Three months and 23 days after the composition of the final table of the World Series of Poker main event was decided, the much-anticipated grand finale kicked off at the Rio in Vegas Saturday.
The opening ceremonies boasted all the Vegas razzmatazz we have come to expect from this multi-million dollar spectacular as some 600 railbirds crammed into the Penn and Teller theatre at the Rio to cheer on their favourites and ogle legendary players in the game.
Spotted among the crowds were Greg Raymer, Jen Harman and Marco Traniello, Phil Gordon, 2008 November Niners Dennis Phillips, Ylon Schwartz and 2008's youngest to date world champion Peter Eastgate; Daniel Negreanu and 2004 world champion Greg Raymer; Jeff Shulman and his WSOP coach Phil Hellmuth; Daniel Negreanu, Barry Greenstein, Doyle Brunson, TJ Cloutier, Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson.
And to give a flavour for the value of this biggest competition in international poker, consider these numbers released by the organisers:
First prize in the 2009 WSOP main event: $8,547,042 Indianapolis 500: $3,048,005 Daytona 500: $1,530,390 U.S. Open (Tennis): $1,600,000 U.S. Open (Golf): $1,350,000
Final tablers presented to the crowd were:
Seat 1: Darvin Moon (58,930,000)
Seat 2: James Akenhead (6,800,000)
Seat 3: Phil Ivey (9,765,000)
Seat 4: Kevin Schaffel (12,390,000)
Seat 5: Steven Begleiter (29,885,000)
Seat 6: Eric Buchman (34,800,000)
Seat 7: Joseph Cada (13,215,000)
Seat 8: Antoine Saout (9,500,000)
Seat 9: Jeff Shulman (19,580,000)
Average age at the table at that stage was 34.8, with printer Kevin Schaffel the oldest at 52 and Joe Cada the youngest at 21 (he turns 22 on November 18th)
This year's big surprise, 46-year-old Maryland logger Darvin Moon headed the chip counts, unbagging over 24 million more chips than his nearest rival Eric Buchman.
Tournament director Jack Effel and WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack controlled proceedings, starting on the rather sombre note of a moment's silence for Hans 'Tuna' Lund who recently passed away.
Then the raucous crowd chanted and yelled for their favourites and displayed T-shirt slogans that ran from Darvin Moon's "Bad Moon Rising" to Schaffel's rather clever play on words "Schaffel Up and Deal" as the players were introduced, photoflashes sparkled and high-powered video lights glared.
Moving to the Amazon Room around 1pm local time, the big event was launched this year by poker legend Doyle Brunson, who made the famous "Shuffle up and Deal" call, accompanied on stage by last year's champ and currently the youngest ever WSOP winner, Peter Eastgate. The poker veteran came up with a typically Brunson quip after surveying the noisy railbirds: "This looks like a football game!"
The action began at a slow pace as players cautiously felt each other out.
French engineering student Antoine Saout was noticeable for his selective aggression which created excitement in a clash with Moon that proved to be very expensive for the logger. At hand #45 Saout called the Marylander's all-in bluff to double up to 22 million at Moon's expense, lifting the Frenchman into the mid-field and leaving a rather embarrassed looking Moon to ponder his massive, if affordable, loss.
The huge hit probably contributed to Moon's vulnerability at hand #107, when Buchman took the chip lead, leading Moon by almost 5 million in chips, a situation that Moon was to reverse later in the game.
A daring all-in move by Phil Ivey also set tongues wagging when he put his tournament life on the line with over 8 million chips and pulled it off to strengthen his rather weak chip count at that point. By the dinner break he was fifth in chip counts.
The short-stacked 26-year-old Brit pro James Akenhead had one narrow escape against Buchman, but it wasn't enough to save him from being the first player to be eliminated at hand #59 after around four-and-a-half hours of play.
Akenhead ran kings into Kevin Schaffel's aces and found himself short. He put threes up against Schaffel's nines and headed for the exit in 9th place, collecting $1,263,602 for his time and trouble.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed, but I went in as the short stack and I had to get it in and gamble," Akenhead said. "I gambled and got lucky once, and busted out ninth anyway. It was bit more harsh, but it wasn't my day. Kings against aces, what can you do?"
Half an hour later, at hand #68, Schaffel was himself eliminated by Eric Buchman, pocketing the 8th placing prize of $1,300,231.
"What are you going to do?" asked Schaffel. "I got it in with aces against kings twice. I was right back in it. I was down to seven and a half million, I got up to 15 and then 19. I think I was counting my chips to like 43 million and I would have been right behind Darvin.
"There's just nothing you can do. It was a sick flop. I still had six outs if the board didn't pair after that, but we all know what happened."
Shortly after seven-handed play commenced, Buchman rose to leader prominence following a Moon vs. Stephen Begleiter big-bet clash which saw Moon check-raise Begleiter to 15 million on a four high flop with two spades and almost 11 million chips in the pot, only to fold when Begleiter shoved for just six million more.
That put Buchman in the lead and Begleiter second with Moon trailing in third. Moon improved his position later to second and by dinner break the chip counts looked like this:
Eric Buchman: 54,725,000
Darvin Moon: 41,250,000
Steve Begleiter: 38,100,000
Antoine Saout: 28,725,000
Phil Ivey: 14,900,000
Joe Cada: 10,700,000
Jeff Shulman: 7,175,000
By hand #153 Frenchman Antoine Saout, with some truly audacious play, had doubled up through Begleiter as well to become chip leader on 52,775,000 ahead of Buchman and Moon. And alarmed Phil Ivey fans were pointing to his low-stack position on the table with only 8 million in chips.
Hand # 175 saw the popular Phil Ivey dismissed from this year's WSOP as he was eliminated in 7th place ($1,404,014) by that man Moon. Showing little emotion, the poker pro departed as the table - and the 1,200 strong spectators - applauded.
Shortly after Ivey's departure, the chip counts were updated to show:
Eric Buchman - 55,500,000
Antoine Saout - 53,075,000
Darvin Moon - 39,325,000
Jeff Shulman - 17,275,000
Steven Begleiter - 16,150,000
Joseph Cada - 13,450,000
Twelve hands later, at # 187, it was Begleiters' time to depart with a 6th placing cheque for $1,587,160 - another victim of the cool and calm Moon in a 23.25 million pot that gave the logger the chip lead again at 63.9 million.
When InfoPowa went to press the action was paused whilst security men piled a mountain of currency onto a table, topped by the much respected and coveted main event winner's bracelet - a significant incentive for the remaining five men around the table.
Chip counts were:
Darvin Moon - 63,925,000
Eric Buchman - 53,250,000
Antoine Saout - 51,725,000
Jeff Shulman - 15,525,000
Joseph Cada - 10,350,000
Source: InfoPowa News