Las Vegas, NV
6AM. The first fans arrived outside the Penn & Teller Theatre at the Rio Casino. They stood in the spectator line to watch the conclusion of the 2009 WSOP Main Event. They were ticketless, but the November Nine was free and open to the public on a first come, first serve basis. The members of the November Nine were allotted a certain amount of tickets for their friends and family to railbird the next world champion. They flew in from all over the country, and in Antoine Saout's case -- from France and other parts of Europe.
Jack and Brian were sitting down at the front of the line when I introduced myself four hours after they first arrived. Brian wore a Soylent Green t-shirt and Jack was decked out in a Hawaiian shirt a Poker After Dark hat. The two middle-aged friends drove down from Montana for the week to attend a convention and play poker on the side. They stopped by the Rio on Friday night for a recon mission to gather intelligence before they plotted their game plane -- arrive at sun up in order to watch the most prestigious final table in all of poker.
"We had an over under to figure out how many people would be in line," said Jack. "I was astounded that no one was here at 6am."
"Are you friends or family of the November Niners? Or just rabid fans?" I asked.
"We don't know any of them," Brian said. "We're fans. Addicts, really."
"You never get a chance at something special like this," added Jack. "You don't get to go to the Super Bowl for free by standing in line. I'm never been so excited. I hope Ivey wins."
"So you guys are both Iveyheads?"
"Well, I was going to root for Phil Ivey originally because like Ivey, I was originally a Jersey guy," explained Brian. "I'm Jersey born and bred before I moved out West. But, I met Darvin Moon this morning and he's the nicest guy. I decided to pull for him."
A brief meeting with the Luddite Logger from Maryland swayed one fan's loyalty away from Phil Ivey.
"Moon was eating breakfast with his wife," said Brian. "He seemed relaxed. 'I feel confident and mellow and I'm very loose' is what he told me."
As expected, the hallway connecting the Rio Casino and the Convention Center slowly filled up. By 10am, the hallway had become difficult to navigate. Fans were lined up as far back as the Rotunda and business center. Two guys sat on the ground and played cards. One old guy in cowboy boots played a harmonica to kill the boredom.
A couple of the final table players wandered down the hallways. James Akenhead ducked out to the pool to finish a smoke, while Antoine Saout wandered by chomping on a banana as he conducted an interview with a member of the French foreign press. Steve Begleiter signed an autograph for a fan and Change100 spotted Happy Shulman wearing a Phish t-shirt.
November Nine supporters mingled around in their group costumes. Saout's legion of fifty Frnechie wore soccer (er, football) jerseys with the French colors; red, white, and blue. Everest Poker, Saout's sponsor, handed out scarves and the Frenchies proudly waved and displayed the scarves in the same manner they would at a football match.
Darvin Moon's crew, the Moonheads, wore "Bad Moon Rising" t-shirts. One of the members of the British press scoffed at the quote on the back, "If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose." That didn't bother me cause I'm a fan of Credence Clearwater Revival and wanted a t-shirt. Alas, none of the Luddite Logger's crew were willing to part with their paraphernalia. Moon shunned the online poker behemoths who courted him with lucrative sponsorships. Moon shrugged him off and the Moonheads followed suit. They were not easy to bribe and rejected generic Vicodin and a food comp in exchange for a Bad Moon Rising t-shirt.
The usual suspects from the American based poker media were in attendance and the majority of the international media were mainstream French outlets such as Le Monde. Benjo is usually one of the few Frnech journailsts and reporters at American events, but since a Frenchman was among the November Niners, many traditional media outlets in France dispathced reporters to Las Vegas. Everest Poker also subsidized the trip for many French poker outlets which added to the high numbers of French press.
A horde of media camped out in front of Starbucks with their equipment bags and shiny new credentials dangling around their necks. I found refuge at a table inside Starbucks and jotted down notes. Doyle Brunson drove past me on his Scooter and I got giddy like a school girl when Texas Dolly said hello. Like the huddled masses, Dolly loves Starbucks and Twitter. He's just like you and me which reminds me of one of my favorite conversations between two of my favorite writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
"You know, the rich are different from you and me," said Fitzgerald.
"Yes, the have more money," replied the succinct Hemingway.
A sports memorabilia company rented space along the wall where tables hawked different items. Joe Cada's agent set up a table in front of the cafe. Yellow t-shirts were stack high in the middle of the table flanked by a tower of yellow hats. Yellow is one of the colors from the University of Michigan and Cada's agent outfitted 150 fans with bright yellow t-shirts and hats. Of course, there was a PokerStars logo clearly visible on the shirt since Cada had jumped ship from UB and signed a $1 million deal with PokerStars.
The Cada crew of a 150 friends and family from Michigan were not as prevalent as Dennis Phillips clones from the year before. However, they were younger and rowdier and more inebriated than the Phillipeans. Plus, you couldn't miss them decked out in bright yellow. At 10am, a couple of the Cada's Yellow Submariners set up camp at Hooker Bar to kick off the November Nine Festivities. At Michigan games, fans tailgated outside of The Big House. In Vegas, they got shitty at the Hooker Bar.
