Since the World Series of Poker went to its November Nine format for the final table of the Main Event in 2008, a player hasn't won a coveted seat at the event twice.
That could change Monday.
Going into play Saturday in the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em World Championship at the Rio, three former November Nine participants were in line to regain a seat on poker's biggest stage, and two were still alive late Saturday night.
However, Eric Buchman, who finished fourth in the 2009 Main Event, cautioned Saturday there was a lot of poker to be played before the 2012 Main Event final table is seated.
"In a tournament like this, you have such a diverse field, you never know what kind of table you're going to get," said Buchman, 31, from Hewlett, N.Y., who won $2.5 million for his fourth-place finish in 2009.
"You see a lot of people make a lot of mistakes," Buchman said. "You just try your best not to make any mistakes."
Buchman was one of 282 players who began play Saturday. The field was expected to whittle down to between 90 and 100 players sometime after midnight.
Buchman, who has 18 in-the-money finishes in his World Series of Poker career, said some players don't realize the added pressure that comes from the Main Event, especially the final days. ESPN television cameras seemingly cover every all-in hand and players have to deal with distractions, such as a large contingent of poker fans watching behind the rails and the poker media covering every turn of the card.
"Yeah, having gone through this before helps," Buchman said. "But when it gets down to about 50 or 60 players, they are all really good. But I think having been here before is a help."
Buchman entered the Main Event's 2009 final table in second place. However, he ran into a hot Joe Cada, the eventual champion, and fell into fourth.
He shook off the disappointment the next year, cashing in four events while winning his first World Series of Poker individual event championship bracelet, taking first place and a $203,607 payday in a $2,000 buy-in limit hold'em event.
"Making the final table did a lot for my poker career," Buchman said. "And, yeah, winning the bracelet the next year was great and made me happy after falling short the year before."
Buchman earned a bachelor's degree for State University of New York, Albany, but never joined the workforce. He decided to try his hand at professional poker.
When he's making a run at a poker event in Las Vegas, Buchman finds a support system from his aunt and uncle, Ken and Donna Lerner of Tucson, Ariz. The pair will drive in from Arizona to cheer on their nephew, and provide information to Buchman's mother in New York, Ken Lerner's sister.
"We were here when he won the bracelet and we were here for his final table," Donna Lerner said. "If he makes another final table, we'll come back."
Buchman has more than $3.3 million in career World Series of Poker earnings and will now add to that total in 2012. He came into Saturday's play fifth on the leader board. However, after the dinner break, he lost more than half his chip stack and fell to 52nd place going into the final session of play for the night.
Sam Holden of Great Britain, who placed ninth a year ago at the Main Event, was seeking his second-straight final table appearance. He came into play Saturday in 207th place but quietly chipped up and was in 61st place with 111 players still in competition.
Joseph Cheong of La Mirada, Calif., who placed third in the 2010 Main Event, came into Saturday's action in 21st place and had the biggest chip swing.
Early in the day, he chipped up and moved into third place, but then he fell back down to 28th. He chipped up again and was back in third by the dinner break, then disaster struck again and Cheong fell into 44th. He was eventually eliminated in 116th place, earning $52,718.
Cheong, who has reached Day Five competition at the Main Event each of the past three years, is best known for losing a massive 90.05 million chip pot - one of the largest pots in the history of the World Series of Poker. The move knocked him from first place down to third place with three players left in 2010 and seemingly handed the crown to Jonathan Duhamel of Quebec, Canada. Cheong earned $4.13 million for third.
The most surprising run Saturday was by actor Kevin Pollak, who had never played at the World Series of Poker, let alone made a final table. Pollak, who was sponsored in the tournament by HollywoodPoker.com, a social gaming website, nearly busted in the morning but doubled up with a pair of queens.
However, the star of the movies "Casino," "A Few Good Men" and "The Usual Suspects," was eliminated shortly after the dinner break in 134th place, earning $52,718. He ended the day seated at the ESPN feature table.
Today the Main Event field will be sliced to 27 players or less, with those players returning Monday to play for a seat at the final table.
Seven of the nine final-table participants will earn more than $1 million. While poker's world champion will collect more than $8.5 million and the most expensive gold bracelet ever awarded, the runner-up still wins almost $5.3 million. The total prize pool for the Main Event is more than $62 million.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal .com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.