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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

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

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Around the WSOP: November Nine concept continues to help create 'brotherhood' among players

13 Jul 2016

By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS -- Other than poker, Neil Blumenfield has very little in common with the eight other players who made it to the World Series of Poker Main Event final table last year.

"We're different people," said the 62-year-old from San Francisco, who ended up taking third place and cashing in for $3.4 million last November. "But we have that one thing in common that will keep us connected for life."

Members of the 2015 WSOP Main Event final table enjoyed a reunion at the Rio this week.

Members of the 2015 WSOP Main Event final table enjoyed a reunion at the Rio this week.

Blumenfield, of course, is referring to the November Nine, a controversial format introduced by the WSOP back in 2008, when for the first time the Main Event inserted a three-month pause between when the final table was decided and when it was actually played. The concept was met with resistance by poker purists when first announced, but the reasons were compelling. It gave the WSOP PR machine an extended period of time to market the "November Nine," build excitement, create storylines and allow ESPN to eventually air every hand of the final table on a slight delay on prime time television.

An unintentional byproduct has been the alliance that has been organically generated with each November Nine class. The players spend multiple hours into the wee hours of the morning on Days 5, 6 and 7 of the Main Event, banging heads with each other before finally exulting in unison when they make it inside the final nine bubble together.

They then spend the next 90 days being interviewed by media, making appearances and adjusting to life as a public figure in the poker world. They arrive together in Las Vegas days before the final table, make more media appearances, and take part in ESPN pre-production film sessions. By the time they actually sit down and start playing cards, it's almost a relief that the "hard part" is over.

"For me, it was very different because I'm normally a quiet and private person, so being in the spotlight and having people recognize me is not something I've become accustomed to," said Jay Farber, the Main Event runner-up to Ryan Riess in 2013. "It's weird. There's a lot more expectations on you than you are used to. I could never be Daniel Negreanu. He's a great ambassador for poker and I give him a ton of credit for the way he handles himself every day."

And even though he rarely sees or speaks with the other '13 November Niners, Farber said when they do see each other, they always make an extra effort to catch up.

"It's kind of a unique brotherhood," he said. "When we make eye contact, we kind of nod and smile and immediately think back to those crazy three months that we were part of together."

Dennis Phillips agrees. The former trucker, who became famous for wearing his red St. Louis Cardinals hat at the poker table, was not only a part of the very first November Nine in 2008 but was the chip leader heading into the final table that year. He ultimately finished third — behind runner-up Ivan Demidov and champ Peter Eastgate — and pocketed $4.5 million, but he turned that bronze medal into a career as not only a poker pro playing all over the world and adding nearly $2 million more to his career earnings, but a true ambassador of the game over the last decade.

"I cannot believe it's been nine years; it truly feels like it was yesterday," Phillips said earlier this week, as he was about to start Day 1 of this year's Main Event. "But to this day, anytime I see one of those guys in the hallway I will go out of my way to say hello. It's an extremely cool thing that happened to us and I'm grateful for it. It was a quite an experience. There were a lot of trials and tribulations, but in the end we all came out friends and we'll always have that special bond."

Due to the U.S. Presidential election, this year's November Nine will be played a week earlier than normal — as it did in 2012 for the same reason — and will commence on Oct. 30. The winner will be crowned live on ESPN on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Of the 6,737 players who entered this year's Main Event, only nine will become official "November Niners." But in addition to earning a minimum of $1 million, they’ll also most likely gain eight new life-long friends.

"There have been so many amazing stories to come out of the November Nine," said WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart. "I know it's not easy for these guys to all of a sudden have their life be under the microscope. For many of them it was a great ride, for others it was tough, but each embraced the role in their own way."

* * *

This 2016 WSOP Main Event field at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino was the largest turnout in five years and the fourth largest in the Series' 47-year history. The WSOP announced Tuesday that this year's winner will take home $8 million as part of an overall prize pool of $63,327,800 that will be shared by a record 1,011 players.

In addition to getting the kinks worked out and checking his phone, Antonio Esfandiari was chipping up on Tuesday night during Day 2 of the WSOP Main Event.

In addition to getting the kinks worked out and checking his phone, Antonio Esfandiari was chipping up on Tuesday night during Day 2 of the WSOP Main Event.

