The Amazon Room in the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino is a ghost of its former self. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, all that was left were the shells of dismantled tables, the odd service staff and a few lonely reporters hacking away at their keyboards. The main event of the World Series of Poker is over … for now.
Now, the real fun begins. When the WSOP announced this year that the final table of the main event would be delayed by four months in order to heighten anticipation of the event's finale, the debate began on whether this would be good for the game. Now that the nine men -- the November Nine -- who will be the focus of this new schedule have been decided, the debate will begin again.
Who will benefit the most? Who will be hurt? Who among the nine will have the most television exposure leading up to their date with destiny? Will anyone be hindered by that exposure? Finally, of course, who will win? These are the questions we'll be looking to answer over the next four months. In the meantime, it's time to get to know your November Nine.
Ivan Demidov: In a year in which the Russian playing community emerged as a collective force on the world's poker landscape, Demidov was the last man standing from his country.
"The poker scene is growing fast from past years," he said. "There are a lot of good cash games. There's more money in Russian poker now, so more players can afford to make the trip. We had like 40 Russian players here this year."
Demidov admitted near the end of Day 7 that he was playing on fumes. "The money is life-changing," he said. "I'm just too tired to appreciate it. I'm not thinking about the prize now. It's very important to make it to the final table … it isn't just about the money."
Peter Eastgate: The youngest player remaining in the field, Eastgate is a full-time poker player who spends the majority of his table time online. The Denmark native chose to forego satellites, buying in for the full $10,000.
"I came here because I wanted to try the World Series of Poker," he said. "I'd seen it on television and heard so many players talk about it. It seemed too good to miss." That appraisal was apparently dead on.
Kelly Kim: Kim has to be thankful just to be a part of the November Nine. The former Toshiba employee was the short stack in the closing minutes. He was grateful to have survived the trial.
"It's the biggest jump in prize money, plus the sites are offering a lot of stuff," he said. "My first passion has always been poker. On my third year in college, poker became my part-time job. Even when I worked at Toshiba, I played like 20 hours a week."
Kim, a mixed-game player, starts with the small stack and seems to be the most likely beneficiary of the November Nine development, because all the players will get four months' worth of media exposure and the benefits that come with it.
Craig Marquis: Marquis can be judged in part by the company he keeps. The 23-year-old is a good friend of online stars Tom "Durrrr" Dwan and David "Raptor" Benefield. When asked if they would function as coaches, friends or fans, he answered: "All three, I think." After getting lucky in a critical hand at the final table bubble, Marquis is thrilled to be among the final nine.
Marquis spoke to Andrew Feldman on the Poker Edge podcast and noted that his plan was to be aggressive at the bubble -- something that almost cost him.
Scott Montgomery: A professional poker player whose past jobs have included a teaching stint in Japan, Montgomery has been playing for a living for almost five years now. Some poker players clamor for the spotlight, but he isn't one of them.
"There's a lot of publicity and I'm a pretty private guy, but that's just something you have to deal with," the 26-year-old Canadian said. "Still, it's exciting to be a part of history. I never thought in my whole life I'd get to play at the final table, and first try, here I am! If you're going to be a professional poker player, this has got to be your goal. I want to be the first Canadian to win the world championship."
Dennis Phillips: An admitted fan of the game, Phillips says he drives his friends nuts talking about poker on television.
"It's been a dream ride the whole way," Phillips said in the late stages of Tuesday morning's play. "I love cards. I have all my life. I found no-limit poker around five years ago, got into tournaments and had a lot of success at it. I played a $200 buy-in satellite, winner take all. I won it and got the seat and $2,800. That got me the airfare and everything else, so I'm freerolling the whole way. I get here, sit down with the stars, they all sign my hat and I get to the final table. My God, what more could I ask for?"
David "Chino" Rheem: To poker insiders, Rheem is the most established professional heading to the final table of the 2008 WSOP. A bracelet event runner-up in 2006 and a final table finisher in this year's $5,000 mixed hold 'em event, Rheem doesn't think his experience will give him a major advantage.
"Hopefully, my experience is an advantage," he said. "It seems like a few of these guys were nervous. Hopefully, I can use all the tournaments I've played to my advantage to help me win. These guys know what's going on, though. No one's going to mess around, no one's going to get out of line. I mean, there were a couple of hands that were questionably played, but these guys all wanted to make it, they're all good players. It's not going to be easy to win this tournament.
"Is this my arrival? I mean, I'd arrived, but I guess I've officially arrived now."
Ylon Schwartz: Schwartz is a true rags-to-riches story. For 12 years, the 38-year-old Schwartz eked out a living playing chess on the streets of New York. It was eight years ago when he was introduced to poker.
"It was an easy transition. A friend took me to a club and I started with $200," he said. "By the end of the weekend, I had $12,000."
In the eight years since, he's been making a successful living off of poker, with his résumé including 11 WSOP cashes prior to this one.
Darus Suharto: Suharto is an amateur living the dream, but only for a few days.
"I have a job, so I have to keep working," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do to prepare for the final table yet."
An accountant by trade, Darus admits that makes him a mathematically inclined player by default and hopes that will be enough to pull him through.
"A bond could form here. I have a couple of good friends here already, like Dennis [Phillips] and Chino [Rheem]. It's going to be fun to be a part of this with these guys," he said.
Ladies and gentlemen, your November Nine.
Gary Wise will cover the WSOP in its entirety for ESPN.com and in his blog at wisehandpoker.net.