Commentary

Meet the November Nine

Updated: July 20, 2009, 5:33 PM ET
By Gary Wise | ESPN.com

You're going to hear a lot about July 15 for the next three-plus months. You're going to hear about the quest for $8.5 million. You're going to hear about a reclusive logger with almost $60 million in chips. You're going to hear one man's comments questioning the value of the WSOP bracelet. You're going to hear about the biggest star in the poker world playing for poker's biggest prize. You're going to hear about the November Nine.

Darvin Moon
IMPDI 2009Welcome back to the WSOP main event, Darvin Moon.

Wednesday night, the eighth day of play in the main event of the 2009 World Series of Poker, saw the one-time 6,494-player field work its way down to nine players. Along the way, we saw the eliminations of last-woman-standing Leo Margets; of Doyles Room's newest player, Antonio Esfandiari; of midday chip leader Billy Kopp; and of final-table bubble boy Justin Smith. Those folks are yesterday's news.

Today, we celebrate the survivors. The nine remaining players are going to become household names in the poker world (if they aren't already), and some of them will take their celebrity a step further. This page and many others will speculate nonstop about which of them will emerge triumphant, a question that will be answered only when we reconvene in November. Until then, all of them are very much alive.

Ladies and gentlemen, in order of stack size, your November Nine:

Darvin Moon -- In the entire field, there might not have been a more unlikely candidate to lead the pack for the next three months.

"What were there, 6,400 players in this tournament?" a stunned Moon asked, unaccustomed to the attention. "I'd guess about 6,300 of them are better poker players than I am."

One of the most human and likable characters on the WSOP landscape in some time, the 45-year-old Maryland lumber business owner insists he has no interest in the trappings of fame and wants only to play poker, although there are many movers and so many shakers who will try to change his mind. With more than a quarter of the chips in play, he has to be considered the early favorite, although there are no guarantees he'll find a run of hands that remotely approaches the one he saw in getting here.

Eric Buchman -- While Moon is here because he loves to play, Buchman is far more mercenary. A veteran of the live tournament circuit with nine WSOP cashes and four World Poker Tour cashes over the past five years, the 28-year-old resident of Valley Stream, N.Y., is not shy about his inspiration. "I don't really care about getting recognition," Buchman said with a grim look on his face near the end of eight long days. "That doesn't really matter. I'm just here to win money."

Steven Begleiter -- No other player left in the field enjoyed the kind of emotional support 47-year-old New Yorker Begleiter did. From the sounds of it, none will in November. Begleiter, a former employee of Bear Stearns, could barely give interviews over the yells of "Begs! Begs! Begs!" from assembled friends and family.

When Begleiter was asked what kind of support he'd see in November, there were shouts of "The whole town!" and estimates of more than 200 people. "There are going to be a bunch of people; I don't know how many are going to be here," said Begleiter, who won his entry through a year-round, 20-person poker league with friends called the Newcastle Poker Tour.

"These guys have a piece of me," he said of his fellow leaguers as a massive grin adorned his face. "They've all been supporting … me, and I'm sure every one who can make it will make it. Doing it with a shared experience with these guys is really unbelievable. They all show up at these games convinced they can beat me."

[+] EnlargeKevin Schaffel
AP Photo/Laura RauchKevin Schaffel enters the final table sixth in chips.

Jeff Shulman -- No player at this final table will inspire more debate than Shulman, the editor of Card Player magazine. Shulman has stirred controversy with his claim that he will throw the bracelet in the garbage if he wins it. "It has nothing to do with [Card Player no longer having exclusive rights to WSOP coverage]," the 34-year-old Las Vegas native said. "It's about my lack of respect for the WSOP and the management here and what they've done to the players. That said, I still wouldn't wear it if I was best friends with them. When I had a chance to win years ago, I said I wouldn't wear it. I'm shocked that people wear those ugly things."

"Jeff generally says and does what he means, so if he says something, I don't doubt he's going to do it," best friend Adam Schoenfeld said. "I just see this as a professional wrestling heel turn, and Jeff's just gonna be the bad guy, so it doesn't hurt anyone."

"If I win, I'll never play at the Rio or WSOP again," Shulman said. "If I win, I'll never play poker again."

He's going to keep things interesting.

Joe Cada -- The youngest player in the November Nine, 21-year-old Cada has a chance to break Peter Eastgate's record for youngest champion, but he isn't exactly new to the game. "I've been playing poker for about six years now," the laid-back Michigan native said. "I've been doing it for a living for four years. I started playing professionally when I was 17."

Possessed of a charismatic demeanor and comfortable with the attention he now is being paid, the online pro could see his star rise dramatically over the next 12 weeks.

Kevin Schaffel -- Schaffel, 51, of Florida, is a semiretired businessman and has no plans to jet around the country. "If they want me, they can come to Florida," Schaffel said soon after securing his place in the November Nine. He insisted he'll be getting away from poker.

"I'm feeling unbelievable," he said. "I just got my text messages set at 1,500. I should have gone unlimited, because I'm going to go over that tonight. Right now, I'm not thinking about playing poker. I need to double up twice, and I'll be in the chip lead. I'll play golf. A lot of golf."

Phil Ivey -- Poker's most charismatic star and perhaps the greatest player in the world, Ivey survived a rough Day 8 to make November's Day 9. "You have no idea how bad I want this," said Ivey, who would rather skip the 12-week wait and finish the tournament immediately. "Today was a bad day, but I made it. I would say the wait is a drawback because I'm kind of in a groove playing with all of these guys. I'm going to forget some of the things I saw from them and will have to replay some of the hands in my mind. I would love to play through right now."

[+] EnlargeAntoine Saout
AP Photo/Laura RauchAntoine Saout has been playing live tournament poker for only 10 months.

Asked how he'll treat the myriad media requests he'll no doubt receive, Ivey had a simple solution -- "I'm going to change my cell phone number." The hunch here is that it won't be enough to sate the hungry mob of poker players who have come to worship the seven-time bracelet winner.

Antoine Saout -- France's lone representative at the final table in a tournament that saw hopes rise for the likes of Bertrand Grospellier and Ludovic Lacay, Saout now carries the banner of one of Europe's powerhouse nations. Just 25, the former engineering student made the decision to move to poker full time this past October. Odds are he's not regretting the decision now.

James Akenhead -- Akenhead came to the world's attention when Grant Hinkle beat his A-K with 10-4 to win the 3,900-plus-player, $1,500 no-limit hold 'em event that set records here a year ago. Now, the 27-year-old English pro finds himself the short stack.

"The $8.5 [million] first place and the bracelet, becoming world champion, those two things both inspire me," Akenhead said, relieved to still be part of the group. "I really in my mind have two goals, and they're both the same thing -- to get the big prize and to win the tournament. To win, you have to be focused on coming first. The fame that comes with all this is obviously big, but I haven't thought too much about it. I'm just going to take it as it comes and focus on the poker."

Gary Wise is covering the WSOP for ESPN.com.

Gary Wise has contributed to ESPN.com since 2007. He is well-studied in the history of poker and presents a unique tableside view of the goings-on in the poker community. Google author profile

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