After 10 full days of play, a field of 6,352 players whittled itself down to nine who will meet again Nov. 4 to decide the World Series of Poker's Main Event champion.
Two-time WSOP bracelet winner and experienced grinder J.C. Tran sits in the lead with 38 million chips. He will be joined at the final table by Amir Lehavot (25,875,000), Marc McLaughlin (26,525,000), Jay Farber (25,975,000), Ryan Riess (25,875,000) Sylvain Loosli (19,600,000) Michiel Brummelhuis (11,275,000), Mark Newhouse (7,350,000) and David Benefield (6,375,000).
The nine will be battling for a bracelet and a tidy $8.4 million for the winner. However, these players are all already winners with each guaranteed a payout of at least $700,000.
Fittingly, it was Tran who helped set the final table as he eliminated the 10th competitor. The WSOP marked the occasion with this tweet:
2001 Main Event Champ Carlos Mortensen eliminated on the final table bubble at the hands of JC Tran. He earns $573,204— WSOP (@wsop) July 16, 2013
Tran and Mortensen, a Spanish pro known as "El Matador," were the two most experienced players left at that point, and Mortensen's elimination meant Tran was going to be surrounded by youth and online poker skills.
Tran, as you can tell in the quote provided by Hannah Dreier of the Associated Press, had mixed emotions about eliminating Mortensen:
The guy that I respected the most was the one guy that I just busted. It's kind of sad to see him go. But at the same time, I'm happy he's gone because he's the one I respected most.
Tran, The World Poker Tour World Poker Challenge champ, has had an impressive run in the Main Event. On Day 3 at the 1,000/2,000 level, his chip count sat at a measly 12,500. He made a rapid turnaround.
By Day 7, on the strength of a big play against fellow November Nine participant Jay Farber, Tran had the chip lead and never looked back.
The WSOP tweeted this shot of their November Nine chip leader:
Chip leader JC Tran gets interviewed by ESPN after making the final table. pic.twitter.com/puJD5J836j— WSOP (@wsop) July 16, 2013
While the final table is short on tournament experience, Tran is not the only pro.
As Dreier noted, Amir Lehavot (of Israel), Michiel Brummelhuis (of Amsterdam) and Marc Newhouse (of Chapel Hill, N.C.) are fellow pros. This is in stark contrast to some of the competitors.
Jay Farber has amassed a little over $2,000 in poker winnings. This is the lightest total for a November Nine participant since 2008.
Las Vegas' Ryan Riess is just 23 and is participating in his first WSOP.
Sylvain Loosli, 26, is an online player, but had never made a dime at the WSOP.
Montreal's Marc McLaughlin typically sticks to cash games, but he has tournament experience as well and, as PokerListings.com notes, has totaled $670,000 in live cashes.
Then there is the self-described ex-pro poker player and Columbia University student David Benefield. He seemed impressed with his accomplishment:
Wow, I just final tabled the main event at the World Series of poker. #dejareve— David Benefield (@DWBenefield) July 16, 2013
He may be dropping the "ex" from the poker-playing description now.
So now that the stage is set, let's make some prognostications.
Who will win?
It is hard to go against J.C. Tran. He has a big chip lead and experience on his side. However, it's not like experience is paying off to this point.
In a year that has been full of surprises and impressive performances from more youthful players, it would seem wise to go with more of a surprise winner.
I like McLaughlin's chances. He continues the wave of impressive showings at the WSOP from French-Canadians and will have a wealth of experience to draw on from others in the Montreal crew that includes 2010 Main Event champ Jonathan Duhamel and Marc-Andre Ladouceur.
So, put me down on record with McLaughlin for 2013 Main Event champ. Dare to call bluff? Let me hear it in the comments.