Editor's note: Coverage of the 2010 World Series of Poker begins July 20 on ESPN.
When reflecting on the goings-on at a particular World Series of Poker, pundits often throw around "Year of the " like it's going out of fashion. With Michael Mizrachi's remarkable struggle for survival on Saturday and Sunday morning capping a Series in which he (a) won the $50,000 Poker Players' Championship, (b) he and his three brothers all cashed in the main event and (c) he's advanced to the main event final table, "Year of the Mizrachis" is going to get thrown around. Honestly, though, we need to clarify that statement. It is simply the "Year of the Grinder," and Michael, now one of the November Nine, is most deserving of that honor.
For Mizrachi, poker's 2005 wonder boy, this makes official and complete the reascent of his star. He'll now have to wait for a few months to see if he can pull off the most remarkable double of all time: winning the Players' Championship and the main event. If he can, he'll tie Frank Kassela for Player of the Year, which Kassela seemed to have all locked up just a week ago.
Mizrachi's story will undoubtedly be the focal point in the media coverage leading up to the final table playing out this November, but his is far from the only storyline worth following.
"It's been incredible theatre," said WSOP spokesman Ty Stewart. "Converging storylines centered around a bunch of young guns and a popular pro trying to do something no one thought possible. It's deja vu in the best way possible."
Chip leader Jonathan Duhamel has played dominant poker (with a touch of luck thrown in) and will be looking to take home Canada's first WSOP championship. Soi Nguyen will be seeking to topple the odds and emerge as an amateur champion from the sea of professionals. John Racener, Joseph Cheong and Jason Senti will be looking for their payoff for years of hard work and trying to take their place among the ranks of the game's most recognizable professionals.
Four months is a long time, but the chatter begins now. We won't know who will win until then, but you know the entire poker world will be trying to come up with that answer beforehand. Now, you can judge for yourself. Here's your November Nine in order of chip count:
Jonathan Duhamel (65.9 million in chips): The chip leader offered one of the most dominating big-stack performances we've seen on a final table bubble. He bullied the rest of the table for nearly six hours to build the top stack going into the final table. The 22-year-old from Montreal was thrilled to make the final table and soak up all the experiences that come with it.
"I've been playing online for a living for the last one and a half years," he said. "In December I finished 10th in EPT Prague. That's my biggest live finish. I mostly play cash, so I don't have a lot of notable finishes. [This is] the biggest final table of the biggest tournament of the year and being there [is] nice, but at the same time, I'm about winning. I won't be happy just to be there."
John Dolan (46.2 million in chips): When we think of impressive poker performances under tons of pressure, Dolan's name will come to the mind of poker fans from here on out. The 24-year-old Bonita Springs, Fla., native will bring the second-largest stack into the final table, but starting Day 8, he had only 2 million in chips which put him 24th out of 27 players.
After chipping up throughout the day, most of his chips came between the third and sixth hours on the 10-player final table bubble. He changed gears at the perfect time and turned an average stack into one that will most definitely have an impact in November.
"I was fortunate to pick up some hands at the beginning at the final table," he said. "I was able to do some things and as we progressed a little bit and my stack was a little deeper. It's amazing [to be part of this experience]. Obviously you hope for this, but you never expect any of this. It's just awesome."
Joseph Cheong (23.5 million in chips): Is it possible that the most experienced player at the final table is just 24 years old? Cheong thinks so. "I'm a full-time player," said Cheong, who's been living the life for more than two years. "I think I have an advantage. I've played over 10,000 tournaments and I think that experience plays to my advantage. There are a lot of solid guys here, but I think I'm going to win this tournament."
Poker is Cheong's life. "I'm living hotel to hotel, living at tournaments," he said. "I rented an apartment at Panorama this summer. I'm exhausted, but I'm relieved that I'm finally at the final table of the main event. I'm playing to win the whole tournament. I haven't slowed down on any of the bubbles, though the equity of the November Nine made me think about it. I'm ready to win this tournament."
John Racener (19.0 million in chips): Don't look now, but Racener is about to become a star. Traveling the poker circuit for the past few years, Racener has had notable success including a WSOP Circuit title for more than half a million in earnings as well as 11 WSOP cashes (which includes his main event result). Mizrachi was thrilled to see Racener as part of the final table, and letting it all set in, Racener knows that this may be his moment to break away from the pack.
"I'm very excited," said Racener after his spot on the final table was sealed. "This is my dream. I'm very happy [to be one of the most experienced players at the final table]. Once they look at my stats they'll see how well I've done in the past. I've already had a lot of phone calls, Facebook [messages] and text messages. [For now] I'm just going to go home and enjoy it with my mom and my sister."
The praise for his efforts not only came from his friends in the stands, but also from one of his closest competitors. "John Racener is an excellent player and now he will be known," Mizrachi said. "I love his game."
