Poker: Andoni Larrabe
LAS VEGAS -- Ten million dollars. You can probably hear Dr. Evil saying it right now.
One of the nine players remaining in the World Series of Poker main event is going to have the good kind of financial problems in just a few days. The November Nine have waited nearly four months to take their shot and on Monday night, the planning and practicing will conclude and the lights in the Penn and Teller Theater will shine down on the group of next poker superstars. One of them will walk away with $10 million.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unless your name is Mark Newhouse.
For the second year in a row, Newhouse will take his seat on the stage, achieving a remarkable feat that many never believed would (A) ever happen and (B) ever happen in back-to-back years. The situation this time around is far different from the professional poker player who emerged onto the scene in 2006.
As the short stack in 2013, many expected Newhouse to fall first. He did. It was devastating to someone who needed to ladder up and earn some extra cash. It was devastating for someone who felt that he would finally leave the daily grind with a higher finish. Most of all, it was devastating for a player who waited all that time to simply finish ninth. He called it the worst place to finish emotionally. Again that’s ninth out of 6,352.
Newhouse has already outlasted 6,674 players this year and spent his hiatus thinking about anything but poker. This past week he was in Hawaii trying to stay away from it all. He brings in a third-place stack and the one thing nobody else has, or probably ever will have: experience at the WSOP main event final table.
“Newhouse's experience, I think, will help him come tomorrow,” said 2013 WSOP champion Ryan Riess, who played against Newhouse a year ago. “He has a stack, he has shown to be fearless, and he has been here before.”
Another world champion agreed.
“I think he will be the most comfortable and one of, if not, the most confident,” 2012 champ Greg Merson said. “I'd be more than happy to welcome him into the fraternity.”
On Sunday, Newhouse looked as relaxed as he could be. Even meetings and instructions from the production crew were a repeat for him. He sat and listened while the others learned.
Can the comfort level and experience be enough to overcome seven other players with lifelong passions for the game and one unpredictable foosball champion?
Here are the eight other players, in order of chip count, who are looking to become the next world champion:
Jorryt van Hoof: The Dutch poker superstar may not have any sponsors, but he will have the chip lead going into the night. He’s an expert in both no-limit and pot-limit Omaha and has been working with Jared Tendler on building a stronger mindset over the past few years. His passion for the game may be unrivaled by anyone else at this final table and it’s unlikely that anyone has put in more time to prepare for Monday’s events.
Felix Stephensen: The former soccer player is a pot-Omaha expert like van Hoof, but decided to only play one WSOP event this summer. You already know how that ended. He’s an online champion with tens of thousands of hands under his belt and can completely change the face of the game in Norway if he’s able to come through.
Andoni Larrabe: If staying out of the media spotlight was the game plan for Larrabe during the hiatus, he achieved it with flying colors. The youngest player at the final table has two cashes on the Estrellas Poker Tour since making the final table. He has live and online titles, and is looking to continue the trend of sub-25 poker champions. He’ll be wearing the Athletic Bilbao jersey on Monday night, trying to recreate the jersey magic that landed Riess in the winner’s circle. He said on Sunday that with his friends and family in town, he's finally feeling the excitement.
Dan Sindelar: The World Series of Poker is the place where players try to make their mark. For Sindelar, his journey since 2008 has left him with many cashes, but until this event, no final tables. The Vegas local left the University of Nebraska to pursue the game and is a few eliminations away from getting all he’s ever wanted.
William Pappaconstantinou: Meet the ultimate wild card of this final table. Instead of preparing, the foosball world champion played foosball. He’s an amateur who plays for the fun of the game and enjoys dealing at a local casino for the same reasons. He’s a main event first timer by sheer surprise. His outgoing personality will shine on TV and serve as a reminder that in poker, anyone can win.
Will Tonking: The New Jersey native left college with a degree in economics and a passion for counting chips. Tonking won’t be rattled under the lights after going through one of the most stressful moments imaginable, but he will take all his cash game experience and try to turn his seventh-place stack into a WSOP bracelet.
Martin Jacobson: The problem with calling Jacobson or Bruno Politano the short stacks is that they aren’t really that short at all. Jacobson has experience in high-pressure situations and may surprise many with early aggressive play that could bring his stack back to the middle of the pack. He had two live cashes during the hiatus and is the leader in tournament earnings ($5.5 million) out of this group.
