44th World Series of Poker Preview

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

The World Series of Poker resumes play tonight (8 PM, ESPN2). Play was last held on July 16.The 44th annual World Series of Poker will resume play Monday (8 PM, ESPN2) with nine players still in the mix for the first-place prize of over $8 million. Here are 10 facts to keep in mind when the cards get back in the air.

1. JC Tran gives the final table a big name

Tran brings an extensive resume to the final table, with 40 career WSOP cashes, tied for 35th all-time, and a pair of bracelets. This is Than’s sixth cash in the Main Event, which ties him for 11th-most all-time, along with Johnny Moss and Johnny Chan.

World Series of Poker Main Event
Chip Counts Entering Final Table

2. It doesn’t matter where you enter

Tran enters as the chip leader, but over the last six years, only one chip leader entering the final table has gone on to win, Jonathan Duhamel in 2010. In that span, that’s the same number of chip leaders entering that were the first to bust (Philip Hilm in 2007). In fact, the last six main event winners have started in six different chip positions (third, seventh, first, fifth, fourth, eighth).

3. Settle in for a marathon

Last year’s final table (both days combined) took about 18 hours, with over 12 hours to play from the final three to a winner. In all, 399 hands were played at the final table, compared to 301 in 2011 and 262 2010. To compare, in the wild 2007 Final Table, only 205 hands were played.

4. A young man’s game?

Each of the last five Main Event winners have been under the age of 25. That’s extremely good news for Ryan Riess, who is the only remaining player under 25, although Marc-Etienne McLaughlin is 25 and Sylvain Loosli just behind him at 26. The average of players at this year’s Main Event was 38.1. The oldest player at the Final Table is Amir Lehavot, at 38.

5. More international flavor

Last year’s Main Event winner, Greg Merson, came from Maryland. But there hasn’t been back-to-back American-born Main Event winners since 2003-04, Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer. Three final table players this year hail from outside the United States, with a fourth, Lehavot, being born outside the United States.

6. Players grinded to get here

Seven of the nine players at the Final Table ended at least one of the first six days of the tournament below the chip average. Current chip leader Tran was actually the lowest stack among the final nine after Day 1, with 33,100 (compared to a field average of 45,523). After Day 6, the final day before the final table was set, six of the final nine were below the chip average. The only player to not end a single day below the chip average is Jay Farber.

7. Winners are getting more accomplished

The poker boom brought expanded fields and bigger prizepools, but in the Main Event, it led to a series of fairly unaccomplished winners. From 2002 to 2008, the seven Main Event winners had a combined two WSOP cashes, totaling $31,195. But over the last four years, all of the Main Event winners had a prior cash, and each of the last two (Pius Heinz and Merson) had a previous WSOP final table appearance. That trend seems likely to continue, as six of this year’s final table participants have a previous final table.

Last year, Merson became the first previous bracelet winner to win a Main Event since Chris Ferguson in 2000. This year, Tran and Lehavot could make it two in a row.

Main Event Winners Since 2003
In Previous WSOP Events

8. The Raptor’s getting respect

He enters the Final Table as the short stack, but David Benefield has the respect of the betting community. Benefield was 20-to-1 to win the Main Event when the final table odds were released, but that’s been bet down to 12-to-1. JC Tran is the favorite at 11-to-5, but opened at 2-to-1.

9. The best hand should hold up

Each of the last four Main Events have ended with a pre-flop all-in and call, and in each of those four hand, the best hand held up to crown a champion. The last time the Main Event didn’t end with a pre-flop shove was 2008, when Peter Eastgate rivered a straight with the same card that gave Ivan Demidov two pair.

10. The best story might’ve gone home

Last year’s Final Table bubbler was Gaelle Baumann, seeking to become just the second woman to make the Main Event Final Table, joining Barbara Enright in 1995. She was the fourth woman to finish 10th in the Main Event, joining Susie Isaacs, Annie Duke and Barbara Samuelson.

This year, it was 2001 Main Event champion Carlos Mortensen going home in 10th. He was trying to become the fifth player to win multiple Main Events, joining Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Stu Ungar.