The dramatic bursting of the money bubble is expected to take place early on Day 4, which will be played Friday. After that, a top 63 finish will guarantee a six-figure payout, and every member of this year's November Nine will make a minimum of $1 million.

* * *

More leftover numbers from the first three flights of this year’s Main Event, which began on Saturday, ended late Monday night and saw a single-day record of 4,240 entries during Flight C:

Number of dealers: 866
Number of decks of cards used: 1,522
Unique countries represented: 80
Average age: 40.08
Male participants: 6,469
Female participants: 268

William Wachter from Mahopac, NY, was the oldest participant for the second straight year at 95 years old. The youngest player was Evan House-Hull. The Sandoval, IL, native is 21 years, 19 days old and made it to Day 2 with 92,300 chips.

Notable celebrities in the field this year included ex-NFL stars Richard Seymour and Antoine Winfield, whom Casino City featured over the weekend, former MLB pitcher Brad Lidge, professional soccer player John Arne Riise, NASCAR driver Jason White, cricket star Shane Warne, rapper Hoodie Allen, film director Nick Cassavetes ("The Notebook"), "Curb Your Enthusiasm" producer Gavin Polone, and actors Brad Garrett, Ray Romano, Jennifer Tilly and Kevin Pollack.

* * * and the Poker Players Alliance joined forces on Monday afternoon at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino for a Q&A regarding U.S. online poker regulation.

Chairing the panel were PPA Executive Director John Pappas, PokerStars Director of Poker Communications Lee Jones, and PokerStars pros Jason Somerville and Chris Moneymaker, with fellow pros Vanessa Selbst, Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier and Fatima Moreira de Melo also in attendance.

With the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act coming this fall, Jones said the optimistic numbers coming out of New Jersey since online poker was launched three years ago, along with advancements of iGaming bills in states like New York, Michigan, California and Pennsylvania, mean "We're really beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

But the panelists drove home the point that online poker proponents need to continue to be proactive.

"We all need to do more," Pappas said. "Go to to get information about what's going on in each state. Find out how you can take action, find out who your lawmakers are. Send them letters. These are all things that can help us continue the positive momentum."

Somerville, founder of the wildly popular "Run It UP" video/live stream series on Twitch, mentioned that the projected annual revenue for daily fantasy sports in New York is $3 million to $5 million, while online poker would bring in $150 million.

"Do the math," he said. "Three to five million isn't going to do much for the state of New York. But $150 million is a whole other story."

"There's no reason why here in America we should have things like horse racing, lottery tickets and daily fantasy, but not online poker," Somerville added. "In many ways, I feel like online poker was stolen from us in the U.S. without any kind of debate. It's wrong. It's just wrong.”

* * *

Chris "Jesus" Ferguson's transformation from poker hero to poker pariah due to his role in the Full Tilt poker scandal has been well documented. Fellow players have been vocal in their dissatisfaction with Ferguson and Howard Lederer returning to this year's WSOP.

But "Jesus" is still popular with a lot of fans.

Ferguson, the 2000 Main Event champ who cashed in nine WSOP events this year and sat 13th on the WSOP Player of the Year rankings heading into Tuesday's action, busted out on Day 2 of the Main Event, but was immediately back at the table later in the day, playing in the $1,111 Little One for One Drop No Limit Hold'em event.

During one of the breaks, we saw Ferguson standing in the hallway speaking to a friend, and during a 10-minute span no less than a half dozen blushing fans — who apparently weren't any of the thousands of Full Tilt poker players who had their accounts frozen after Black Friday — asked Ferguson to pose for a picture and sign autographs. Ferguson was gracious with each person, which is probably more than he can say for the way he and Lederer have been treated by their colleagues the last few weeks.

* * *

Looking ahead to Wednesday's Day 2C, 3,252 players will return to the Rio. Notable players that will be in the field include Phil Ivey, who caused a stir when he showed up for Monday's Day 1C, Daniel Negreanu,Tom Cannuli, Michael Mizrachi, Allen Cunningham, Jeff Gross, David Benyamine, Dennis Phillips, Kathy Liebert, Erica Lindgren, Matt Affleck, Fedor Holz, Liv Boeree, Max Steinberg, Vanessa Rousso, Garrett, Lidge, Pollack, Warne and former champs Joe McKeehen, Greg Merson, Scotty Nguyen, Chris Moneymaker, Phil Hellmuth and Martin Jacobson.
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