DARVIN MOON * 1ST PLACE * 58.9 MILLION IN CHIPS
Hometown: Oakland, Md.
Background: A logger from rural Maryland, Moon qualified for the main event by winning a satellite game at a West Virginia casino. He had never been on a commercial jet airplane, let alone visited Las Vegas, when he came in July.
Poker Experience: Other than the $140 entry fee tournament in West Virginia, Moon’s game has been confined to the local Elks Lodge and the kitchen table.
How he ended up at the final table: Moon was in the top 10 for much of final three qualifying days. "Something is helping me. I’m just getting great cards."
Preparation for Main Event: Moon took off on Oct. 7 for a three-week mule deer hunting trip in Wyoming.
Quote: "I ain’t no different than you or anybody else," Moon told The Washington Post. "People are driving me crazy with their questions. My favorite one is, ‘What’d you do with your money?’ My favorite answer is, ‘What’d you do with your paycheck last week?’ "
ESPN Poker analyst Norman Chad says: "Can a logger emerge out of the woods of western Maryland, strike gold in Sin City and then submerge himself back into the woods of western Maryland? If he wins, it’s the stuff of storybooks."
ERIC BUCHMAN * 2ND PLACE * 34.8 MILLION IN CHIPS
Hometown: Hewlett, N.Y.
Background: Buchman earned a bachelor’s degree from State University of New York, Albany, but never joined the work force, deciding he could be more successful at poker.
Poker Experience: Buchman has played tournament poker since 2002 and cashed nine times at the World Series of Poker, including twice this year. He has also shown success on the World Poker Tour. Buchman has nearly $1 million in career tournament earnings going into the final table.
How he ended up at the final table: Buchman’s best day was the final day of qualifying. He began the day eighth in chips and found himself in second after 12 hours of play. "I played a lot of good hands and didn’t make many mistakes."
Preparation for Main Event: Buchman didn’t hire a coach and has been playing competitively to remain active. He went to Europe, played on the World Poker Tour and various cash games.
Quote: "I’ve been ready to play since July. My strategy is to win. Obviously, I really like the position I’m sitting, but I know anything can happen."
ESPN Poker analyst Norman Chad says: "Not an intimidating table presence, but his reads and instincts are sharp and, with plenty of chips, the New York pro won’t do anything outlandish to lose them."
STEVE BEGLEITER * 3RD PLACE * 29.9 MILLION IN CHIPS
Hometown: Chappaqua, N.Y.
Background: Begleiter spent 24 years at Bear Stearns, where he was a member of the investment bank’s management and compensation committee. He was with the Wall Street firm when it collapsed in March 2008. He is now a partner in Flexpoint Ford, a private equity firm.
Poker Experience: Begleiter played in the Main Event in 2008 but busted out on Day 3. In August, he finished ninth in a tournament at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, winning $39,240. Begleiter took first in his hometown poker league to pay his WSOP entry. A percentage of his winnings will be divided among the players in that game.
How he ended up at the final table: Begleiter said key hands on Days 2 and 5 put him in the top 10. But on Day 1 Begleiter was saved by a hand he didn’t play. He folded pocket kings preflop on the fifth bet. His opponent had pocket aces.
Preparation for Main Event: Begleiter traveled to Europe after qualifying for the final table for a planned vacation with his family. After playing the tournament in Los Angeles, he went back to work.
Quote: "It’s going to be a long, tough final table. Nine guys want the bracelet and most are more experienced than me. I’m a competitive person and will play the best I can."
ESPN Poker analyst Norman Chad says: "From his final days at Bear Stearns to the final table here, it’s been an odyssey for the 47-year-old amateur. He might have more gamble in him than anyone left — he won’t shy away from mixing it up."
JEFF SCHULMAN * 4TH PLACE * 19.6 MILLION IN CHIPS
Hometown: Las Vegas
Background: Shulman is the editor of Card Player magazine, which he publishes with his father, Barry. A native of Seattle, he graduated from the University of Washington and invested in real estate before moving to Las Vegas.
Poker Experience: Shulman has participated in tournament poker since 2000, with more than $2.5 million in career winnings. At the 2000 World Series of Poker Main Event, Shulman reached the final table and finished seventh, winning $146,700.
How he ended up at the final table: Shulman said he never thought he played his best poker while qualifying for the final table. Shulman said he often would pick up a good hand after making a "disastrous call."
Preparation for Main Event: Shulman had to take some time away from the game when his wife gave birth to a daughter. He hired 11-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and 1989 champion Phil Hellmuth as his coach. Meanwhile, Shulman’s father won the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event in October.
Quote: "I’m just going to keep playing a patient game, pick up a hand and hope it holds up."
ESPN Poker analyst Norman Chad says: "Until now, Shulman has avoided big pots and played stay-out-of-harm’s-way poker. He likely will continue to avoid the big misstep, unless he’s already made one hiring Phil Hellmuth as his coach."
JOSEPH CADA * 5TH PLACE * 13.2 MILLION IN CHIPS
Hometown: Shelby Township, Mich.
Background: With a victory, Cada would eclipse Peter Eastgate, who was 22 when he won the title last year, as the tournament’s youngest-ever champion. Cada will turn 22 on Nov. 18. He spent three semesters in college before venturing onto the poker circuit.
Poker Experience: Cada said he’s won about $500,000 playing online. He played in 16 World Series of Poker events this year, cashing in two no-limit hold ’em events, winning $6,681 in one and $21,533 in the other.
How he ended up at the final table: Cada was short-stacked on Day 8, but after a big run-up, he built his chip stack to a point where he moved into contention. "I didn’t do anything that would get me in trouble."
