With the innovation and debut of ESPN's live coverage of the 2011 WSOP main event, the players involved aren't dealing with the same scenario as in year's past. No longer are they in the shadows for two weeks as they make their way towards the biggest final table of the year. Their names are no longer only found online in daily recaps. Instead, they've been highlighted under the lights and cameras. For the last five days, fans from around the world have met hundreds of new players and through the unedited action, have been able to determine what exactly makes them great.
As the final day of play begins at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas at 3 p.m. ET, the stakes have never been higher. The broadcast will begin on ESPN3 and at 8 p.m., the show will transition to ESPN for a few hours of coverage on the world's biggest sports stage.
The remaining 22 players aren't the world's most household names, but they will be soon. Here are the Day 7 survivors in order of chip counts.
Anton Makiievskyi (21.0 million in chips): Just 21 years old, Makiievskyii's appreciation of his present surroundings is evident in his enthusiasm. "I just don't believe everything that's happening now," said the young Ukrainian. "I understand that I may not have any other chances in life like this, but I don't feel it. I just play my game. I just push all-in when I need to push all-in." Makiievskyi is easily identified by the aquamarine jacket he's wearing at the table. It belongs to close friend Oleksii Kovalchuk, another 21-year-old Ukrainian with whom Makiievskyi learned poker while at university. Kovalchuk is one of four Ukrainians who won a WSOP bracelet this year. He also can become the youngest WSOP main event champion in history.
Eoghan O'Dea (19.0 million): Poker runs in the O'Dea family's blood. His father made two WSOP main event final tables during his career and now, it's his son's turn. Eoghan (pronounced as "Owen") is about a cool as they come. The 26-year-old Audi convertible-driving pro from Dublin is excited about the opportunity and isn't just looking to make the November Nine, but to win. "When I was really young, it was definitely the bracelet," he said. "But now, it's about the money. It's a dream to win this event." He has five WSOP cashes, a runner-up finish in a World Poker Tour event and all the motivation needed that makes him a very dangerous player at the table.
Khoa Nguyen (16.4 million): One of the only Canadian players left in the field, Khoa Nguyen has locked up three previous WSOP cashes, one of them coming earlier this Series. Nguyen's successes have come in $1,000 and $1,500 events and his top score peaked at just under $10,000. Now, with a six- or seven-figure payday within his grasp, Nguyen looks to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Duhamel and bring the WSOP main event championship back to Canada.
Andrey Pateychuk (16.2 million): Before the 2011 WSOP, there had never been a bracelet winner from the Ukraine. Times changed early on in '11 as Eugene Katchalov, Oleksii Kovalchuk, Alexander Anter and Arkadiy Tsinis won their bracelets to put the country on the map as a poker powerhouse. The former journalism student transitioned from first-person shooter game Counter-Strike to poker when a number of friends did the same. The 21-year-old Pateychuk has been playing poker for two years.
Ben Lamb (14.6 million): No one in the world is running hotter than 26-year-old Ben Lamb right now, but to his credit, he's known exactly what to do with his streak. The Panorama Towers (Las Vegas) resident has already won one WSOP bracelet, finished second in another event, eighth in the $50,000 Players' Championship and 12th in the $10,000 six-handed championship. He is the hottest player in the world right now and with his performance in the main event has taken the lead in the Player of the Year race from Phil Hellmuth.
Phil Collins (13.8 million): Leaving out all the obvious name-related jokes, Collins is already a star. Spending his past few years dominating online poker, "USCPhildo" has earned more than $3 million on the virtual felt, but now, with online poker no longer an option, he's transitioned to the live game where he's already cashed in eight WSOP events, one earlier this year. "I think that everything I've done in my poker career has prepared me for this tournament," Collins said. "This is why everyone plays, it's what created the poker boom in the first place."
John Hewitt (13.2 million): If a month ago, you'd told John Hewitt that he'd make Day 8 of the 2011 WSOP main event, the 23-year-old professional poker pro may not have been shocked. Despite earning his first WSOP cash in a $1,500 event in June, the online experience he's gathered gives him an edge at the table. The 35th-place finish at the WSOP may also have provided him with the mindset needed for a deep run in this event. The online poker player from Costa Rica (originally from Illinois) has nearly six figures in tournament winnings and learned from one of the most talented players in the world: Felipe "Improved" Montenegro. He is slow and methodical at the table and never seems to leave a scenario unexamined before he makes his final move.
Ryan Lenaghan (10.4 million): An Alabama native living in New Orleans, Ryan Lenaghan is one of those rare players who got their start online, but found a preference for live play. While Lenaghan's been putting up live tournament cashes since 2007, only one has come in a tournament with as much as a four-figure buy-in, and none have been for more than $54,000. "It would mean a lot," said Lenaghan on what it would mean to win the main. "It's life-changing money. It would be about the greatest thing I could do, I guess. It would be amazing." Lenaghan opened up Day 7 with the chip lead and would've been higher on this list if it weren't for a final-hand confrontation with Andrey Pateychuk that cost him a few million in chips.
Matt Giannetti (8.9 million): A Las Vegas pro with a successful career in both tournaments and cash games, online and live, Giannetti is probably the least-known player among his running circles because until now, he'd never scored a six-figure cash in live tournament play. This cold, efficient professional has taken his cachet to the next level with his performance here. He flies under the radar and is about as serious as a 26-year-old can be on the felt.
Konstantinos Mamaliadis (8.1 million): The 34-year old Mamaliadis is proudly carrying a nation on his back. Hailing from Durban, South Africa, the importer/exporter has been dreaming of coming to the WSOP for five years. "Hopefully, I can become the first South African to win the main event," Mamaliadis said. "Poker's already huge in South Africa, this is just the next step. This has been exhilarating and nerve-wracking all at the same time."
