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Best of Gary Trask

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Top-10 questions and answers from the WSOP final table

16 November 2009

By now you've likely heard all about the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. You know that Joe Cada became the youngest player to win the event. You know that it was the longest final table in WSOP history and – thanks to ESPN – you're well aware that there were a number of crazy hands and twists and turns during the final table that played out at the Penn & Teller Theater in Las Vegas last week.

Casino City was at the Rio for all 20 hours of the final table and after returning home from Las Vegas we've had a chance to decompress, re-watch ESPN's broadcast and analyze some of the hand histories that were recorded during what was at times a breathtaking event.

We know you must have more questions, so we are here to answer them. Hopefully these answers will give you an even better feel as to what transpired.

10. How did you make out with your final table betting preview?
I was hoping you would ask that exact question. Excuse me while I reach around and pat myself on the back and tell you that for the second straight year I nailed the winner of the November Nine. After going with Peter Eastgate last year at 5-to-1, this year Cada prevailed for me as a 10-to-1 shot.

As I wrote in my final table betting preview, Cada reminded me a lot of Eastgate. He's young, aggressive and a tremendous heads up player. And all of those elements were factors in Cada actually pulling it off. But I must admit the journey for Cada was something I never expected. The fact that he came back from under 3 million chips on Saturday to win the bracelet early Tuesday morning is amazing. Yes, it took a lot of luck. But don't underestimate the kind of skill and patience it took to come back from that far.

joe_cada

Joe Cada was a 10-to-1 shot to win this year's November Nine and he came through for his followers. (photo by IMPDI for the 2009 WSOP)

In addition to winning the Cada to win wager, I also hit my two "last longer" bets on Darvin Moon over Phil Ivey (risked $550 to win $200) and Jeff Shulman over Steve Begleiter (risked $250 to win $250). I lost my two other prop bets on Antoine Saout to be the first eliminated (lost $100) and Ivey to finish fourth or fifth (lost $100), but overall the profit from the final table betting preview was a tidy $1,150. Combine that with the $1,085 I earned with my WSOP Betting Preview and Main Event Betting Preview and it was a very enjoyable 2009 WSOP for your favorite poker columnist.

But as much as I would like to go on and on about my poker handicapping skills, I have to point out that for the second-straight year I totally underestimated a player who may have been the best at the table. Last year I dismissed Ivan Demidov's chances and he finished runner-up. This year I predicted Saout to be the first eliminated, but that was a horrible call because the quiet Frenchman was downright brilliant at the final table and very easily could have walked away with the bracelet and $8.5 million. So feel free to throw that in my face if you think I've done too much gloating here at the top of this column.

9. So, how the heck did Cada go from less than 3 million chips to the chipleader going into heads-up play?
As I mentioned above, it took an equal amount of skill, patience and luck. After losing a huge pot to Shulman on the 122nd hand of the final table, Cada was down to 2.35 million chips and just five big blinds. It looked pretty bleak. But instead of going on tilt, Cada did just the opposite. He got busy getting himself back into the tournament.

On the very next hand, he doubled up through Buchman, who looked like a shark who saw blood on Cada's side of the table and tried to bully him out of the tournament. Holding a 5-4 suited, Buchman raised Cada, who was in the big blind, all in from the small blind. Cada managed to compose himself and make an insta-call, realizing that he was down to less than 2 million chips once he put up the big blind. He made the call for his tournament life and it ended up being a great one, when his heavily-favored Jack-4 held up and moved him back to more than 4 million chips just minutes after he fell to 2.35 million.

Within the next 20 hands, Cada doubled up through Ivey twice. On one of those occasions, he won a coin flip (pocket 4s versus Ivey's Ace-8) that brought him back to 12.5 million. The hand re-energized Cada and his supporters and ended up being the beginning of the end for Ivey.

Overall, from the time that Cada went from under 3 million chips to the chipleader going into heads-up play, he was all-in eight times, with four instances resulting in showdowns. He obviously won all four of those all-in moments, but he was only favored in his hand against Ivey. He chopped another against Buchman when they both were holding Ace-King and he was a huge underdog in the other two. But there was more to this comeback than simply the all-in calls. Cada played some brilliant poker, three and four-betting the pot after the flop on a couple of occasions that forced the rest of the table to fold. From Hand #240 to Hand #255 he won 10 of the 15 pots without seeing a flop. He bobbed and weaved his way back into contention and that took a good amount of skill and guts.