The gates opened at 11am and hundreds of fans trickled into the Penn & Teller Theatre. A sea of yellow filled up one side of the mezzanine while the blue-clad Frenchies took over a section on the opposite side. Within minutes, loud and enthusiastic chanting began and a vocal pissing match ensued to determine which November Niner had the loudest fans. The Steve Begleiter fan club gave a valiant effort with "Begs! Begs! Begs!" Alas, they could not compete with Saout's boisterous fans and Cada's rambunctious Yellow Submariners.
My French is horrible but luckily Benjo acted as a translator. Saout's fans sang the French national anthem and chanted different songs that you'd hear at French matches during the World Cup. On the other side of the theatre, Cada's crew stuck to the standard "Let's go Ca-da!" followed by clapping. Other times they simply yelled "Joey!" in succession which sounded more like "Joh-eeee! Joh-eeee! Joh-eeee!"
Phil Ivey's fans made up more than 50% of the crowd but they did not know Ivey or each other. They all arrived independently. Sure, the collective Ivey nation erupted in a frenzy when Ivey was introduced and they all hung on every hand that he played, but they were not organized and not in costume. I guest you can call them the "silent majority."
WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack kicked off the November Nine and he asked everyone to pause for a moment of silence for Hans "Tuna" Lund who passed away on Friday.
"Go TUNA!" screamed one of Cada's soused fans.
"That's why I don't like Michigan fans," mused Vin, one of my colleagues in the orchestra row (one of three spots designated for the media).
Cada's snarky fans were just getting warmed up. After the Frenchies finished off a catchy chant, Cada's crew quickly retaliated with "USA! USA! USA!"
Many of them were drunk and only going to get drunker, and it wasn't even noon. I hid my badge and rode the escalator to the upper deck where more of Cada's faithfuls gathered. One guy hauled a tub full of Milwaukee's Beast and ice to the upper deck since they only sold booze in the lobby. He was prepping for the long haul. Unlike a Michigan football game that last three or so hours, the final table had no time limit. Their future and the fate of their friend was unknown. They had to remain in the crowd until either Cada busted or advanced to the final two players.
I returned to the lobby which had it's own tinge of surrealist cliches. Padraig Parkison stood in front of the line to the bar with a dozen Joe Cada fans standing behind him. Dennis Phillips signed a St. Louis hat for a fan. Greg Raymer filmed an interview with a French film crew. Doyle Brunson signed autographs of his biography while the Greatest Show on Earth (aka Phil Hellmuth) held court with a semi-circle of media soaking up every ounce of shameless self-promotion that Hellmuth spewed including the hyperbole surrounding an upcoming meatball eating contest.
Darvin Moon had won a few pots before his lack of experience got the best of him. The hand in question involved Antoine Saout who tried to steal with J-2 from the button. Moon defended his big blind with A-4. The flop was K-J-2. Moon pulled out 2.3M in chips and fired out at the pot with Ace-high. Saout was way ahead with two-pair and raised to 6.75M (with another 3M behind). Moon moved all in not conscious of the fold equity concept. Saout ad too many chips in the pot and he was committed to call with any two cards. He just happened to have two pair and sanp-called.
"One of the worst plays I have ever seen," said Phil Gordon sitting two seats down from me.
Saout didn't exactly have the hand wrapped up. Moon had been running good all tournament so he had a natural predisposition to good luck. When a trey fell on the turn, the room unleashed a collective, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!"
A five would fill in the Wheel. Moon had a gutshot and you almost expected to see a five fall on the river. Saout faded the Wheel gutshot with a river deuce. Saout won the pot with a full house. Saout was no longer the short stack and that hand was one of the major factors why he would be among the final three players.
Moon's inexperience showed once again in a hand with Steve Begleiter. Moon said he held K-Q in the hand. He missed on a flop of 4-3-2. Begs bet 3.9M. Moon re-raised to 15M. Begs had 21M and moved all in. Moon mouthed, "Wow" and folded for just 6M more.
Gordon was highly critical of Moon's first gaffe and he was not kind with his assessment of the hand with Beglieter, "I didn't think it would be possible for Moon to play a hand worse than before, but he just did."
Moon had lost the chiplead. At the dinner break, Eric Buchman was ahead in the chiplead after busting Kevin Schaffel's A-A in a dirty dirty hand when his K-K quaded up.
Chip Counts at the Dinner Break:After the dinner break, Happy's A-K crippled Cada's A-J. Cada was down to 2M at his low point and that's when he mounted a comeback.
Eric Buchman - 54.725M
Darvin Moon - 41.25M
Steve Begleiter - 38.1M
Antoine Saout - 28.725M
Phil Ivey - 14.9M
Joe Cada - 10.7M
Happy Shulman - 7.175M
Cada avoided elimination when he doubled up with Jd-4d against Eric Buchman's 5c-4c The drunken Yellow Submariners lost their mud.
"Three more double ups baby!" one screamed.
