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The World Series of Poker $10K NLHE Championship – also known as the WSOP Main Event – reached its final table of nine players in July, but the television episodes from the beginning of the tournament are just now airing on ESPN. As the television audience catches up on the action, fans who know the names of the November Nine are already watching those men play other tournaments and prepare for the biggest final table of their lives.

Out of the 6,737 players who entered the Main Event this summer, the nine who remain are playing for their pieces of the $63,327,800 prize pool. With $8 million and a shiny gold bracelet awaiting the winner, we can look at those players to see what they will bring to the table on October 30, as well as what challenges each will face.

Here is the lineup in chip count order:

  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

Cliff Josephy

As the oldest of the players at the table, Josephy also brings the most poker experience by far. Not only was he a longtime and successful backer of other players, he also accrued more than $3.6 million in his live poker tournament career on top of millions online. He is a happy and healthy family man who lives a relatively quiet life in New York, giving him the advantage of being well-rested, relaxed, and confident when he returns to the Rio. He also has an extremely positive and good-humored attitude about the entire experience.

Challenges: Josephy is playing little poker before the final table, especially as compared to some of his competitors. He recently drove to Parx in Pennsylvania to compete in tournaments there, but he didn’t cash… and he got a flat tire on the way home. He’s going to have to compete with some very energetic and well-prepared young men at the Main Event final, as well as deal with being everyone’s target as the incoming chip leader.

Qui Nguyen

The only resident of Las Vegas among the November Nine, Nguyen has several advantages of not having to travel and stay in an unfamiliar place when the final table happens, as well as being able to play as much poker as he chooses within the next month and a half. He is one of the unknowns at the table, which also keeps the others from knowing too much about his strategy. He is a proven risk-taker, and he has the motivation of trying to win for his son.

Challenges: Nguyen was clearly taken in by the lights and cameras at the playdown to the final table this summer, even commenting that he felt like a movie star. Should he remain caught up in the glitz, he might lose focus at the table. He also must take the time to study his opponents and the game, as any run-good he had in July might not be there next month.

Gordon Vayo

With youth and momentum on his side, Vayo is one of the favorites going to the final table. He has been playing for all of his adult life and is admittedly preparing very thoroughly for the Main Event finale. Meanwhile, he has been playing poker tournaments and just captured the first live win of his career at the River Poker Series at WinStar, where he took down the $2,500 NLHE Main Event for $587,120.

Challenges: Vayo could return to the Rio overconfident and feeling that he can ride on the back of his recent victory. He is also young and has spent a great deal of time playing Pot Limit Omaha instead of Hold’em. While that likely changed after July, he will need to hone his NLHE game and stay focused.

Kenny Hallaert

His experience with the game spans more than a decade, includes tournament play and organizing, and includes a recent win, making Hallaert a serious competitor. The Belgian said he would thoroughly prepare for the final table, which will be made easier by his new healthy lifestyle and attitude. As the new tournament director for the Unibet Open, he is able to watch poker more often than most of the other men at the table. And to prove that he soaks it up, he recently won the PartyPoker Online Grand Prix tournament by beating more than 4,600 players to win $64K.

Challenges: Hallaert may find less support in front of an American audience than he has in Europe, and he will need to remain focused in a setting that is unlike most in which he is involved. The lights, cameras, and role as player instead of director might be distracting and throw him off his game.

Michael Ruane

Not much is known about Ruane, as he doesn’t seem to be on Twitter (unless he is the one with the locked account) and doesn’t reveal much about his online poker past. He does claim to have a lot of online experience, however, even moving abroad to play after Black Friday forced him out of the US.

Challenges: Ruane’s youth and lack of obvious online presence may hurt when it comes to the spotlight that will be on him at the WSOP final table. He also has the second-least amount of live poker tournament earnings of his competitors.

Vojtech Ruzicka

The Czech at the table plans to prepare thoroughly for the final table action and seems to be playing a great deal of poker since July. He garnered a sponsorship with King’s Casino and flew in the company’s private plane to EPT Barcelona, where he went deep in the Main Event for a 24th place finish. He also cashed in a High Roller event in Barcelona and the WPT National Rozvadov Main Event. His online poker winnings over each of the past five years have exceeded $100K, and he has quite a bit of experience in all forms of the game to bring to the Rio.

Challenges: While the King’s Casino deal may give him confidence, Ruzicka may want to be wary of allowing the fame to get to him. He will need to be focused on October 30 and not too caught up in the spectacle. If he allows his best poker to come out, he has a great chance of finishing in the top three.

Griffin Benger

As a commentator for the first half of the Global Poker League’s first season, Benger had the advantage of watching and analyzing the plays of some of the greatest poker minds in the game. With that and the benefit of numerous poker friendships, he has every opportunity to build up his stack and be a contender for the win. His experience in games like CounterStrike will also help, as will his support of sponsor 888poker and his confidence and absorption of all aspects of poker.

Challenges: Benger’s sense of humor is always enjoyable, but it may get in the way of his focus at the final table. Unless he can use it to his advantage to throw his competitors off their game, he may want to take a more serious tone, at least until he chips up.

Jerry Wong

Wong may the second-shortest stack at the table, but he has quite a bit of live poker experience with which to turn that around. He has also been working hard on his game, playing some tournaments recently at Choctaw and Seminole. He cashed in both, in fact, finishing 26th at the World Poker Tour Choctaw Main Event and then taking ninth at the final table of an SHRPO side event. Nearly $50K later and more focused poker training under his belt, he is not one to be counted out.

Challenges: Wong is not well-known by most poker fans and is not a favorite in most of the betting lines. He will need to shut out the naysayers, play his best game, and garner chips early to stay in contention.

Fernando Pons

The shortest stack at the table is also the player who is practically freerolling the Main Event. After having won his $10K seat via a €30 satellite on 888poker, the newly-sponsored 888poker pro has quite a bit of support. Many in the Spanish poker world tout Pons as the game’s next Moneymaker, especially considering he is only a recreational player and has a full-time job in the corporate world. Pons has little to lose and everything to gain, and he has been playing more poker in preparation for his big moment in the spotlight. He cashed in an event at EPT Barcelona and is playing more regularly as the WSOP final table nears.

Challenges: Pons’ lack of experience and short stack will be a tough combination of hurdles to overcome. His support may be strong, but his game strength remains to be seen.

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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.

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