But as the ESPN broadcast showed, Cada did get very lucky. The two huge pots he was as a huge underdog not only mushroomed his chip stack, but they crippled the player who was favored against him. On Hand #195, which occurred just around 2 a.m. on Sunday, Cada's pocket 3s were up against Shulman's Jacks and Cada caught a set on the flop and his stack grew to 23.3 million. Shulman was eliminated less than an hour later.

Then in what ended up being what I think was the most vital hand of the tournament, Cada's pocket deuces beat Saout's poker Queens. This hand prevented Saout from becoming the overwhelming chipleader and lifted Cada from third to first. If Saout wins this hand -- a hand he was an 81% favorite to win – he's probably the 2009 Main Event champ.

The hand in which Saout was eliminated was even crueler because after the turn his pair of Eights were a 6-to-1 favorite to win the hand after the flop. But Cada, who was holding Ace-King, hit a King on the river and Saout was history.

Cada himself admitted that he was fortunate. In fact, during the telecast he can be heard telling Saout, "You deserved this. I'm sorry."

8. How close did Cada come to losing the heads-up battle with Darvin Moon?
Put it this way. At one point nearly every person on media row had his or her story written with the lead saying that Moon had won. That's how much it appeared that Moon was going to win.

Going into the night, most people thought it would be over pretty quickly since Cada had a significant edge in chips and heads up play. Moon said that he had probably only played heads up three times in the last two years. Cada plays heads-up every day online. But Moon stunned everyone by quickly taking the chip lead. The heads-up battle lasted 87 hands and for the majority of the four hours it lasted, it looked like Moon was going to pull off the upset.

The key hand of the heads up match came when Cada made a great read and called Moon's all-in. At the time Moon had a lead of about 25 million chips, but he was a huge underdog with his 8-7 suited against Cada's J-9. Cada doubled up on the hand, got the chip lead back and then never relinquished it.

7. What did you think of Phil Ivey's performance?
I think Phil played as well as almost anyone at the table. As I pointed out in my betting preview, I thought it was ludicrous that he was the betting favorite going into the final table. I think the expectations put on his shoulders were too much for even Phil Ivey to live up to.

It didn't help matters that it seemed like he didn't get a lot of cards to work with. And it appeared that whenever he did get some help in the pocket, nobody wanted to tangle with him. Nobody wanted to be the guy who doubled up Phil Ivey.

WSOP_fans

Fans like the ones in Antoine Saout's cheering section gave the Penn & Teller Theater an electric atmosphere for the WSOP Main Event. (photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)

For the most part Ivey was a non-factor at the table, but his presence at the final table was immense. He brought TV ratings, he brought fans and he brought some interest to the event for some people who may not have even bothered to watch. ESPN did everything to use the Ivey Factor to its advantage. The goose-bump inducing intro to the final table telecast centered on Ivey's attempt to stake his claim as the best there ever was. And even though he finished seventh and was eliminated with more than 100 hands of poker still to be played, he hung around the ESPN telecast for 90 of the 150 minutes of coverage.

His respect among his peers and the fans was clearly evident all weekend long as he was the lone player to get standing ovations from the entire theater upon his introduction and exit. He not have been a factor at the table, but Phil Ivey's impact on the event was immeasurable, even though I still think he should have spoken to the media after he was eliminated instead of ducking out a back door.

6. What was it like inside the Penn & Teller Theater?
ESPN did a pretty good job of portraying what it was like inside the theater, but the only way to really appreciate what it was like would have been to actually have been there. This was a long and sometime tedious event to watch. But you really have to credit the fans for packing the theater and making it an electric atmosphere.

But to put things in perspective, when ESPN showed the hand where Jeff Shulman bowed out in fifth place, the program was about an hour and 45 minutes old and it was the 20th hand that had been showed. In "real time" it was 3:30 a.m. and it was the 236th hand of the session. Play had been going on for more than 14 hours.

So to be truthful, it wasn't noisy and crazy the entire night like it was on the ESPN telecast. There were many moments when the media and fans were falling asleep. At one point there were 18 straight hands without a flop.

But this was still a great event to be at live and in person. It was a long night/morning. It took a toll on anyone who was there for the duration. But the number of incredible hands that played out when there was action at the table somehow made up for the hours of down time.

5. What was the biggest difference between this year's November Nine players and last year's?
The biggest difference between the two sets of November Nine players is that it was clearly evident that this year's group genuinely respected and liked each other more than last year's. I'm not saying that last year's group didn't like each other. But I think the chemistry between this year's nine players was much better. There was more small talk at the table and a lot more heartfelt comments to each other as each player was eliminated.