Bruno Politano: Who’s ready for a party? Politano’s rail will be the craziest we’ve ever seen as the entire country is behind their newest celebrity. Politano has a film crew covering his every move here in Vegas, a mere symbol of how infatuated his country has come with this opportunity. Poker is booming in Brazil and a win for Politano would somehow make the game even bigger. Always with a smile on his face, Politano is guaranteed to have a blast regardless of the outcome over the next few days.
The nine players were all together on Sunday night in the Palazzo Suites at the Rio. As they watched the final two hours of the WSOP main event coverage, they shared a few laughs, a few jabs at each other and some shocked faces as hands were revealed. As the bubble burst every single one of them had a smile on his face.
The hiatus is officially over. Now it’s time to go back to work.Coverage of Monday’s action will begin “live” on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET (“live” due to the 30-minute delay necessarily put in place to preserve the integrity of the game). Play will continue until only two remain and coverage of heads-up play will begin at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday on ESPN.
"I'm looking forward to not finishing ninth," Newhouse joked on the Poker Edge after making the final table. "Ninth is brutal, man. Coming back four months later and getting no money. I told myself I wouldn't be disappointed, and whatever happens happens, but it was very, very disappointing. ... Anything but ninth."
Newhouse's road back was extremely different from his journey a year ago. For most of Day 7 in 2013, Newhouse was the short stack and did everything possible to squeeze in. He entered the final 10 last year with just six big blinds and doubled up at the last possible second to keep his dreams alive. This year, he was active late and made a big call against Craig McCorkell with 13 players to go to keep him comfortable when the final 10 approached. On that bubble he remained active and ultimately knocked out two-time bracelet winner Luis Velador in 10th.
"Even though this year getting in is a bigger deal than it was last year, I was really just having fun the entire time," Newhouse said. "Playing poker with not too much pressure, not thinking about it, and I made it."
The day began with the eliminations of many of the familiar faces left in the field: 2014 WSOP bracelet winner Sean Dempsey went out in 27th followed by Brian Roberts (26th), Bryan Devonshire (25th), Kyle Keranen (24th), Leif Force (21st), Dan Smith (20th) and Scott Palmer (19th). Scott Mahin's exit in 18th place resulted in tears from the 47-year-old first-time WSOP participant, who said he was proud to represent his friends and family, both supporting him in Las Vegas and in Elk Point, South Dakota. He earned $347,521 for his first career cash.
Only 16 players were left for the 90-minute dinner break, and Jorryt van Hoof seized control at that point, knocking out his fellow countryman Oscar Kemps (14th) and Eddy Sabat (16th) after a very dramatic river. Felix Stephensen also emerged as a contender at this time after a surprising 24-million chip pot against Tom Serra (15th).
McCorkell, Chris Greaves, Max Senft and Velador went after that, and 27 minutes into Level 35, the November Nine was set.
Here are the players who will compete for the $10 million top prize in November:
"It's been amazing," van Hoof said. "I ran hot and there were a few bubbles that I could make [use out of]. When we were down to 18, I wasn't happy with my table draw, but I won some good hands, got some chips and things went really well from there."
That's an understatement. Van Hoof had the lead for the final two levels and used his stack on the bubble to chip up even more. The best part about van Hoof's placement is that he wasn't planning on playing this summer at all.
"This year Vegas really pulled me," he said after making the final table. "I booked a last-minute flight. I came here a few days before [the main event]. I decided in the moment that I wanted to go to Vegas."
Felix Stephensen (32.775 million in chips) -- The 23-year-old Norwegian pro entered his second WSOP event with a mere $22,118 in live tournament earnings. He left the Rio with much, much more. Stephensen plays pot-limit Omaha cash games online and doesn't travel around the European poker scene because he doesn't like tournaments. That said, he couldn't miss the main.
"I'm feeling pretty good. This is pretty exciting. I don't think I've ever been part of something this major," he said. "When it's so much up top and it's life-changing money, you kind of get tempted to [play in a tournament]. If it works out, it's worth it."
Stephensen made Day 3 of the event in 2013 and said he ran incredibly well to get to this point.
"This is what every poker player dreams about," he said. "This is it."
Mark Newhouse (26.000 million in chips) -- If there's one player you don't need an introduction to, it's Newhouse. The 2013 ninth-place finisher has done the unthinkable and made back-to-back final tables in a post-boom poker world. Newhouse is a WPT champion with experience that no other player at this final table can rival.
