LAS VEGAS – A club promoter and eight poker professionals, including one with a sideline as a tattoo artist, are back in Las Vegas to compete in the World Series of Poker main event and lay claim to the $8.4 million prize that goes to the winner.
Seven players will become millionaires at the no-limit Texas Hold ’em final table that runs tonight and Tuesday. The first player eliminated will take home only the $733,000 paid to all nine who made the finals in July.
That’s when the tournament began with 6,352 players, before whittling down to the final nine through seven days of play at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.
The bad beats and roller-coaster chip swings weeded out the one-in-a-million dreamers, poker personalities such as Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey and celebrities including sitcom stars Ray Romano and Jason Alexander, who took seats at the green felt. Defending main event champion Greg Merson was eliminated during the fifth day of play.
When the dealing was done, nine skilled, mostly professional players were headed toward the final table.
The chip leader is 36-year-old poker professional J.C. Tran, a longtime grinder from Sacramento, Calif., who slowed down to raise his family, and is hoping to retire after one last run at glory.
Tran is the best-known of the remaining players. Many of them are tournament newbies who came up through the ranks of online poker.
The finalists include 29-year-old Las Vegas VIP Host Jay Farber, with just $2,155 in recorded tournament winnings at the time he made the final nine, and 26-year-old Englishman Sylvain Loosli, who says he’s won more than $1 million online, but had just $3,198 in recorded earnings.
Also among the challengers is Marc-Etienne McLaughlin, a Canadian who identifies himself as a tattoo artist and pingpong aficionado.
Play begins this evening and will continue until all but two or three players are eliminated. ESPN will broadcast the tournament with a 15-minute delay.
Caesars Entertainment, which controls the series, has listed Tran as an 11-5 favorite to win the event.
The survivors will return Tuesday night and play until one player has all the chips.
Several players left in July with precariously low chip counts. David Benefield will sit down tonight with 6,375,000 in chips and Marc Newhouse will start with 7,350,000 in chips. Five of their competitors have more than 25,000,000 in chips, and Tran is playing with 38,000,000.
Players with dwindling stacks generally play more conservatively to avoid being forced out before they make it to the next level, which at the final table could mean an extra $1 million. Chip leaders generally play more aggressively, leveraging their position to push out weaker competitors.
The nine men will play a game that has capped the World Series of Poker since 1970, when seven players gathered at Benny Binion’s casino to determine the best poker player in the world.