2016 November Nine: Cliff Josephy and Griffin Benger provide the 2016 star power

The nine players who will come back at the end of October to battle for the most coveted prize in the poker world 

Getting down from 6,737 to make the final 80 of the Main Event is a feat in itself, but the final table is still a way off – two whole days of play to be specific. Five of the top ten chip stacks at the start of Day 6 would hang on until the end though, including chip leader Jerry Wong. He’ll start with the second smallest stack on the final table but he won’t care.

Day 6 culled the 80 hopefuls down to just three tables and 27 players. Vojtech Ruzicka led the way at the end of play and he too would make the November Nine, with 27m chips.

On Day 7 all eyes were on three star players and one unknown. Cliff Josephy was sitting third in chips and, while he has two bracelets to his name, he’s a legend in the online community, where he was once the no.1 ranked player under the name JohnnyBax. JohnnyBax, along with partner Eric ‘sheets’ Haber, also set up one of poker’s first training sites, PokerXFactor.com, and backed hundreds of successful players. They might be responsible for making the game much harder for everyone else but Josephy was making it look easy again. Through the day his star was only heading one way and he finished as the chip leader of the November Nine.

Mouth heads south

James Obst and Thomas Marchese were the other two star players. With 18 players left Marchese was sitting on a stack of 19m (64BB) and James Obst was clinging on by a thread. Both were destined to be also-rans.

Marchese was eliminated in 14th in a huge cooler. Qui Nguyen raised the small blind and Marchese defended with T-J. Marchese flopped an open-ended straight draw on the 9-8-3 flop, but both players checked and this sealed Marchese’s fate. The 5-4 run-out must have looked like heaven to Marchese who moved all-in on the river, but it spelled his doom – Nguyen had A-K.

Obst fell in 13th, shoving his short stack with Fives and running into Qui Nguyen’s Tens. Nguyen had earned just $52,986 in live winnings at this point but these back-to-back eliminations earned him a commanding shot at poker’s biggest prize.

The unknown player making waves on Day 7 was UK pro William Kassouf. Kassouf had been given a penalty for speech play on Day 5 and was up to his antics again. He’d managed to run up a short stack to second place on the leaderboard but it all went wrong for him in the space of two hands.

First he had his Aces cracked by Gordon Vayo’s A♣-J. The A-9-5-7-6 board started off well for Kassouf but ended in tragedy.

Then, in the hand of the day, he picked up Kings and ran them into Griffin Benger’s Aces. It’s a classic cooler that usually plays pretty straightforwardly. All the money did go in preflop, eventually, but not before some heavy drama that saw Kassouf verbally jabbing at Benger. The clock was called and Kassouf carried on jousting, before Benger snapped. The heated words continued as the cards were tabled, with Kassouf saying to Benger, ‘You let it get to you.’ Benger walked to his rail saying, ‘Let’s go, let’s go. It won’t change my life.’ The Kings held and Kassouf was out.

The only drama left was the final table bubble. Several short stacks were clinging on for the pay jump of $350k, but Joshua Weiss was the unfortunate faller. He put his last 850k in the middle with A-8 and picked up two callers. One of them, Michael Ruane, made two pair, which officially closed proceedings until October 30. Play is resuming earlier than normal because of the US Presidential election, and the new world champion will be crowned on November 1.

Meet the November Nine

1. Cliff Josephy
Chips: 74,600,000
Age: 51

Career winnings: $2,641,620
Country: USA

Josephy is a legend in the online poker world. Previously ranked as the no.1 online player in the world, JohnnyBax is also one of the poker world’s biggest backers. He backed Joe Cada when he won the Main Event – now it’s his turn.

 2. Qui Nguyen
Chips: 67,925,000
Age: 39
Career winnings: $52,986
Country: USA

With only $53k in cashes to his name and no five-figure wins at all, Nguyen is the dark horse. He’s been cashing since 2003 without any big scores and this will be his dream come true.

3. Gordon Vayo
Chips: 49,375,000
Age: 27
Career winnings: $974,714
Country: USA

Vayo started playing online when he was 16 years old (under the name holla@yoboy) and won $1.5m before turning his hand to live poker from 2008. He’s won close to a million, this will be his third WSOP final table and his best finish to date was second in the $3k NLHE in 2014 for $314,535.

4. Kenny Hallaert
Chips: 43,325,000
Age: 34
Career winnings: $1,317,530
Country: Belgium

Pierre Neuville represented Belgium last year but only finished seventh. Hallaert will be hoping he can go all the way. He’s an experienced player with deep runs in EPT and WSOP events. He was dreaming about the November Nine last year too but was eventually busted in 123rd. 2016 could be Hallaert’s year.

5. Michael Ruane
Chips: 31,600,000
Age: 28
Career winnings: $44,962
Country: USA

Ruane only has $45k in live winnings but he did make the headlines in 2012, albeit for the wrong reason. Ruane was travelling back with his brother from the PCA with $26,158 – above the legal limit of $10k. Ruane was arrested and had the money seized, although he avoided a custodial sentence. Ruane will be hoping to hold onto his November Nine winnings.

6. Vojtech Ruzicka
Chips: 27,300,000
Age: 30
Career winnings: $1,149,027
Country: Czech Republic

Ruzicka has been grinding the live circuit for the past six years without a major breakthrough win. He has taken down an EPT High Roller for €313,000 though and he finished seventh in a $1,500 WSOP Bounty event last year.

7. Griffin Benger
Chips: 26,175,000
Age: 31
Career winnings: $2,395,406
Country: Canada

Benger’s got some serious all-round gaming skills. A former Counter Strike world champion, Benger was the no.1 ranked online player and won the $1m first prize in PokerStars’ SharkCage TV show. He sailed through to the November Nine after picking up Aces against William Kassouf’s Kings.

8. Jerry Wong
Chips: 10,175,000
Age: 31
Career winnings: $1,318,402
Country: USA

Wong’s biggest prior score was $725k for a third place finish at the 2013 PCA, but he’s also got a WCOOP bracelet in badugi to his name. He was the overall chip leader in the Main Event after Day 5 and clung on to make the final table with the second smallest stack.

9. Fernando Pons
Chips: 6,150,000
Age: 25
Career winnings: $10,589
Country: Spain 

Pons just about covers the Main Event buy-in with his total live winnings and this is the first WSOP event he’s played. He qualified via a €30 satellite on 888 and will have the neutrals on his side come November.

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