The second annual November Nine is finally upon us. As the WSOP main event final table begins Saturday (Nov. 7), nine players will be playing in the most important final table of their careers. As they mentally and physically prepare for this moment, it's almost impossible to understand the thoughts that are racing through their minds or the pressure they might be feeling.
However, if these final nine were to seek out any guidance, who better to give them words of wisdom than members of the 2008 November Nine. I asked last year's inaugural class to give some advice to their fellow compatriots before they take the stage at the Penn & Teller Theater.
For Darvin Moon, the chip leader, I spoke with the only player who has held this honor previously: Dennis Phillips.
"This year, the format is different as the money is in the top three," Phillips said. "It goes up slower than last year, where the big money started in the top five. Therefore, with your chip lead, you should have no pressure in the early stages as they [short stacks] will be forcing the action. Allow them [the short stacks] to duke it out. During the first few hours, pick and choose solid hands and play them strong.
"Don't go looking for pots to play -- just play your solid game and, when you are down to five-or six-handed, reassess where you are at," Phillips continued. "Remember, you are the only person that can take anyone out at the table. If they play a pot with you, they are risking their tournament life and thus they have to respect your stack."
For Eric Buchman and Jeff Shulman, both experienced and professional poker players, I asked poker pro Scott Montgomery to weigh in.
"Last year, to prepare for the November Nine, I played a lot of poker tournaments," Montgomery recalled. "Others took some time off, but I don't think that was a good idea. Keep playing at a level high enough to keep your interest going and to gain experience for the final table. Some players worried that people will watch you and gain information about your style, but I wouldn't worry about that."
Surprisingly, Montgomery suggested coaching when he previously, along with other pros, had been against obtaining a coach. However, since last year, Montgomery had a change of heart.
"If I had to do it over, I would get some coaching from a bunch of different pros," he said. "Not to necessarily improve my own game but to get information on a variety of different opposing styles. Even if you don't take their advice, you will have different viewpoints of other players at final table."
For Steven Begleiter and Kevin Schaffel, two longtime working professionals, I spoke with Darus Suharto, who has kept his job as an accountant after his fifth-place finish in 2008.
"I would recommend playing as much as you can," Suharto said of potential preparations. "Since I worked full-time, I was unable to do this before last year's final table. Also, I would try to play in many different final table situations to give myself as much experience as possible."
Last year, Suharto decided to hire a coach (Eric Lynch), and he does not regret the decision.
"You always can learn from someone else," he said. "It helped me learn different styles. I'm happy with my decision, as it gave me different perspectives at the final table."
For Joe Cada, the youngest member of the 2009 group and the only player who has a chance to break Peter Eastgate's record for youngest WSOP main event champion, I spoke with Craig Marquis. He was one of the players, along with Eastgate, who had a shot at breaking Phil Hellmuth's previous record.
"Make sure you play your own game," Marquis said. "Don't let the lights affect you. This is a unique situation, to play in front of all those people, especially for someone who has not been there before. Also, pay close attention to the players as they return to the final table. Some may have made changes to their game since you stopped playing [in July]. Pay attention to how people changed and how others stayed the same. Then adjust your game accordingly."
For James Akenhead and Antoine Saout, the short stacks at the final table, I sought out last year's short stack, Kelly Kim. With this year's revised payout structure, Kim feels that there will be a different dynamic in 2009.
"Last year, moving up each spot was like winning a big tournament," Kim said. "Ninth to eighth was about $400,000. But this year, there is clumping at the bottom. It is only about $35,000 to move up to eighth. Last year, there was a lot more incentive to avoid risk and move up the money ladder. This year, I would gamble right away. I would find a spot and get my chips in."
For Phil Ivey, there really is no equivalent from the 2008 November Nine group. The only comparable poker superstar might be Daniel Negreanu, who has made the WSOP Europe main event final table in back-to-back years. However, even Negreanu doesn't feel as if he can advise his good friend.
"You can't give Phil any advice," Negreanu said. "He will go with his own read. He will go with what he sees, and he knows what he can do. He will think through each situation and will act accordingly."
Additionally, the members of the 2008 November Nine had some additional advice after the final table is complete:
1) Many players suggested seeking out solid financial advice. Because each player is guaranteed $1.2 million, I believe this is an excellent suggestion. Suharto, the accountant, suggested that the players should "be careful with [their] money by having a professional adviser take care of it. And, of course, don't lose it back to the casino." Montgomery and Kim both suggested investing outside the poker world, such as real estate or the stock market.
2) Although investing is prudent advice, Marquis said to "Make sure that you buy something special that you will enjoy" to remember your poker achievement.
3) Also, Phillips thinks that "They have opportunity to make an impact and be an ambassador for poker. Hopefully, this year will bring a crop of players that will step forward and make an impact on the entire poker community."
Finally, a word of advice from reigning WSOP main event champion Eastgate. The champ advised the 2009 November Nine that "Poker is all situational. The final table could be difficult or easy. You don't know how it will end up, but just take it hand by hand."
And with these final words of wisdom, there is only one more thing left to say Shuffle up and deal!
Bernard Lee is the co-host of "ESPN Inside Deal," a weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and author of "The Final Table, Volume I." He also hosts a weekly poker radio show, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show," on Rounders Radio and in Boston on 1510 AM. The show can be heard from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and is repeated throughout the week. For questions or comments, e-mail him at BernardLeePoker@hotmail.com.