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November Nine

Eric Buchman likes his position going into the final table Saturday at the World Series of Poker’s Main Event.

The 29-year-old New York poker professional is second in chips, about 24.1 million behind Maryland logger Darvin Moon and 4.9 million ahead of Wall Street investment banker Steve Begleiter.

It’s the player sitting in seventh place that worries him.

Phil Ivey, considered to be one of the best poker players in the world, is lurking. The seven-time World Series of Poker individual event bracelet winner — including two victories this year — is short-stacked with 9.8 million in chips.

But that doesn’t matter to his opponents.

"He’s always a threat, and if he doubles up, he becomes a major threat to win," said Buchman, a tournament player since 2002 who has cashed nine times at the World Series of Poker, including twice this year. "You don’t want to get involved with him early unless you have a really good hand."

When the nine players return to the Rio after a nearly four-month layoff to play out the final rounds of the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold ’em world championship, the focus will be on Ivey, who has won almost $10 million in tournament poker and countless millions in cash games.

A few years ago, Ivey won $16.6 million from banker Andy Beal in a three-day heads-up match at the Bellagio that was documented in Michael Craig’s book, "The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King." This week, Ivey is the subject of a cover story in ESPN The Magazine.

So it’s not surprising the other eight final table players are keeping an eye on the 32-year-old Las Vegas resident.

"Winning this would be a life-changing event," Jeff Shulman, editor of Card Player magazine, said of the $8.5 million that will be earned by the winner. Shulman is fourth in chip count with 19.6 million. "It may not be life-changing to Phil, but I’m sure he wants to win this just as much as everyone at the table. Phil is short-stacked and doesn’t have room to make many mistakes."

The top four players at the final table control almost 75 percent of the chips, which means the bottom-tier players may have to make some early moves.

The nine players will compete until two remain. The final two players come back to the Rio’s Penn & Teller Theater at 10 p.m. on Monday and play until a winner is determined.

Kevin Schaffel, who at 51 is the oldest player in the final nine, said the table is a mixed bag of experience.

"Short stacked or big stacked, everybody here knows what they are doing," said Schaffel, of Coral Springs, Fla. He is in sixth place with 12.4 million in chips. "It’s going to take a lucky run of cards over the weekend."

Shulman, 34, who lives in Las Vegas, probably has more tournament experience than any finalist other than Ivey. Watching the replays of the run-up to the final table on ESPN helped Shulman assess his competition. The play of Moon, 45, who lives in a rural town of 2,000 residents and comes off as a cross between Forrest Gump and Gomer Pyle, has impressed Shulman.

"Honestly, Darvin seems to be doing everything right," Shulman said. "From what I’ve seen, he’s getting people to move in on hands and keeping pressure on other players."

The break between July 15 and Saturday was handled differently by every player. Some traveled to London to play in the World Series of Poker Europe; others joined the World Poker Tour.

At least two players hired coaches, notably Shulman, who brought in 11-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth.

Begleiter, 47, went back to work at the New York-based private equity firm where he is a partner. He expects the final table to be a marathon and the players who are well-rested for what he expects to be a 12- to 15-hour day have the best chances.

"I feel like I’m intruding on their party," said Begleiter, whose tournament poker career pales in comparison to Ivey. "(Phil) is out there, but you just have to play your game."

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

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