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Wednesday, July 6, 2011
A final table of legends and rising stars


Forget the previous 53 events. Forget the drama and determination of players around the world who have given their all over the past five weeks for their chance at World Series of Poker history. Forget the champions from this Series and their accomplishments that have made them stand out from the crowd. Finally, forget the fact that the WSOP main event begins on Thursday and that for the next two weeks, the quest for millions and international glory will be at stake.

For one day, it's time to focus on the here and now; it's time to focus on the final table of Event 54, the $50,000 Poker Players' Championship.

Nine players remain to vie for the most prestigious bracelet of them all. It may not carry with it the title of main event champion, but if you're a poker player by trade, this is the title that matters. It sets you above the rest and screams to the rest of the world that your talent extends far beyond no-limit hold 'em. These nine players have a chance to become part of history and join a brotherhood of five (Chip Reese, Scotty Nguyen, David Bach, Michael Mizrachi and Freddy Deeb) who have previously captured the elite honor of being champion of the $50,000 event.

The unofficial final table of nine will begin at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN3.com. Each of the players remaining has a story, but one stands out among the rest.

Phil Hellmuth is at his third final table of the 2011 WSOP, and it's strange to say when relating to a guy with 11 WSOP bracelets, but the all-time leader in that category is looking for a little bit of redemption. It's clear to see that I'd be relating to this aspect after his previous twin runner-up finishes in Event 16 and Event 33, but really, I'm talking about Hellmuth earning redemption on a larger scale -- with poker fans everywhere.

It's often said, and I'll admit even saying it at some point, that Hellmuth is the best tournament no-limit hold 'em player in the world. He's been referred to as a no-limit hold 'em expert and not much else, despite all that he's accomplished. Other players have laughed at the idea of Hellmuth even coming close to winning another bracelet … let alone in a game other than no-limit hold 'em. He may have already won over some nonbelievers with the earlier final tables, and if they don't give the respect now after making this final table, I'm not sure what it would take for them to be convinced. If he wins the bracelet, there really is nothing left to be said on the topic. Hands down, Hellmuth can do it all, and his fifth cash of the Series can become his most prized one yet.

Hellmuth will enter the nine-handed unofficial final table (eight is the official final table in this event) in fifth place. His comment on Twitter after making it to Day 5 was simply repeating "12" a dozen times.

The other eight players share a bond to have made it this far. Three of them are also looking to do what nobody else has done this summer: win two bracelets.

Owais Ahmed, Brian Rast and Ben Lamb have all earned a victory already at the '11 WSOP. Out of this group, Rast sits in second place, Ahmed in sixth and Lamb in seventh. It's incredible to see three previous champions make it to the final day of this event, and this accomplishment alone is what has set them apart from all the other winners this summer.

Lamb's appearance here is also significant as he is currently the leader in the Player of the Year race. His edge over Hellmuth (fourth) is irrelevant at this point as the points multiplier for the $50,000 event is a large one, meaning that if the two are separated by even a few spots, there could be significant changes in the standings. The race is far from over regardless of today's finishes, as the seven events at WSOP Europe are included in the 2011 formula.

The hype may deservingly be focused on these four players, but there's no discounting chip leader Minh Ly and his 5.2 million in chips, nearly double the stack of Rast in second place. Ly has been playing poker for decades and while he's notched significant tournament victories, including a WPT title in 2005, he's more often found at the cash games. He has $2.8 million in lifetime live earnings and 12 WSOP cashes, but no WSOP bracelet. Given his chip lead and veteran experience in these high-pressure spots, Ly has a major edge entering the final table.

Matt Glantz occupies third place and, in my mind, it's no surprise that the mixed-game genius has made his way back to the $50,000 final table. In 2008, Glantz took fourth in this event after finishing third in the eight-game event earlier that summer. He's often found on the felts in Atlantic City playing in whatever high-stakes game that might be offered, and after 19 WSOP cashes, he's earned nearly $1.6 million on poker's biggest stage.

The downside for Glantz is that at the final table, the game switches to no-limit hold 'em. There's no questioning he's one of the best mixed-game players in the world, and I'm not saying he's a slouch in the no-limit game at all, but if the action remained mixed, I would've felt that given his chip position, he would've had a huge edge. Glantz has a ton of experience in the no-limit game, and a lot of success, including a second-place in a $3,000 no-limit WSOP event and a third-place finish at the 2007 U.S. Poker Championships. This is Glantz's fifth WSOP cash of the 2011 Series.

After a second-place finish in the $10,000 Omaha high-low split world championship, George Lind, who is perhaps one of the online game's all-time biggest winners, enters the final table in fourth place. Lind's seemingly endless online experience (as Jorj95) may provide him an edge at this final table, and he proved on Day 4 that he can battle back from any chip deficit. With 11 players to go, Lind was basically down to the felt, but the last level of play proved to be highly profitable as he maneuvered his way up toward the top thanks to some key hands in triple draw.

More proof of the caliber of this final table can be found in the two bracelet winners who occupy eighth and ninth place. Jason Lester won his only bracelet in a pot-limit hold 'em event in 2006. He's made the WSOP final table and cashed in the main event in each of the last four years and six times in the last 10. For more than two decades, he's quietly occupied a seat at the WSOP's tables and consistently impresses even the game's best.

2011 World Poker Tour Champion Scott Seiver is the short stack. Since winning his first bracelet in 2008, Seiver has cashed nine times, three in 2011. Still in his mid-20s, the high-stakes superstar consistently competes against the game's best, and his appearance at this final table is anything but surprising. If he made the great comeback and won this event, he'd secure the titles of two of poker's biggest majors of the year.

So for one more day, keep focused on the present and the nine players and superstars of the game who can cement their legacy with one day of incredible poker. Of course, in addition to the honor of being the Players' Champion, there's a ton of money on the line. Here's what's up for grabs for the final nine in Event 54:

1. $1,720,328
2. $1,063,034
3. $665,763
4. $482,085
5. $376,750
6. $300,441
7. $243,978
8. $201,338
9. $168,529