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Poker fans around the world gathered at the Rio in Las Vegas and on the internet to witness the final table action. It is the most-watched final table in the game, as the World Series of Poker brings its nine finalists back to the scene of the Main Event action to play for the win.

It is the November Nine final table, though this year, the action actually resumes one week earlier than usual to avoid conflicting with the United States election coverage on November 8. That put the players, fans, friends and family members, crew, and hosts back at the Rio on October 30. Not long after dusk, everyone took their seats and places in the Penn & Teller Theater to witness much-anticipated poker.

Bringing It Up to Speed

The Main Event, also known as the WSOP $10K No Limit Hold’em Championship, began on July 9. When the registration numbers were tallied after three starting days, the board showed 6,737 players and prize pool of $63,327,800. That was enough to pay out the top 1,011 players a minimum of $15,000, with $8 million guaranteed for the winner.

On Day 3, the field thinned from 2,186 players into the money and down to nearly 800 players. Day 4 took that number down to 251 competitors, and Day 5 reduced it to 80. Day 6 played it down to 27 players, and Day 7 set the final table. It happened late into the evening after John Cynn busted in 11th place and then Josh Weiss exited in tenth place for $650,000.

As midnight approached, the November Nine gathered for photos and celebrations. In chip count order, the table was set with:

  1. Cliff Josephy (New York, USA) – 74,500,000
  2. Qui Nguyen (Nevada, USA) – 67,925,000
  3. Gordon Vayo (California, USA) – 49,375,000
  4. Kenny Hallaert (Hansbeke, Belgium) – 43,325,000
  5. Michael Ruane (New Jersey, USA) – 31,600,000
  6. Vojtech Ruzicka (Prague, Czech Republic) – 27,300,000
  7. Griffin Benger (Ontario, Canada) – 26,175,000
  8. Jerry Wong (New York, USA) – 10,175,000
  9. Fernando Pons (Palma, Spain) – 6,150,000

Starting Day 8

On October 30, the nine players brought their friends and families to the Rio and prepared to play for big money. Actually, the prizes were bigger than originally listed due to interest accrued since July when the remaining $25,432,920 in prize money was placed in an account. The new payouts were then revealed, with interest, as:

1st place:  $8,005,310 (formerly $8,000,000)

2nd place:  $4,661,228 (formerly $4,658,452)

3rd place:  $3,453,035 (formerly $3,451,175)

4th place:  $2,576,003 (formerly $2,574,808)

5th place:  $1,935,288 (formerly $1,934,579)

6th place:  $1,464,258 (formerly $1,463,906)

7th place:  $1,250,190 (formerly $1,250,000)

8th place:  $1,100,076 (formerly $1,100,000)

9th place:  $1,000,000 (no interest added)

And, of course, the winner will receive a shiny gold WSOP Main Event championship bracelet.

Shuffle Up and Deal!

The newest members of the Poker Hall of Fame, Carlos Mortensen and Todd Brunson, announced, “Shuffle Up and Deal,” and action got underway just after 8:00pm ET. (The televised action was on a 30-minute delay.)

On the very first hand, Nguyen raised with Ah-4d, and Josephy reraised with Qh-9s. Everyone else folded, and Nguyen then four-bet to 8.25 million. Josephy gave it a little thought but folded. That put Nguyen in the chip lead. Five hands later, however, Josephy took the lead back from Nguyen with Ks-Jc over Ah-2c on a Kh-Qc-9d flop.

Short-stacked Pons made his all-in move on the tenth hand with A-10 of clubs, and no one called. But six hands after, he looked down at Ad-6c from the button and pushed all-in. Josephy called from the big blind with Kh-Jc, and the board delivered Ks-Qc-3s-9d-Kc to give Josephy trip kings. Pons was eliminated in ninth place with nothing more than the $1 million he received in July.

The next big hand was the 29th of the night, at which point Hallaert raised from the button with Ks-Th, and Wong pushed his last 5.5 million chips all-in from the small blind with Ad-3h. Hallaert called, and the board came 7h-2h-2s-6d-7s, giving Wong the much-needed double-up, though he remained the shortest of the eight players.

After 30 hands, Nguyen was atop the leaderboard with 81.55 million chips, followed by Josephy with 63,075,000, then Ruzicka, Vayo, and Ruane each holding more than 40 million. Hallaert had close to 31 million, while Benger sat at 13,725,000 and Wong at 12.45 million.

Play moved along but without any major swings. After 50 hands, Nguyen was down to 71,875,000 chips, not far ahead of Josephy with 65,975,000. Ruzicka was up to 59.05 million, Vayo just under 45 million, Hallaert at 38,475,000, and Ruane at 34.8 million. Wong was off the shortest stack at 14.65 million, leaving Benger down to 11,025,000 chips.

Benger had yet to win a hand in the first 58 of the night, and when he finally shipped his chips on the 59th hand, he got a walk and celebrated his first winning hand.

Meanwhile, Wong lost ground over the next ten hands and woke up with pocket jacks. The initial raise came from Ruzicka, and Vayo reraised from the button. Wong was in the big blind with his jacks and made it 8.5 million. Ruzicka five-bet to 13.5 million, and Vayo got out of the way. Wong called all-in, at which point Ruzicka showed two red queens. The dealer showed 9c-8c-6s-4h-Qc, and that was more than enough to oust Wong in eighth place with $100,076 more than he came with.

Ruzicka was the new chip leader at that point with 82.3 million, with Nguyen down to 72.6 million and Josephy just over the 58 million chip mark.

A short while later, Benger had to move again and did it with As-9s from the big blind with little more than 7.3 million chips. Initial raiser Vayo called quickly and showed pocket tens. The board delivered 9d-8d-8h-2h-6h to send Benger out in seventh place.

While the original plan was to stop play with six men remaining, ESPN decided to play on for another 90 minutes or until another player was eliminated. The continuation allowed Nguyen to retake the chip lead, with Ruzicka relegated to second place on the leaderboard and Josephy to third. The newest short stack was Hallaert, who sunk below the 25 million chip mark at one point. Eventually, though, Ruane lost momentum and chips, relegating him to the lowest spot on the leaderboard as Hallaert found a few solid hands with which to climb.

On the 97th hand of the night, it was Hallaert who made his move. With Ac-Qc, he raised under the gun, and Nguyen responded with a reraise from the cutoff. Hallaert then moved all-in for more than 35 million chips, only to see a quick call from Nguyen holding pocket aces. The dealer laid out Qs-5h-4s-7d-4h, and Nguyen’s pocket pair held up. That ousted Hallaert in sixth place.

Play then ended for the night with five players remaining at the table. Action resumes at 8:00pm ET on Monday, October 31.

Payouts on First Night of Final Table

6th place:  Kenny Hallaert (Hansbeke, Belgium) – $1,464,258

7th place:  Griffin Benger (Ontario, Canada) – $1,250,190

8th place:  Jerry Wong (New York, USA) – $1,100,076

9th place:  Fernando Pons (Palma, Spain) – $1,000,000

Remaining Chip Counts

  1. Qui Nguyen (Nevada, USA) – 128,525,000
  2. Cliff Josephy (New York, USA) – 63,850,000
  3. Vojtech Ruzicka (Prague, Czech Republic) – 62,250,000
  4. Gordon Vayo (California, USA) – 58,300,000
  5. Michael Ruane (New Jersey, USA) – 23,700,000

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.