"Alligator blood babbbbbbbbbbbbbbby!" another howled.
And that's when it happened. A showdown between Cada and Ivey. OK, it wasn't really a showdown. Just a coinflip. 4-4 vs. A-8. Cada dodged the fatal blow from Ivey when his fours held up. Cada's fans went berserk. Glass shattered. Beers were spilled. Obscenities hurled. Young men humped each other in jubilation because their hero won a race with Ivey after being on the bring of annihilation moments earlier.
Cada jumped up to 12M while Ivey slipped to 10M. But Cada was not out of the woods yet. He found himself all in with Ah-Kh suited versus Eric Buchman's Ac-Kc. Cada had to sweat out a four flush with a club on the flop and another on the turn. Buchman missed on the river and they chopped the pot.
Just before Midnight, Phil Ivey's Main Event had come to a close. He got it all in with the best of it... A-K versus Darvin Moon's A-Q. The Ivey-heavy crowd had stuck around for almost 12 hours waiting for the moment when Ivey would double through Moon's big stack. The Ivey Nation rose to their feet and screamed their loudest "Ivey! Ivey! Ivey!" chant.
The screaming died out when a Queen fell on the flop. Ivey could not suck out and he busted out in 7th place. Ivey won $1.4 million but lost millions more in potential prop bet earnings.
To rub it in, Cada's inebriated fans chanted "Ivey! Ivey!"
Steve Begelieter became Moon's next victim as he too failed to advance past Midnight. Begs looked like he was about to seize the chiplead with pocket Queens against Moon's favorite hand... A-Q. Moonheads screeched for an Ace, but their pleas where drowned out by chants of "Begs! Begs! Begs!" which echoed around the theatre.
Begleiter faded the ace on the flop. And a second time on the turn. Three outs in the deck. One card to come. Then it happened. An ace spiked on the river and I thought a bomb went off because of the ruckus and exclamations of shock from everyone inside the theatre. The Moonheads could not contain themselves and cheered on the Luddite Logger.
A stunned Begleiter busted out in 6th place. Benjo summed it up best on Twitter, "Capitalist defeated by working class hero. #scoreoneforthecommies."
With five players to go, Moon regained the chiplead with 63M while Cada was the shortstack at 10M.
Ninety minutes later, Cada got his opportunity to double up against Moon's big stack. All in preflop. A-A vs. K-9. I don't have to tell you who held what because I'm sure you can guess that Moon was trailing. That was one of the few instances that the best hand held up. Cada's A-A won the pot and he doubled up and was no longer in the basement.
"Somewhere in Maryland, a petting zoo missing a donkey," remarked a member of the foreign press.
When action was four-handed (after Happy made an exit in 5th place and Buchman blew a big lead against Saout), Moon's K-J attempted to to pick off Buchman with A-5. The flop missed both players, but Moon turned a King to take the lead. The Luddite Logger faded an ace on the river and he won the hand while Buchman busted out in 4th place.
With three to go, Saout was leading with 80M, Moon was not far behind with 76M and Cada trailed with 40M. But that didn't matter because Cada would harness his luckbox powers and double up against Saout. Cada was all in preflop with pocket deuces against Saout's Q-Q. At that point, it looked as though we were on the cusp of a Moon/Saout heads up battle until the dealer fanned out the flop. A deuce was the doorcard. Saout's Queens were ravished by a set and he was unable to regain the lead. Saout lost the lead and Cada doubled up.
Fifteen minutes later, Cada finished off Saout who shoved with 8-8. Cada called with A-K. It was technically a coin flip but we knew better.
"He's an 80% favorite here considering how good he's been running," remarked Matt Showell, a noted journalist from the Great White North.
He was right because everyone in the room knew a King was coming especially Cada's Yellow Submariners. They were begging for a King and not an ace. Yep, a King was coming. It was just a matter of when. The flop? The turn? Or how about the river, which would be far more dramatic.
The King spiked on the river. Saout's run was over. The heads up match was set between Joe Cada and Darvin Moon with Cada holding a sizable advantage.
Heads Up Chip Counts:The two most fortunate players at the final table ended up the last two standing. Those lawyer types and lobbyists argue that poker is a game of skill and not a game of chance. If that's the case, I hope they burn the tapes of the 2009 Main Event final table because that evidence can't get out.
Joe Cada - 135,950,000
Darvin Moon - 58,850,000
Joe Cada has a shot at becoming the youngest Main Event Champion and breaking defending champion Peter Eastgate's record, but there's an unpredictable logger standing in his way.
Cada could use the first place money since he's staked by the Bax/Sheets syndicate. Cada holds a solid lead and has more skills than Moon, especially at heads up play. It might come down to which player gets the luckiest because that's how this year's Main Event is playing out.
When Marty Derbyshire, a Canadian journalist from PokerListings, asked Moon about his strategy for the heads up match against Cada, Moon replied, "I'm sorry. Can you give me the definition of strategy?"
It's going to be one intriguing heads up match. Tune in at 10pm PT on Monday night for complete coverage on Tao of Poker and on my Twitter feed.
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