Finally, no more hype. The nine players are back in Las Vegas, they've done their last few interviews and now all that's left is to get the final table underway. When action begins on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3.com), all the discussions, debates and predictions will be in the rearview as one of these nine players will be on his way to becoming the newest icon in the game.
Patching concerns (by Gary Wise)
While secondary by far to the greater plots of playing out the final table of the world's biggest tournament and crowning a world champion, an interesting little side story will be played to conclusion when the World Series of Poker main event's final table convenes.
With rules in place clearly stating that (A) no one company may patch more than three players at a televised final table and (B) that once final table play gets underway, no player may acquire new patches, Full Tilt Poker finds itself with an embarrassment of riches, forcing one to ask whether FTP's proven it's possible to have too much of a good thing.
In the crazed rush to sign players that began on Day 5 of the main event, FTP penned a large number of players to deals, with an extraordinary number of them surviving to the final table. In all, seven of the nine remaining players have agreements with FTP in place, leaving the online giant to choose three players out of John Dolan, Joseph Cheong, John Racener, Matthew Jarvis, Filippo Candio, Michael Mizrachi and Soi Nguyen, to wear its colors.
FTP is weighing two primary factors in making that decision: first, who is most likely to get major TV time with the patch prominently displayed; and second, who is most likely to be seen winning the world championship with the patch on. Of course, those two factors really fall under the only one that matters, that being who will inspire the most sign-ups.
So, how to choose? Take the three big stacks and FTP's suddenly without the valuable exposure only Mizrachi can bring as the most recognizable player by far of the bunch. Speculation and common sense say that Grinder is a must-wear for FTP. Those same speculators say that the remaining two spots will go to either Dolan, Cheong or Racener, the three biggest stacks from amongst the relatively faceless hordes.
Each man has his arguments. Dolan's stack alone warrants inclusion, Cheong comes in third in chips with a reputation as one of the best (previously) unknown players in the world and Racener has an easy-to-market presence and long experience on the live tournament circuit. So, the question for FTP is who is the odd man out?
While we won't know what FTP will do until the day of, I can tell you that weighing all of the above, I wouldn't patch either Cheong or Racener. Neither stack is overwhelming and neither is overly chatty at the table. Grinder's a must for name recognition and Dolan's a must for stack size, but after that it's such a crapshoot that I'd go with an unconventional choice. I'd pass over Cheong and Racener for Candio.
Is Candio as likely to win the tournament as Cheong or Racener? Probably not, but the differential in their chances is slight enough to barely register in the debate. Candio's candidacy comes down to the likelihood that his singing, dancing and screaming will certainly get FTP its TV time. Also, while Grinder and Dolan have the U.S. market covered, Cheong and Racener add nothing in that regard. Candio offers up Italy and presumably some of the rest of the European Union. If your resources are limited, the way you utilize their strengths in all markets is going to make a big difference when the final online registration tallies are tabulated.
The guess here is that FTP doesn't go with Candio. His antics aren't entirely appreciated (though definitely noticeable) and he's not considered by most to be as solid as Cheong or Racener. Still, when you see Candio dancing this Saturday on your TV set as Cheong and Racener sit quietly at the table, their patches barely visible, consider the likely effect that's going to have on FTP registration. I think you'll come around to my way of thinking.
Of course, that all assumes Candio doesn't go out on the first hand of play. Anything can happen at the WSOP.
There is one way around the rule, by the way. With each player joined by some 100-plus family and friends, I'd make sure those good folks were all patched up, too. Despite the WSOP's attempts to the contrary, you're going to see a lot of black, red and white this weekend.
Before taking their seats (by Andrew Feldman)
Thursday night the players were all at the VooDoo Lounge at the Rio for one of their final photo shoots as a group. Standing 51 floors above the ground, the VooDoo Lounge provides one of the best views that Las Vegas has to offer. Of course, you've seen this view for the past two years on the WSOP broadcasts, so you can imagine just how this edition will play out.
The players were stacked in three rows that basically seemed like they were bowling pins. In the front were Jonathan Duhamel and Soi Nguyen and clearly those two will be getting a lot of attention in terms of building their storyline on the broadcast. Behind them was (left to right) John Racener, Matthew Jarvis and Joseph Cheong. In the last row was Filippo Candio, Michael Mizrachi, John Dolan and Jason Senti. All of them were told to give their most intense stare and a few of them admitted that this part of the procedure was probably the hardest. In between takes the players were joking around and having a good time, knowing that in just more than a day the battle would begin. After a few hours of posing, players had some drinks, some food and headed out for the night, trying to get their minds off of obsessing over the final table for just a little bit.
Friday is a day off for the players. Time will be spent with the family and friends they have in town to watch and all of them are just hoping to get a good night's sleep prior to the final table.
I had the opportunity to speak to eight of the nine, with Duhamel being the lone escapee. Jarvis seemed the most at ease out of the group and he was extremely happy and ready to go golfing with his family on Friday. Mizrachi was taking part in this shoot despite playing in a cash game for "Poker After Dark." Mizrachi had to leave midway through that session and it seemed that his current position in that game was weighing on him pretty heavily. Racener was relaxed despite being followed by a camera, as a documentary is being made about his life as a poker player and his journey throughout this process. Cheong and Dolan were both ready to do anything in order to get away from the cameras, but still were taking it all in stride knowing that they only have a few more days left of this ordeal ... unless they win. Senti, who was sick earlier in the week, looked to be feeling much better and Candio, well, was Candio. He was in a great mood, loving every minute of this and although he admitted he was a little embarrassed when he saw himself on TV, he told me to not to expect anything different. Finally, the amateur Nguyen seemed to fit right in with the group, but seemed a little more anxious than the rest.
Most of these interviews can be found during ESPN Inside Deal's preview show and the Poker Edge podcast that will both come out late Friday.
It's going to be an amazing weekend and be sure to stick with ESPN.com for all your coverage throughout the final table.
Small blinds: Jeff Forrest defeated Tom Marchese to win the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods. ... Full Tilt Poker's latest release included draw games. I think everyone should go back to playing five-card stud. ... "Poker After Dark" will be filming its next season for the next few weeks from the Aria. ... The WSOP signed an extension to the deal with Jack Links Beef Jerky until 2012 to continue being the presenting sponsor. ... Amp Energy is one of the main sponsors of the 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit. ... The Penn and Teller Theater, which will house the final table, is looking great. The table is in place. Fans will start to line up for the free seats as early as 9 a.m. on Saturday. ... Don't forget to watch the entire final table live on ESPN3.com starting at 3 p.m. ET. The broadcast on ESPN will take place at 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday night.