"It's a great accomplishment, but I can't comment on greatest anything or stuff like that," he said to Bluff magazine. "I know it's amazing, but I'm never going to say anything like 'greatest' with my name in it. That's all I have to say about that."
Andoni Larrabe (22.550 million in chips) -- Larrabe, 22, now plays the live circuit after spending years grinding the online multitable tournament scene since he was 18 under the alias "pollopopeye." He is the owner of two Spring Championship of Online Poker titles and the winner of the $5,000 event from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in 2013. He has three WSOP cashes, and this will be his first final table.
"I feel pretty excited," he said. "It's a sensation between confusion, because I think I don't realize what I have just done, and excitement and happiness. It's a lot of sensation all at the same time."
The Spanish pro was extremely aggressive on the final table bubble, which was part of his game plan. He didn't want to go into the November Nine as the short stack and put himself back into it with one key double-up against Velador (A-A against Velador's A-K).
"I'm going to approach it as calm as I can," he said of the final table. "There's a lot of time. I'll think about it, but the most important thing will be to go relax."
Dan Sindelar (21.200 million in chips) -- Sindelar is the only Vegas regular at the final table and will be flanked by a number of pros throughout his journey to November. This is his 18th career WSOP cash and his fourth of the summer.
"It's nothing that I've ever felt before," he said. "I'm going to cherish this moment for a very long time. ... This is just going to be a lot of fun."
The Nebraska native moved to Vegas six years ago to pursue the game full time. After Black Friday, he pivoted to play more live cash games and a few tournaments here and there. This was his seventh WSOP main event and first cash.
William Pappaconstantinou (17.500 million in chips) -- "Billy Pappas" is already a world champion ... in foosball. The 29-year-old has loved the game since 2003 and had the opportunity to play in the WSOP for the first time this year. Things couldn't have turned out better, and he's looking to add a poker championship to his collection of numerous foosball titles.
"I'm in shock," he said after making the final table. "I never thought I'd play in this event. It's been my dream, and I've been saying 'this year' or 'next year' for like 10 years, just to play in an event, period. Now I get to play this, and I've never expected this at all."
Pappaconstantinou is the only amateur at the final table. He plans on spending the next few months traveling and relaxing with his friends.
Will Tonking (15.050 million in chips) -- It didn't look good for Tonking when he arrived at the final table bubble, but an early double-up against Martin Jacobson brought the New Jersey native back into contention. Tonking, 27, plays professionally in New Jersey both live and online. He recently hit a $50,000 score on WSOP.com, then came out to Vegas and made the money in the mixed-max event. This is his first main event cash.
"The whole time during it, I was trying to think about not being in this moment and playing poker," he said. "I kept on making myself refer back to the scene in 'Hoosiers' when Gene Hackman took them into the big stadium, the small-town team, put the tape measure up to the rim and down to the floor and said, 'Still 10 feet, gentlemen.'
"It's just poker. I was just playing the hand in front of me, not trying to think about anything else. The game is hard enough. The field is tough enough without letting that stuff bother me."
"It hasn't sunk in yet. It feels surreal right now," Jacobson said. "It's a dream come true to make to the final nine. Once in your lifetime, it's a huge achievement. To still have the dream of becoming the world champion ... yeah."
Jacobson played 27 events during the 2014 WSOP and cashed three times. He's no stranger to high-pressure situations and can often be found in the super-high-roller tournaments around the world. Being involved in that scene will most definitely provide him with a little benefit when it comes to the final table.
"It means so much to everyone to actually make it," he said.
Bruno Politano (12.125 million in chips) -- The man who will have the most vocal crowd in November is a true character on the felt. Before this cash, Politano, 31, had $110,054 in career tournament earnings, including one WSOP cash. He's the first Brazilian to make the WSOP main event final table and, at 31, is going to be a major superstar in his country, which is experiencing a tremendous poker boom at this time.
"I'm very excited," he said. "My dream has come true."
For the entire night, his supporters were singing and dancing in the stands. He encouraged them after big hands and jumped into their arms after making the November Nine.
"My rail is very, very important to me," he said. "Without this, I wouldn't be there. For me, it's everything. It gives me support in that moment. I promise more than 200 people [in November]."
The final nine players return to action Nov. 10. The broadcast of the main event will begin on ESPN on Sept. 28.
Here are the rest of the final table payouts: