It was close to 2:30 a.m. Wednesday when Martin Staszko of Trinec, Czech Republic, secured his seat at the final table in the World Series of Poker's Main Event.
He wasn't sure what time it was back home, 5,879 miles away.
But Staszko knew his family, friends and neighbors, some of whom couldn't tell you the difference between a flush and the turn card, were glued to their computer screens watching on ESPN3.com as the 35-year-old plowed through the field and took over the chip lead in the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em World Championship.
Even with a limited knowledge of the game, Staszko said, his countrymen are proud that he is the first Czech to reach a World Series of Poker Main Event final table, let alone be in first place when play resumes Nov. 5-7 at the Rio's Penn & Teller Theater.
"I know everyone is very happy and very excited," Staszko said in halting English. "My strategy was just to get chips and make the final table. I'm happy."
The nine players, survivors from a field of 6,865 -- third largest in tournament history -- are playing for their share of the event's $64.5 million prize pool. The winner will take home $8.71 million while eight of the nine will collect in excess of $1 million.
The final nine is the most internationally diverse group in the tournament's history. Just three Americans are at the final table, which has representatives from seven countries; the United States, Ukraine, Ireland, Germany, Belize, Great Britain and the Czech Republic.
Poker historians said Wednesday morning the field is also one of the closest in terms of chip separation in recent tournament history. Staszko has 40.175 million in chips, just 27.8 million more than ninth-place qualifier Sam Holden of Great Britain.
"No one had really separated himself from the pack," said Phil Collins of Las Vegas, who will return to the Rio in fourth place with 23.875 million in chips. "It will be interesting to see how the final table starts out. It might start out slow and then bang, bang, bang."
Ben Lamb, the only player in the field with a World Series of Poker individual event championship bracelet, which he earned this year, said he likes that the tight field.
"I really think this is anyone's game," said Lamb, who qualified in fifth place with 20.875 million in chips. "Whoever is the favorite could change in a single hand or in the first few hours. That says a lot for this table."
Collins, Lamb, and fellow American Matt Giannetti, all followed different paths to the final table.
Lamb, 26, who has homes in Tulsa, Okla., and Las Vegas, relied on his experience earned in 2009, when he fell short of making the final table, placing 14th.
Lamb is also in the middle of one of the best runs by a player at the tournament. He won his first-ever gold bracelet in the $10,000 buy-in Pot Limit Omaha Championship on June 24, earning $814,436. He also has second-, eighth- and 12th-place finishes. His 12 in-the-money finishes in his World Series of Poker career are worth $2.1 million.
"I felt like I was more prepared and could adapt much quicker than anyone at the table," Lamb said. "I tried to bully the table a bit and I got into some pots I shouldn't have. I was trying to get up to 40 or 50 million in chips, but it didn't work out that way."
Collins, 26, who was supported by more than a dozen friends and backers who often belted out doctored lyrics from the song "In the Air Tonight" by the famous musician with the same name, remained consistent throughout the play Tuesday as the action crossed into Wednesday morning.
"Today went just about how every other day went," Collins said. "I tried not to get too far ahead of myself."
Giannetti, 26, had more of a roller coaster.
When the field, which began play Tuesday with 22 participants, shrank to a 10-handed table at around 10:30 p.m., Giannetti was on the bubble and facing elimination. He doubled-up his chip stack, beating John Hewitt of Costa Rica, with a pair of jacks shortly before 11 p.m.
That move put him, Hewitt and Badih Bounahra of Belize on the bubble for a few hours.
Early Wednesday morning, Giannetti doubled up on Lamb, again with pocket jacks.
Hewitt was eliminated by Ireland's Eoghan O'Dea before 2:30 a.m. and the final nine was set.
"I knew I was putting my tournament life on the line when I went in with jacks, but you can't be afraid to die in tournament poker," Giannetti said. "You have to trust your gut and your instincts."
Other than Lamb, World Series of Poker credentials are short at this year's final table.
O'Dea, whose father Donnachan O'Dea is considered one of Ireland's best poker players, had five total cashes at the World Series of Poker in his career before the Main Event, which was worth $37,516.
Staszko cashed in four events this year for a total of $22,875, Giannetti had one cash this year and eight in his career for $205,451, and Collins has cashed eight times, for $48,769.
Pius Heinz of Germany, the seventh-place finisher, also finished seventh in a $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold'em event earlier this year, winning $83,286.
World Series of Poker Executive Director Ty Stewart said he wasn't surprised by the international mix at the final table.
Non-U.S. players made up 33 percent of the total Main Event field, covering some 85 nations. The result was the largest percentage of international-based players in World Series of Poker history.
"It's a true globalization of the game and there may be a power shift going on," Stewart said, adding that two of the past three World Series of Poker Main Event champions -- Jonathan Duhamel (Canada) in 2010 and Peter Eastgate (Denmark) in 2008 -- came from outside the United States.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.