Preparation for Main Event: He hasn’t hired a coach and Cada said he’s picked up a few pointers watching the taped Main Event coverage on ESPN. He’s been playing online.
Quote: "I’m kind of below average with my chip stack, but I just need to ignore that. I’m just going to play my game, stay focused and tune out everything going on around me."
ESPN Poker analyst Norman Chad says: "He’s even-keeled and selectively aggressive, sort of like last year’s champion."
KEVIN SCHAFFEL * 6TH PLACE * 12.4 MILLION IN CHIPS
Hometown: Coral Springs, Fla.
Background: Schaffel owned a operated a family printing company for 30 years and considers himself "semiretired" after closing the business. Having played poker since his childhood, he decided to try to make a living at the game.
Poker Experience: Schaffel has cashed in several tournaments since 2007. In 2004, he took home $60,000 for 42nd place at the World Series of Poker’s Main Event. After qualifying for the final table in July, Schaffel finished second at the World Poker Tour’s Legends of Poker Main event, winning $471,670.
How he ended up at the final table: Schaffel said, "It was the strangest tournament I’ve ever been in." He was in the top 5 percent of the field every day without any big swings in either direction. He said the last day was his worst of the tournament. He won a few hands toward the end that solidified his position.
Preparation for Main Event: Besides playing in the World Poker Tour event, Schaffel played in the World Series of Poker Europe. He didn’t hire a coach.
Quote: "It’s going to take a lucky run of cards to win this. Short-stacked or big-stacked, everybody here knows what they are doing,"
ESPN Poker analyst Norman Chad says: "At first glance the affable amateur is outclassed by this group. But then how do you explain that this is the third time in six years he’s cashed in massive Main Event fields?"
PHIL IVEY * 7TH PLACE * 9.8 MILLION IN CHIPS
Hometown: Las Vegas
Background: Ivey grew up in New Jersey and dreamed of becoming a poker player. He carried a fake ID with the name "Jerome," that he used in Atlantic City casinos. One of his poker nicknames is "No Home Jerome."
Poker Experience: Easily the most recognized name at the final table. Ivey has won almost $10 million in tournament poker since 2000. He owns seven World Series of Poker individual event champion bracelets, including two earned in this year’s tournament. A win at the Main Event would cement Ivey’s reputation as the game’s best player.
How he ended up at the final table: Ivey almost didn’t make it to the final table, going from fourth place to 10th in chips on the final qualifying day. "I lost every hand I played," he said. "I got knocked down quickly and just grinded my way back."
Preparation for Main Event: Ivey recently took an ESPN reporter on four-day gambling spree to Foxwoods in Connecticut, Montreal and Amsterdam.
Quote: "Everyone dreams of winning the Main Event; anyone who plays poker and tells you differently is lying," Ivey told ESPN The Magazine. "It would by far be my biggest accomplishment in poker."
ESPN Poker analyst Norman Chad says: "Can the game’s greatest player navigate a field of 6,494 to win the game’s greatest event? Yes. He’s Phil Ivey, short of stack but long on skill, and in his prime."
ANTOINE SAOUT * 8TH PLACE * 9.5 MILLION IN CHIPS
Hometown: St. Martin des Champs, France
Background: One of just two non-Americans at the final table, Saout has been playing poker for less than two years and this is the first time he ever competed in the Main Event. He won his entry to the tournament through an online satellite event.
Poker Experience: Saout has tournament winnings from events in Europe, including France, Spain and Morocco. In September, he made the final table at the World Series of Poker Europe in London, finishing seventh and winning $188,318.
How he ended up at the final table: Saout didn’t make many big moves that drew attention to his play. He just slowly climbed up the leader board. "I do not think I ever saw it coming, at least not in the beginning. I took it all day by day."
Preparation for Main Event: Played online and in several tournaments, including the World Series Poker Europe.
Quote: "I am second-to-last in chips, but still have 35 big blinds, which I think is definitely enough to play," he told Poker Daily News. "Furthermore, I have a lot of experience in sit-and-go tournaments, which will help me a lot."
ESPN Poker analyst Norman Chad says: "He’s an engineering school dropout who only took up poker seriously a couple of years ago and can become the first Frenchman to win the Main Event. Only in America."
JAMES AKENHEAD * 9TH PLACE * 6.8 MILLION IN CHIPS
Hometown: London, England
Background: A train driver in London, Akenhead was playing online poker and made more money in one night than his entire year’s salary. He immediately turned professional. He and Frenchman Antoine Saout are the only two non-Americans at the final table.
Poker Experience: With ninth place guaranteed $1.263 million, Akenhead will more than double his career tournament poker winnings. He made the final table for this year’s World Series of Poker Europe Main Event, finishing ninth and winning $105,070. Akenhead’s largest tournament payday was at the World Series of Poker in 2008 when he placed second in a no-limit hold ’em event and won $520,219.
How he ended up at the final table: Akenhead lost three-quarters of his chip stack on the final day and was down to 2.5 million. A few hands later he was dealt K-Q, went all in against pocket aces, but flopped two pair to reach the final nine.
Preparation for Main Event: "I’ll wake up, have breakfast, and play maybe four hours online. I go to the gym. I play a lot of tennis. In the evening, I’ll go to the casino and play cash games."
Quote: "My poker mates and I discuss hands and go over strategy. We live together, so we discuss a lot of poker strategy."
ESPN Poker analyst Norman Chad says: "The good news for him is that he’s level-headed; the bad news is that he’s short-stacked. He’ll need some luck early for any chance to be around late."WORLD SERIES OF POKER
Noon, Saturday, Nov. 7
Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio
Final two play at 10 p.m., Monday, Nov. 9