JohnnyBax, Benger, Wong Make WSOP Main Event Final 9
As usual it's an unexpected and international group of players who comprise the group and it's one of the most well known backers in the game who will take the chip lead into the championship final.
Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy Leads OctoNine Final
Due to the U.S. Presidential Election the WSOP Main Event final table will play out slightly earlier this year, beginning October 30, so technically making this the OctoNine.
This year's group of OctoNiners will be headlined by well-known pro Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy. Josephy is the holder of two WSOP gold bracelets and is perhaps best known for his stable of pros that he backs in events all over the world.
He was also one of the true pioneers of online poker and was the #1 ranked online player for 72 weeks over 2005/2006.
Josephy will head into the OctoNine with the overall chip lead and 74.6 million in chips.
Right behind him with 67.92 million is Las Vegas resident Qui Nguyen. Listed as a poker pro and gambler, Nguyen had never even recorded a five-figure score before making the final nine.
Seven out of nine players at the final table are "pro poker players" but the only other household name to make the November Nine is former Ivey Poker Pro Griffin Benger.
Benger had planned to skip the entire 2016 WSOP but he won his way into the Main Event on 888poker. He turned that satellite victory into a November Nine run. Benger will start the final table with 26.17 million, good for seventh overall.
Kenny Hallaert is a poker tournament director from Belgium with over $1.31 million in lifetime earnings. He finished 123rd in the 2015 WSOP Main Event. Hallaert will start 4th in chips with 43.32 million.
Brooklyn, NY, poker pro Jerry Wong is the second shortest stack at just over 10m. Spain's Fernando Pons comes into the final table as the "short stack" with just 6.15 million in chips. Pons is an account executive for a retail chain and is playing his first-ever WSOP event.
Pons had just $10k in live tourney cashes prior to this event and will take home at least $1 million.
Can JohnnyBax Win it All? History Says No
The question now remains whether JohnnyBax can buck history and become just the third November Nine chip leader to win the Main Event.
Last year, Joe McKeehen became just the second November 9 chip leader to win it all. Going by history, Josephy's odds are not good for winning.
Also, his strengths have been more in backing champions (such as Joe Cada) rather than winning tournaments. While Josephy has two bracelets, one has to wonder if he will have the chops to close the biggest event of his life.
From our observation of the players and looking at their history, our money is going to be on the player currently 3rd in chips - Gordon Vayo. Vayo has 27 WSOP cashes including this one and the Californian is still looking to win his first bracelet.
He has been to multiple WSOP final tables and, like Josephy, he will not be feeling the pressure of the final table as much as other players. With 43.32 million in chips, Vayo has the experience and the stack to go on a run to the title.
Ultimately, we see Vayo and Hallaert heads-up for the title with Josephy finishing 3rd. Of course, we're still over three months away from the OctoNine and anything can happen at the final table.
This is one of those years where the final table could be hotly contested or a real snoozefest. It's too soon to tell which, but the poker world needs a real win in October. Otherwise, it may be time to retire the November 9 concept.
Below are the November Nine and their starting chip counts for the final table:
- Cliff Josephy - USA - 74,600,000
- Qui Nguyen - USA - 67,925,000
- Gordon Vayo - USA - 49,375,000
- Kenny Hallaert - Belgium - 43,325,000
- Michael Ruane - USA - 31,600,000
- Vojtech Ruzicka - Czech Republic - 27,300,000
- Griffin Benger - Canada - 26,175,000
- Jerry Wong - USA - 10,175,000
- Fernando Pons - Spain - 6,150,000