- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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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.