The amazing thing about this is that there was such a wide disparity in ages in this year's November Nine with three players in their 20s, three in their 30s, two in their 40s and one player over 50. There was also a big discrepancy in their backgrounds. You had Phil Ivey as The Big Star. Darvin Moon as The Hick. James Akenhead and Joe Cada as The Young Guns. Kevin Schaffel as The Guy Everyone Liked. Eric Buchman as The Cagey Veteran. Antoine Saout as The Quiet European. And Steve Begleiter as The Former Wall Street Executive.

It was a great mix of personalities that meshed together very well and made for plenty of great storylines.

4. What was the biggest surprise of this year's final table?
No question that the biggest surprise was the fact that the play wasn't as loose during the early stages of play. With the pay structure being changed this year, the difference between 9th place and 6th place was around $300,000 as compared to last year when it was more like $1.5 million. That prompted most people to think that the shorter stacks wouldn't mind taking some early chances, which would lead to some early bust outs.

But that's not how it played out. On the ESPN telecast, Akenhead got bounced about 40 minutes into the telecast on the seventh hand that was shown. But this actually took about three hours and 40 minutes to happen and was on the 59th hand of the night. We didn't get down to seven players until nearly 4 and a half hours of play and when we went to dinner break at 7 p.m. – some six hours after the cards went into the air – seven players were still alive.

Greg Raymer made a great point when he spoke with Casino City's Vin Narayanan on Saturday night when he said the reason why the players were so cautious about taking chances and getting bounced too early was because of the fans that followed them out to Vegas.

"How would you like to be a player that flew in a 100 family members and friends and lasted 10 minutes?" Raymer said. "That's why Phil Ivey was the only person who was all in early. If he got eliminated, he'd just say 'that's poker.' But that survival thought process had to be in the mind of some the players on close calls."

antoine_saout

Antoine Saout was the best player at the final table last week. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

3. What did you think of ESPN's telecast?
I thought it was outstanding. I don't think people realize just how difficult this was for the ESPN team to pull off. Think about what it was up against. The entire final table took more than 20 hours and 364 hands to complete. The fact that ESPN took all of that footage and packaged it into a tidy, free-flowing two and a half-hour presentation by showing just 32 hands is remarkable. The viewer at home was able to get a real sense as to what the drama and excitement was really like inside that theater.

Some may say that ESPN milked the whole Phil Ivey story, but that's what they had to do. He was able to bring in a casual poker fan who otherwise wouldn't bother watching the telecast so you knew that Ivey was going to hang around in the telecast until the second hour.

But overall the manner in which ESPN weaved in the poker on the table and the personalities away from the table was impressive. They managed to tell the players' stories and get as many hands of great poker into the telecast as possible, which is always their biggest challenge.

2. What did ESPN miss?
They missed a lot. But that's to be expected since there was so much that went on between the time the cards went in the air on Saturday and the time Joe Cada was awarded the bracelet at about 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

But as good as I thought the telecast was, I think the one thing ESPN could have done a better job with is the performance of Antoine Saout. The Frenchman was without a doubt the best player at the table. He came in as the second-shortest stack and within in 50 hands he was right in the thick of things. And he remained there until the bitter end of the first session.

Granted, a Saout victory wouldn't have been great for ESPN ratings. It would have helped the game in France, but overall Saout is not a flashy or captivating personality. But don't let that take away from your opinion of Saout as a poker player. Of all of the eight players who didn't win the Main Event that were at the final table, Saout could make the best case that he should have won and it's unfortunate that ESPN wasn't able to make that more clear to the viewers.

1. So, is the final table delay here to stay?
In a word, yes. The November Nine concept has gone from a risky experiment to a what will be a main stay for the Main Event for years to come. The final table delay has driven up interest in the game as well as TV ratings, the two main things that it set out to do.

Also, kudos should go out to Harrah's, ESPN and the WSOP for making Year 2 of the November Nine better than Year 1. They made some tweaks that were significant, such as changing the footprint of the Penn & Teller Theater so it was better suited for the fans and allowing ESPN's final table telecast to go over two hours. And I'm sure more changes will be made next year to make the event even better.

But one thing that won't be changing is the four-month delay before the final table is played. It appears the November Nine concept -- something that outgoing WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack will always be known for spearheading -- is here for good.

Top-10 questions and answers from the WSOP final table is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT