The November Nine returned to the felt on Monday for a grueling 12-hour session that resulted in three players advancing to the final day instead of two. At 4:15 a.m. PT, Jorryt van Hoof, Martin Jacobson and Felix Stephensen left the Penn & Teller Theater with friends by their side, knowing that they had reached the end of the journey.
One of these players will win $10 million on Tuesday night, or more likely, early Wednesday morning. The runner-up will take home $5.1 million and all three are guaranteed at least $3.8 million for their efforts that began four months ago with a $10,000 buy-in. The three are all incredible players with friends who have worked with them for months, preparing them for this very moment.
Here are the three the world will be watching Tuesday night and how they could get the job done.
Jorryt van Hoof: The first day of the final table was a dream for Van Hoof as he owned the chip lead for almost the entire session. The 31-year-old Dutch poker superstar known as "The Cleaner" had complete control over the table and was the first player to eclipse the 100 million chip mark late in the night. He gave a bit back, but still owns the top stack with 89.6 million in chips. Van Hoof is a cash game specialist with a strong focus in pot-limit Omaha. According to the Hendon Mob, in his previous five heads-up matches, Van Hoof has won three.
"I was quite happy with my play," Van Hoff said at the conclusion of Monday's action. "It was an extremely fun day. It's hard to describe in words, it's so unique. I just tried to play one hand at a time and optimize from there."
How he can win: "He got a tough draw," Christian Harder said. "In my opinion the best three players are left. I think Van Hoof has been playing so well, he just needs to come in and keep up the pressure, but not go overboard. His opponents have nothing to lose now, so they might be more willing to get it in lighter. He needs to just recognize that when he's applying pressure."
Martin Jacobson: Well, as predicted, the pressure definitely did not get to him. Jacobson, 27, played an incredibly patient game for the entire night and managed to take an eighth-place stack and turn it into second with incredible timing that those who watched will try to emulate every time they play.
Jacobson is the only tournament professional left, a major advantage at this juncture of the event. Even more than that, he cut his chops through sit-and-gos, understanding all the underlying calculations that go into play with each and every decision. As if that wasn't bad enough for his opponents, he also has a team in his corner that has drilled him incessantly on heads-up play. The one knock on Jacobson coming in was that he couldn't close the deal and earn that elusive major title. Now, he has another chance to quiet the critics and become Sweden's first world champ.
"They're very strong players. Both of them. It should be a fun battle," Jacobson said. "Patience is key in tournament poker. You need to know how to pick your spots and I think it's something I've got a lot better at over the years.
"Experience is a key part," he continued. "I'm very happy in how I stayed patient and positive even when I was short. It was fun."
How he can win: "The plan is to get heads-up," said 2013 WSOP champion Ryan Riess. "He is the most experienced player of the three and will certainly be the favorite. The pay jumps are massive and he will be able to use his aggressiveness and experience in big spots to put pressure on the others."
"He's stoic, nothing can phase him tonight," said Ankush Mandavia, one of Jacobson's friends who has helped him for the past few months. "He's due."
Felix Stephensen: Everyone knew that Stephensen was preparing as much as he could for the final table, but not many knew that one of the game's best players, Scott Seiver, would be right on his rail during final-table action. Stephensen entered play in second and held steady for the most part. He's a pot-limit Omaha expert playing in his only WSOP event of the year and is aiming to become the first Norwegian world champion. His previous best tournament finish was a ninth-place result last month at EPT London.
He's calm at the table, almost statuesque with his hoodie and sunglasses preventing the release of any tells. He didn't show much emotion until late in the night when he won a key pot against Jacobson, but once he had the chips, his rail kept him motivated and focused.
"I'm just happy to still be alive. I feel great," Stephensen said. "It's tough to pinpoint one thing [that I have to do], but I'll try to play pretty good, get pretty lucky and hopefully things will fall into place."
How he can win: "He will need to take risks," Daniel Negreanu said. "Push the envelope a little and play bigger pots"
The three resume play at 8:30 p.m. ET, with coverage starting at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. Poker will have a new world champion in a matter of hours and all three of these players are ready to etch their names into the history books and capture the most desired bracelet in the game.