Matt Jarvis (17.6 million in chips): Jarvis, a 25-year-old Canadian, found himself in the WSOP main event after making the decision to refocus on his poker. "I was a student, took some time off to play poker and I'm continuing on with that right now," said Jarvis upon making the November Nine. "I'm basically a full-time player." The decision is looking pretty good right about now.
Jarvis, who's been making his living online, has only one five-figure cash in live play to his credit, but that hasn't hurt his confidence here. Asked about his chances in November, he confessed that he didn't like seeing the Grinder's stack building, but liked his chances. "I'm confident going forward," he said with a smile. "I think I've played pretty well and I'm feeling good. It's amazing. It's every poker player's dream to make the November Nine. I'm stoked! Everything's good right now."
Filippo Candio (16.4 million in chips): The last European standing, the pro from Sardinia, Italy, travels around his country as a well-respected pro who plays in a multitude of events. He won the Italian Poker Tour Campionato Italiano stop in 2009, which really put him on the map overseas, and now he'll be a face that every poker fan will recognize by the end of the year.
"I am very happy," Candio said. "I'm [ready] to be a November Niner with all my heart, with all of my techniques and with all of my skill. For me, I'm part of the history of poker, I'm the first Italian, the last European and the first Sardinian."
One of Candio's supporters is bracelet winner Max Pescatori, who had nothing but praise for the 26-year-old's game.
"I always thought that people with his style of game have the best chance of beating huge fields," Pescatori said. "He's aggressive, Internet-smart and experienced in the live circuit. He's not afraid to put the money in and in this tournament that's the main thing you have to do. He could be a fantastic champion. He has great promise. He's someone who can go forward and do great things."
Michael Mizrachi (14.4 million in chips): In 2009 the poker community rallied around Phil Ivey, and in 2010, Mizrachi will be the man. The $50,000 Players' Championship victory started out his WSOP on an extremely high note, and despite spending two days among the bottom of the chip counts, Mizrachi simply did not want to head home. The Miami native is one of the most well-known players in the world, with more than $8.8 million in live tournament earnings and success in every venue, both live and online. He doesn't quite have the stack he was hoping for, but he made it and is ready for a run at the title this November.
"I'm kind of washed up right now, but at least I'll have four months to recover," joked Mizrachi after the final table was set. "I took down all the pros in the Players' Championship, they were players that I haven't played with before. I pretty much know how everyone plays here, but with the blinds so high, it's not the same game. I look forward to representing the pros in November."
Soi Nguyen (9.6 million in chips): In a field full of online pros, Soi Nguyen is the exception to the rule. The 37-year-old Santa Ana, Calif., native is playing in just his fourth live tournament with the support and backing of former November Niner Chino Rheem, Nam Le and dozens of others.
"This is the best time of my life," said Nguyen upon making the final table. "I didn't think I had any shot. I just came for the experience. Last night, Nam told me, 'Dude, this is every poker player's dream. This place, this tournament.' It's just been an awesome ride."
"Being the amateur doesn't bother me at all," said Nguyen, admitting he was happy to blanket himself in his naïveté. "Last night, I played against a name player I didn't know at all. It let me just play poker against him instead of fearing him. I think that works to my advantage."
Jason Senti (7.6 million in chips): Senti's been playing poker professionally for three years. While he's obviously excited about his spot in the November Nine, he's keeping a level eye on the effect it could have on his life. "This is certainly a boost to my poker career," said the Minneapolis native. "I've been a professional for a few years now and it'll give me increased exposure that might help me work out a deal with a poker site. Most of all, I won't have to worry about money. I won't go looking to buy new cars or the like, but it'll be easy to put more away, into retirement and invest in businesses, stuff like that."
While Senti recognizes the stature making the November Nine represents, he's keeping it in perspective. "Making the November Nine is the pinnacle in the public eye, but I don't think it's near the accomplishment of making the transition from an engineering job to making a very good living online, but this is public," said the 28-year-old professional. "It's a wonderful opportunity. It's the biggest thing I've done. If nothing else, it's validation to relatives who don't necessarily approve of what I do. Obviously I like what I do, so that should help."
The lead up to the final table will be all about the Grinder, but on Nov. 6 it will be all about Duhamel. For the next four months we'll analyze, discuss, predict and argue about which of these players will emerge victorious, and no matter who pulls through, fans of the game will be happy. At this point, all we know is that there are now nine new poker superstars with nine separate stories to complete. Each of them will share their lives with us throughout the hiatus and now that we've seen what they can offer at the felt, we're going to be all ears. This is only the beginning of their time in the spotlight and after pulling through a 17-hour Day 8, each of them deserves it. Congratulations to the 2010 November Nine.
Gary Wise is a poker columnist for ESPN.com.