PCA Main Event. However, with such a small stack compared to the field, holding just 3% of the chips in play and slightly over 20 big blinds, Wong won’t immediately be able to use his experience and instead will likely resort to small stack poker. If he manages to bring his stack up to that 20-25 million range, Wong will have a chance at winning, but it won’t be easy. I wouldn’t take him at roughly 25-1 odds.
Seat 2- Griffin Benger: Benger, a former Counter-Strike champion, is a current European Poker Tour regular and a commentator for the Global Poker League, making him likely the most well-known player at the table. The Toronto Blue Jays’ fan, however, has seen his reputation take a hit in the eyes of many following his outburst at polarizing table-talker Will Kassouf during and following the hand of Kassouf’s elimination on day seven. Despite entering in seventh place, Benger has the chips to make moves and should be considered a threat to make a deep run and become just the second Canadian Main Event champion following Jonathan Duhamel in 2010. He’s getting about 8-1, and I’d give him 10-1.
Seat 3- Vojtech Ruzicka: Ruzicka is my dark horse pick to win. The 30-year-old Czech pro isn’t flashy and won’t be commanding the attention at the final table, and that’s precisely what makes him dangerous. Ruzicka has experienced consistent success throughout his career and plays a very solid game. He’s not one to play huge pots, but I see him chipping up nicely and improving on his current sixth-place standing. At 9 or 10-1, I’d be very tempted to take him.
Seat 4- Fernando Pons: This tournament is Pons’ first ever WSOP cash. The amateur Spaniard plays frequently online, but is definitely the least experienced player left. Coupled with the shortest stack, is spells trouble for the quiet yet likable Pons. Entering with just 12 big blinds, an early double up is necessary for Pons, and even then he’d still be far from the average stacks. While all players enjoyed luck to make it thus far, Pons notably caught rivers to save his life twice during ESPN’s coverage leading to the final table. I want to see Pons make a run, but it just won’t happen, and he’s a pass at around 33-1.
Seat 5- Qui Nguyen: The 39-year-old Nguyen arrived in California from Vietnam in 2001 might be the most aggressive player at the table, and is the only other amateur along with Pons. After a meteoric rise late in day seven of the tournament, Nguyen vaulted to second in chips, just under seven million behind Josephy. His style of play means he’s destined either to go very deep or lose chips quickly, making him an interesting play at roughly 9-2. I probably wouldn’t take him, but expect Nguyen to make some noise.
Seat 6- Cliff Josephy: Josephy is the most successful and experienced player left in the field, a longtime internet wizard and owner of two bracelets. As chip leader, expect Josephy to play many pots, looking for efficient spots to steal pots away from shorter stacks at the table. Josephy, like Benger, let his temper get the better of him while dealing with Kassouf, but made few mistakes during coverage of the tournament and is deservedly the favorite. However, due to the nature of poker, I think 9-4 odds or thereabouts are a bit too high.
Seat 7- Michael Ruane: Frequent chip leader down the stretch, the young New Jersey pro Ruane enters in fifth place and with over 60 big blinds. I enjoyed watching Ruane progress in the tournament, and find him as one of the easier to root for players remaining. I think the first few hours will be very important for Ruane, as he needs to make sure he takes his fair share of pots instead of slowly chipping down. I’d call him a toss up at 8-1.
Seat 8- Kenny Hallaert: For the second straight year in a row, a Belgian has made the November Nine. Starting in fourth place, Hallaert will look to improve upon countryman Pierre Neuville’s seventh-place finish in 2015. A poker tournament director, Hallaert’s seen it all before, and shouldn’t be rattled by the pressure, which will definitely work in his favor. He also has experience in fields larger than the Main Event: Hallaert was fifth in the 2015 WSOP Colossus which drew over 20,000 entries. Hallaert is one of my favorites to win, and interesting at 5/1.
Seat 9- Gordon Vayo: Vayo has more previous WSOP cashes than anyone else in the field with 26, and will look to take down poker’s biggest tournament for his first bracelet in three final table appearances. Vayo had a remarkable streak of luck on day seven to go from a bottom stack to a big stack third in chips in the final nine. However, despite his previous results and chip stack, I’m personally not the biggest fan of Vayo’s game, and wouldn’t recommend taking him at 5-1.
Here’s my prediction for the results of the final table:
9th: Fernando Pons
8th: Jerry Wong
7th: Qui Nguyen
6th: Griffin Benger
5th: Gordon Vayo
4th: Michael Ruane
3rd: Vojtech Ruzicka
2nd: Kenny Hallaert
1st: Cliff Josephy