Watch the heads-up match live on ESPN starting at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday.
On Monday, the 2013 November Nine reconvened at the Penn and Teller Theater in the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. The remaining nine players were competing for not only $8.3 million for first place but also the most coveted prize in poker: the World Series of Poker main event bracelet.
Heading into the final table, most pundits were expecting at least one of the chip leaders and the only former WSOP bracelet winners, JC Tran and Amir Lehavot, to make it to heads-up play. Others believed that the one of the experienced short stacks, Mark Newhouse and David Benefield, might make history and battle heads-up for the bracelet. Some predicted that Michiel Brummelhuis from the Netherlands or Sylvain Loosli from France would become the first player from their respective countries to win the WSOP main event. More expected Marc McLaughlin would become the second French Canadian to win the WSOP main event in four years.
However, the two players that some analysts were leaving out of the conversation -- Ryan Riess and Jay Farber -- are now heads-up, playing for the most coveted title in poker. These two players eliminated all seven opponents from the action (Riess eliminated four; Farber took out three). Both played a tight-aggressive style, playing about 25 percent of all the hands played while winning about 80 percent of the hands that they entered.
Tonight at 9 ET on ESPN, these 20-something-year-old Americans, both making their first WSOP main event cash, will be the center of the poker universe.
Las Vegas native Farber enters the heads-up battle with 105 million in chips, while his East Lansing, Mich., native opponent Riess has 85.675 million. When the two return to action, the blinds will be 500,000/1 million with a 150,000 ante, as Level 39 began only about 15 minutes earlier. The average stack in heads-up is over 95 big blinds.
Does this sound familiar? Last year, heading into three-handed play, the average stack was 110 big blinds, and they played three-handed for over 11 hours. These players and the poker world should be prepared for a potentially long heads-up battle for the WSOP main event crown. The longest heads-up battle in the WSOP main event occurred in 1983 between Tom McEvoy and Rod Peate and lasted about 7½ hours.
I'm sure both players had a restless night sleep, as they are strategizing how they can be the player holding the WSOP main event bracelet over their head.
Here's what both players should do if they want to win and join the ranks of poker immortality.
Jay Farber: In 2003, an amateur poker player, who was an accountant by trade, shocked the world by capturing the WSOP main event. Norman Chad immortalized the moment by stating that "This is beyond fairy tale. This is inconceivable."
Ten years later, the world of poker has the Moneymaker Factor to thank for its meteoric success. Over the past several years, many young online professionals have comprised the WSOP final tables with impressive poker résumés. However, tonight, another amateur player, whose day job is a VIP nightclub host, is leading the way at the 2013 WSOP final table.
Farber had only $2,155 in career earnings prior to the main event. That stat led most people to write him off as lucky just to be there. But if history has taught us anything, never underestimate the amateur.
Farber enters heads-up play with a slight chip lead, but his true advantage is his experienced rail. Some of the best poker players in the world are giving him advice. Two former November Niners, Ben Lamb (third place in 2011) and Jesse Sylvia (second in 2012), have made Day 2 of the WSOP final table and can tell Farber what to expect. Both sat on his rail Monday watching every hand using the WatchESPN app and relaying the information to Farber. Additionally, tournament pro Shaun Deeb, who won four SCOOP bracelets in one series in 2012, has played thousands of heads-up matches online. Deeb, along with Lamb and Sylvia, will be able to provide heads-up strategies and adjustments as needed.
During the final table, Farber started out playing very tight ABC poker. About midway through the night, he began mixing up his starting hands and took advantage of his tight image. For him to walk away with the bracelet, he will need to keep Riess off balance and mix up his play.
Ryan Riess: Almost a year ago, Riess had no career cashes on his résumé. A senior at Michigan State and a part-time poker dealer, he registered on a whim and took runner-up in the 2012 WSOP Circuit main event in Hammond, Ind. Suddenly, his professional poker career was born.
Since then, he has traveled the WSOP Circuit and cashed in 20 additional events. He is representing all of the WSOP Circuit grinders and is using several of them, such as Jonathan Taylor and Loni Harwood, who are 2013 WSOP bracelet winners, as coaches on his rail.
Being more experienced than Farber, especially in heads-up play, Riess should probably try to keep the pots small and chip away at him. The more poker that he can play, the more advantageous it will be for Riess. If he is able to take the chip lead, Riess should do what he was able to do during a good portion of the final table and keep pressure on, be aggressive. He showed that he could shift gears if needed, and he'll need to remain patient throughout the match. Although many believe he has more experience than Farber, Riess cannot underestimate his opponent. That mentality could be disastrous.
Just ask Joe Cada.
Everyone believed that the younger, more experienced Cada was going to steamroll over Darvin Moon to easily win the 2009 WSOP title. However, the heads-up battle lasted almost three hours as Moon had the lead a few times before Cada was able to finally eliminate him. Afterward, Cada praised Moon for an excellent heads-up match.
Good luck to the final two. Whichever player captures the WSOP main event crown, I sincerely hope that he represents himself and the poker world well as its newest ambassador.
Enjoy the moments tonight. Neither of you will ever forget it.