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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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Around the WSOP Main Event: Respect and admiration between November Niners benefits everyone

1 Nov 2016

By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS — Take away the ESPN cameras, the animated live crowd and the $8 million first-place prize, and this year's World Series of Poker Main Event final table has looked a lot like your weekly home game in your buddy’s basement.

Smiles. Laughter. Genuine fondness and respect for opponents. Civility. A rapid pace of play.

All of the attributes you didn’t see during ESPN’s Main Event coverage leading up to this year's November Nine, when the polarizing William Kassouf and his incessant table chatter and frustrating slow play took center stage, have overtaken the atmosphere at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.

And as a result, everyone, from the players to the TV viewers to the game of poker, is benefiting.

"I think it's great," said Gordon Vayo, one of three players remaining along with chip leader Qui Nguyen and Cliff Josephy. The three men will battle it out beginning Tuesday afternoon until a WSOP Main Event champ is crowned. "It’s a far cry from what we saw on Day 7, that's for sure. I think that's how we all would prefer it to be."

Who emerged victorious in this battle of talents? Read more about the WSOP Main Event here.

Jack Effel, this week's master of ceremonies, has been the WSOP Tournament Director for 12 years and said this year's group November Niners has been the most "respectable" toward each other.

"They have great chemistry," Effel told us during a break in the action on Monday night. "As far as sportsmanship and getting along, this is the best final table I've ever seen."

It's impressive compliment when you consider what's at stake and the vast amount of pressure these players are under. When a hand is underway, they want to beat the heck out of each other, but, unlike in recent years, in between hands and during breaks the intensity and edginess goes away.

"I like all of these guys; I'd hang around with every single one of them and have a great time away from the table," Vayo added. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled with every elimination. There's nothing I want more than to win this thing and every time someone gets ousted, I'm one step closer. But that doesn't mean I don’t feel bad for those guys.

"My heart really ached for Vojtech when I beat him on that hand tonight. Jerry Wong is a friend of mine and I hated seeing him go out last night. Same goes for Kenny (Hallaert) and Fernando. I think it’s because, better than anyone else, we all realize what they're going through at this moment. So you can’t help but feel bad."

Along with the good nature at the table has come a steady pace of play with very little tanking or overthinking.

"I think the players are realizing that it’s in everyone’s best interest if we keep the pace of play moving at a reasonable pace," Effel said. "I mean, it’s totally fine to take some extra time when you need to. We saw both Cliff and Gordon take that extra time earlier tonight and that’s OK because they were playing big pots. But you just don’t need to do it on every hand."

On Tuesday, when play resumes with just three players remaining out of a field of 6,737 players, the pressure is going to be turned up another few notches. There are bound to be big hands, dramatic moments and crushing defeats.

But, judging from what we've seen the last two nights, don't expect any dirty looks or bad table manners.

"If I don't win it, I know poker will be in great hands with either Cliff or Qui as the champion," Vayo said. "I've known Cliff for a long, long time, and he's a solid person. I don’t really know Qui all that well, but I love him. He's a friggin' riot and he would be great for poker. It's going to be a win for the game no matter what happens."

* * *

If you were watching the coverage on TV last night you may have noticed a familiar face on Vayo's rail: Poker pro Mike Niwinski, who became an instant fan favorite of those who tuned into the ESPN coverage of the Main Event before bowing out in 15th place.

Niwinski befriended Vayo during their time playing together in the final stages of the WSOP Main Event over the summer and wanted to be here at the Rio to cheer him, and the experience has been quite different for him.

"It’s been very weird walking around the Rio and having people actually recognize me," he said with a chuckle. "I've had a lot of people coming up and telling me all good things, saying they enjoyed all the drama that I was going through on during Day 7. It’s really hard to describe. But it's good things. All positives. I have no regrets."

Niwinski lives in Vancouver and has been an online pro for nearly two years, but this year was his first WSOP. He played in about 12 events over the summer, cashing twice and basically breaking even until his $427,930 payday in the Main Event.

He admitted that the amount of face time he received from ESPN and the attention that has followed has kept him from getting back into his regular routine as an online grinder.

"I haven’t played as much poker as I would have liked to the last few months because I feel like my life has been thrown into a bit of a loop since the all the coverage," he said. "I mean, every Sunday the episodes would air and then I’d just try and relive all of those moments that I was going through and I was constantly distracted by social media.

"I found myself just watching the episodes over and over because it’s so cool to see myself on a program that I’ve watched for so long. So, mainly I’ve been focusing on that and I’ve been procrastinating on everything else I need to do."

Niwinski said that should all change once he gets home from the final table later this week. In the meantime, he's hopeful his new friend can become the next WSOP Main Event champ.

"Gordon's a great player and I've been having a blast rooting him on," he said. "I was sad to see him knock out Griffin (Benger on Sunday) because I really like him and I was hoping they would both make deep runs. But if Griffin's chips were going to go to anyone, I'm glad it was Gordon."
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