Editor's note: You can find out more about each of these players in our main event recap. Podcasts, videos, columns, chats and more are available for each of the November Nine. You can also read Andrew Feldman's predictions here.
"Stay in touch. I look forward to a Gary Wise November Nine prediction column." -- Jamie Horowitz.
Jamie Horowitz is one of the most established men in the televised poker industry, and I'm not just saying that because he's a big boss here at ESPN. Horowitz is the senior producer of recent World Series of Poker broadcasts and produced the inaugural National Heads-Up Poker Championship on NBC, so when he's interested in hearing your predictions, it's a nice compliment. It's also a little nerve-racking.
There's so much that can go awry with predictions, especially with a televised poker tournament. You never quite know how the players will react to the pressures provided by the lights and the cameras. Oh, and the bracelet, the world championship title, ambassadorship of an industry and $9.1 million. That's the kind of pressure that can turn the best player into Jell-O come decision time. Throw in the unpredictability of a deck of cards and a million things can go wrong.
With that in mind, you can only take so much stock in what you're about to read. If you take my pick for our eventual world champion as gospel, put your house on it and come out of the deal with only a cardboard box to live in, I don't want to hear about it. Granted, over the past few months, I've spoken to a lot of pretty savvy poker people about the nine men left standing. I've interviewed most of the nine extensively and spent far too much time pondering the possible results, so with that experience in tow and Horowitz's eyes watching this space, I think I've got to take a crack.
Here, then, are my predictions for how things will play out over the next few days. As you'll see, there's logic to these picks, but logic doesn't always hold out. I'll be especially interested to see how your logic plays out in the comments section.
Ninth place: Kelly Kim ($2.6 million)
That Kim made it this far is pretty remarkable, outlasting Dean Hamrick for that enormously valuable seat at the final table, but this has to be where it ends. With the starting blinds $120,000/$240,000, Kim's going to have to look to double up fast. If he pulls it off, he'll have to do it again just as quickly. It's just too likely he'll get busted on one of those attempts to predict he'll finish anywhere else.
Eighth place: Craig Marquis ($10.2 million)
This isn't a condemnation of Marquis, whom many online pros are calling the best player at the table. Rather, it's a reflection on the risks he's willing to take. On the first hand of 10-handed play, when the conventional wisdom was that everyone would tighten up because of the equity difference between the bubble and a spot in November, Marquis raised with J-5 off-suit, then re-reraised when Ylon Schwartz took it up a level. Marquis has shown he's capable of risking his tournament life. With that attitude in tow and a short stack (thanks in large part to the Schwartz hand) an early exit is more than a little plausible. So is a run at the whole thing.
Seventh place: Scott Montgomery ($19.7 million)
Montgomery comes in third in chips, so this prediction is obviously based on more than just chip counts. He has admitted that his crash and burn earlier this year at the LAPC -- another high-profile, $10,000 buy-in final table appearance -- came as a result of nerves. He has admitted that if he had things his way, the final table would have been played in July, because the wait only adds to the pressure. At no other time will nerves be a bigger factor than on Sunday.
Sixth place: Chino Rheem ($10.2 million)
Rheem's either going home early or very, very late, depending on whether he's feeling the moment. One of the table's more experienced competitors, that hasn't stopped him from putting together poor showings under the attention of ESPN cameras in the past. He'll be the first to admit he didn't play as well as he'd have liked in his two previous WSOP final tables. If he can turn it around, he could put together a run at the title. One thing's for sure: He won't be afraid to gamble.
Fifth place: Darus Suharto ($12.5 million)
I don't know if Suharto is actually going to get blinded off at this point, but he's certainly got the tightest reputation at the table by a long shot. An accountant by trade, it's unlikely he'll be taking many risks. I'm looking for his stack to dwindle slowly throughout the day before he's finally forced to make a move.
Fourth place: Peter Eastgate ($18.4 million)
Much has been made of Eastgate's age and his potential to break Phil Hellmuth's record for youngest champion ever. It's possible that will work in his favor -- naiveté may well protect him from the pressures of the final table. I expect the mathematical Dane to hold to form. He comes in fourth in chips, and I expect he'll go out close to the same. If my Montgomery prediction holds true, I figure Eastgate won't move up because a superlative effort by Marquis, Rheem or Schwartz will cause that player to pass Eastgate on the way up.
Third place: Ylon Schwartz ($12.5 million)
Schwartz and Rheem could easily be swapped in this prediction. They're both long-tenured veterans of the professional game who have seen the life get the better of them in the past, who travel in professional circles and who have shown remarkable talent along with gamble. Schwartz is a little older and perhaps a little wiser, so he may be slightly better equipped to find his moment and make a run. While Schwartz has a reputation for being a little crazy, it's reflected more in his person than his game. He'll withstand the impulse to mix it up early and will find a way to make it to the late stages.
Second place: Ivan Demidov ($24.4 million)
The Russian proved to the world that his emergence in Vegas and his stack size were no fluke with a remarkable performance at WSOP Europe, which included a third-place finish in the main event. Indeed, it took a Herculean effort by John Juanda to outlast him, and even then he seems to be seeing the ball incredibly well. Demidov's going deep at this table; the only question is whether he'll go deeper than this. I fully expect him to be considered the favorite going in, if not by the majority, than by the largest minority.
World champion: Dennis Phillips ($26.3 million)
I have to admit this isn't the most analytical choice. I've heard it said that no one was hurt more by the four-month break in play (though you'll be hard-pressed to convince me Montgomery wasn't hurt more) and Dennis is far from the most experienced tournament player in the field. But you know what? The man has ice water running through his veins. As the tournament worked its way toward the final nine, he was playing like a man possessed, combining aggression, strong reads, poise and excellence. Ultimately, that resulted in his chip lead.
In the time since, Phillips has carried himself like a champion, not in a presumptuous way, but with a manner that says he's confident in himself and appreciates the circumstances he finds himself in without getting giddy about it. He loves the game, both playing and watching, and knows full well what winning would mean, but the adrenaline hasn't gotten to him. He has remained cool and calm under the building pressure amid the 150-some interviews he's granted. He's ready for this moment and embraces the responsibility of it. He walks the walk of a champion. Call this a gut feeling. Of course, my gut didn't warn me about Jerry Yang.
Is this wishful thinking? Maybe. Phillips looks like the best potential champion from an ambassadorship standpoint, the kind of factor that can affect any pundit's judgment, and I'm not immune. Heck, I'm downright fallible, but then again, so are you. Prove it. Make some bad predictions in the comments section. Then we can all have some fun making fun of one another's mistakes when it's all said and done. That's what makes watching it so much fun in the first place. Well, that and the money. Enjoy the show; we'll talk when it's all over.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. You can read more of his thoughts on poker in his blog at www.wisehandpoker.net.