Editor's note: This event will be broadcast July 28 on ESPN.
LAS VEGAS -- Online vs. live pros is a debate has raged for years now. Live pros maintaining that poker isn't poker without staring a man down; online pros hold that their more advanced comprehension of betting patterns and math and stronger fundamentals make them the superior model. The problem facing them in the court of public opinion, however, is that television is the realm of the live player, with their familiar faces repeatedly adorning television screens.
"TV shows the same faces over and over," said Justin Bonomo, who enters the final table of the $40,000 no-limit hold 'em event sixth. "It's really hard to break through and get the desired recognition." Bonomo started making a dent a year ago with his runner-up finish to Erick Lindgren a year ago in the $5,000 mixed hold 'em event. Now, with the final table roster determined and Bonomo still alive, he's ready to make another one. Not that he'll do it without a fight from some extremely talented onliners.
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In Bonomo, chip leader Isaac Haxton, Alec Torelli and Daniel Stern, we have four prominent members of the online fraternity among those competing at today's final table. That's before even talking about Noah Schwartz and Lex Veldhuis, who have also earned recognition in cyberspace.
In a tournament many expected to produce a final table reminiscent of the 2006 HORSE classic that included Chip Reese, Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey, the final table only has two prominent members of the live guard still standing. Greg Raymer stands fourth while Ted Forrest sits last among those remaining and will be hard-pressed to survive for long.
"The results kind of show that the online players are taking over no-limit hold 'em," Bonomo said. "The live players have HORSE, but in hold 'em they have a lot of catching up to do."
Raymer hopes to prove that the pro game isn't lost yet, keeping a very simple game plan. In an e-mail sent to ESPN.com Saturday night, he was just ready to enjoy the ride.
"Just hoping to play well," said the 2004 WSOP main event champion. "And planning on having fun no matter what."
For the "Fossilman," making the final table of this event is redemption. After playing a full schedule in 2008 and only walking away with one cash (2-7 lowball triple draw, 11th place), Raymer is guaranteed at least $230,000, his first six-figure cash since 2007 in the $50,000 HORSE event. If the former world champion can manage to win Event 2, a greater legend will emerge from the highest buy-in no-limit hold 'em tournament in WSOP history.
So who will take down the title? Sunday's final table may prove the online world's public coming out party, perhaps leaving the live pros behind permanently, or we might see a great name in the game further cement a legacy.
Here's the lineup for Sunday's final table:
Isaac Haxton ($5.9 million)
Vitaly Lunkin ($4.5 million)
Lex Veldhuis ($3.8 million)
Greg Raymer ($3.3 million)
Alec Torelli ($2.3 million)
Justin Bonomo ($1.6 million)
Daniel Stern ($1.3 million)
Noah Schwartz ($660,000)
Ted Forrest ($560,000)
And the candidates are
I knew I'd be writing up a list like the one that follows the moment the WSOP announced that the fans would be involved in the new WSOP Hall of Fame selection process. Fans have been asked to submit nominations for enshrinement and it only makes sense to take a look at those players who we can list among the most deserving.
With few spots and so many viable candidates, it needs to be pointed out that Chip Reese was the youngest player ever inducted at 40, to which end I've omitted anyone who hasn't reached that age. Sorry Mr. Ivey. Sorry Mr. Negreanu. Even minus those names though, the list is an impressive one and is going to make for some very tough decision-making before all is said and done. Here are those I believe have a shot at the Hall of Fame in 2009:
Layne Flack -- Flack's going to get lost on a list like this one due to the lack of a world championship and an abundance of away-from-the-felt problems, but six bracelets is an impressive total by any standard.
Chris Ferguson -- When the best argument against your candidacy is "He's still going strong; there's plenty of time," you know the man in question is qualified. With five bracelets, including a world championship to go with one of the most distinctive characterizations in all of poker, Jesus will make the Hall. The only question is whether this is the year.
Ted Forrest -- The man Amarillo Slim calls, "The best poker player in Vegas," Forrest has shied away from changing for the cameras, maintaining a quiet excellence that's seen him win five bracelets and a National Heads-Up Championship. One of the few players to boast a three-bracelet year (1993), he's excelled in both tournament and cash game play in addition to being one of poker's most entertaining prop bettors. Of course, if he wins the $40,000 event Sunday, he'll have a nice addition to the résumé.
Barry Greenstein -- There's little doubt that "The Bear" has made his contributions, serving as an excellent ambassador with his charitable endeavors while playing cash games to the highest standard. The only question regarding his candidacy involves the lack of hard accomplishments to match up with the other players on this list. Greenstein has only three bracelets, but if you ask many in the industry, he's deserving.
Dan Harrington -- Harrington has three major factors in his favor: (1) his world championship win is 1995, (2) his back-to-back final tables in the 2003 and 2004 WSOP main events, making him the last man to accomplish the feat and (3) the excellent books he's produced in recent years in which he's given back to the poker world. Harrington has changed the game in many ways, creating a legacy all his own.
Jay Heimowitz -- The first true amateur to excel with consistency at the WSOP, Heimowitz owns six bracelets that span all four decades of the WSOP's history. Only Hall of Famer Billy Baxter can boast the same.
Linda Johnson -- There were many who were disappointed when "the first lady of poker" was not the first lady inducted into the Hall. Johnson brought Card Player Magazine to prominence and has been an instrumental ambassador and builder of the game.
Tom McEvoy -- McEvoy was the first player to win the WSOP main event after earning his way in through a satellite in 1983. The champ has authored countless books in the time since.
Scotty Nguyen -- Say what you will about Nguyen's antics of late, but the man has a WSOP main event championship, a HORSE championship, a total of five bracelets, seven WPT final tables and one of the most distinctive personalities in poker history. Throw in the style of his, "You call this one and it's all over, baby!" and it's tough to argue against consideration.
Erik Seidel -- WSOP bracelet leaders: Phil Hellmuth (11), Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan (10), Erik Seidel and Johnny Moss (8). That's really the crux of Seidel's Hall argument. The gentle giant has been dominating in tournament play for 20 years now and despite shying from the spotlight, he was on the losing end of what might be the most famous hand of all time, the hand that lost him the 1988 championship to Chan.
Mike Sexton -- Seemingly the prohibitive favorite, Sexton has received massive support from no greater authority than the man who would seem to be his toughest competition: Seidel. Sexton is certainly among poker's most recognizable and most authoritative ambassadors and really has done it all. Along with his lone bracelet win, he has served as a TV commentator, consultant for Party Poker and tournament director for the late '90s tournament of champions, and also has massive poker-related charity work to his credit.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to espn.com. You can hear more of his poker musings on The Poker Beat at Poker Road.