Pius Heinz (7.5 million): Just 22 years old, Pius Heinz entered the 2011 WSOP without much in the way of live tournament experience, but a seventh-place finish in a $1,500 buy-in WSOP event changes all that. Heinz is seeking to become the first German player to make a November Nine, but seems to be completely at ease. "I don't feel any pressure at all," said Heinz. "The field left is really strong, a lot of really good players left. My tournament went pretty smooth for the most part and I'm just happy to be here. Whatever happens, happens."
Aleksandr Mozhnyakov (7.0 million): The Russian surge during the WSOP continued in 2011 with Viacheslav Zhukov and Mikhail Lakhitov winning bracelets. Could Mozhnyakov be the next star? He has four total WSOP cashes, each of them coming during the preliminary events in 2011. The thing is, Mozhnyakov is only 25 years old and just graduated from law school. It seems like he's taken a little hiatus from his job for the WSOP, and if he's able to make the November Nine, we're left to wonder when he'll actually go back to using that degree.
Scott Schwalich (6.9 million): While most of the players are insistent that they're not feeling the pressure, 24-year-old Ohio native Schwalich is confronting it in a different manner. "I'm sure everyone's feeling a little pressure at this point," Schwalich reasoned. "The only pressure I feel is to not make mistakes and play my best game. I'm just here to play my best." Schwalich, a former online professional, is learning live play as he goes. He was considering a move to the work force to use his accounting/finance degree after the Series, but now that the main event has gone so well, he believes he'll continue life as a professional player.
Martin Staszko (6.3 million): You hear stories of a chip and a chair? Well, Martin Staszko is living the next best thing. The 35-year-old native of the Czech Republic barely survived the money bubble with 12,000 in chips, folding "like 40 hands in a row" according to Erick Lindgren. No player from the Czech Republic has ever made a main event final table. This professional player could be the first.
Bryan Devonshire (6.1 million): Perhaps the most familiar face among the remaining players is the man known as "Devo." With a second-place finish on the World Poker Tour, in addition to many other live successes, he's amassed $1.2 million in lifetime live earnings. Online, it's a different story and the engaged 27-year-old has had numerous big scores. He offers fans a charisma that stands out above the rest of the field, but after "Black Friday" he was one of the players determining which path to take. Would he stay with poker or find a new career? He was looking for his "one time" before the main event began and it seems that so far, it's working out pretty well. "It would be life- and career-changing. It would be a dream come true. Just to make the November Nine would feel better than winning a WPT. I just feel that I'm having a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I'm enjoying every minute of it."
Sam Barnhart (4.9 million): The first bracelet winner of 2011 is still alive in the field and has advanced to Day 8. Sam Barnhart's poker adventure began with a victory in the 2011 WSOP Circuit main event in Tunica. That victory provided him an automatic entry into the National Championship where he defeated the field of stars and qualifiers to win his first WSOP bracelet and $300,000. The 50-year-old decided earlier this year that he'd take a closer look at playing full time and this deep main event run should remove any doubts he may have had. "I wish I had more chips, but I'm still here," Barnhart said. "I can always be a threat and I work a short stack real well." He'll need to if he wants to make the November Nine.
Sam Holden (4.7 million): England's last hope in the tournament, Canterbury native Holden, 22, seems content to allow his excitement and enthusiasm shine through. "November's the dream," Holden beamed. "All the messages I'm getting from back home, it's definitely getting pretty serious." Holden warmed up for the main event with a healthy dose of live tournament play in England and Ireland, but this is the first time he's scored so much as a five-figure win.
Gionni Demers (4.6 million): Twenty-three-year-old poker professional Demers was winning at poker from the start. '"My best friend from grammar school called me when I was a sophomore in high school and said I should come play this game called Texas Hold 'Em," Demers recalled. "It was a $5 tournament and I ended up winning it." A former online pro, Demers didn't let Black Friday deter him. A New Jersey native, his plan is to commute to Atlantic City to play part-time while helping his father run the family business.
Kenny Shih (4.5 million): Making his second consecutive cash in the WSOP main event, Kenny Shih is on the ride of his life. The Taiwan-turned-California native had lifetime live tournament earnings that totaled less than $90,000 and he only bought into the main event after a good run before it started. Good decision. The 30-year-old professional was formerly a stockbroker, but he made his way toward the only poker scene where he's won more than half a million in tournament play.
Lars Bonding (4.1 million): Lars Bonding burst onto the poker scene in 2005 when he finished second in a $2,500 buy-in event on national television at that year's WSOP. The $317,000 he won there is his largest cash to date, meaning the 2011 WSOP main event will provide him with the biggest windfall of his career. The Dane made his way to poker from the professional backgammon world, where he came up with Gus Hansen, among others.
Bounahra Badih (3.8 million) In a field of young players with big stacks, 49-year-old Bounahra Badih is feeling no pressure. "I think the big stacks are feeling the pressure" Badih said with a smile. "I am cool and calm." While listed as being from Ft. Lauderdale, the businessman owns and operates a poker room in Belize City and as such carries the hopes of Central America into Day 8.
Chris Moore (3.0 million): The Illinois native has been playing professionally for a few years with much success. He finished third in at the World Poker Tour's 2009 Bay 101, finished first in the $10,000 Wynn Poker Classic in 2008 after finishing third in 2007. Online, "gcnmoo" is a SCOOP champion and has more than a quarter-million in tournament earnings. Despite that amount of winnings, before Black Friday, he was primarily a cash game specialist.
Which of these players will be part of the 2011 November Nine? We'll know soon enough. Regardless of their efforts Tuesday, each of these 22 are already stars and they'll only shine brighter from here on out.