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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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Top 10 facts, figures and observations from the WSOP Main Event final table

16 Jul 2018

By Gary Trask
LAS VEGAS -- With another year of World Series of Poker coverage in the rear view mirror, it’s time to clean out the notebook and my poker-fatigued brain with 10 observations, facts and figures from a week in Las Vegas at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.

10. Casino City alum cashes in

The WSOP is a writer’s dream because it generates so many unique and interesting storylines. One very cool development that took place last week hit close to home for us at Casino City.

Former editor Dan Podheiser left Casino City in the spring of 2016 to take a shot at playing poker professionally. It turned out to be not only a gutsy decision, but a lucrative one as well, as he’s compiled nearly $180,000 in live earnings.

Podheiser plays regularly at Twin River Casino in Rhode Island and has become good friends with Aram Zobian, the 23-year-old who made this year’s Main Event final table, finishing in sixth place for $1.8 million.

After spending three weeks in Las Vegas for the WSOP, Podheiser flew home on 10 July, which was Day 6 of the Main Event, the day Zobian vaulted into a massive chip lead with 26 players left.

“Over the next few days at home, I did my best to be present as a dad and husband with my family, who I hadn't seen in three weeks, but at the same time I am going absolutely nuts keeping up with Aram's run,” Podheiser said.

When Zobian officially secured a spot in the final six on Thursday night, Podheiser booked the first flight back to Las Vegas to join his friends on Zobian's rail.

“When I got there on Friday, I was running on no sleep because I was up all night watching him play,” he said. “I had the time of my life being on the rail, even though his run at the table that day lasted only a few hands. I was so, so proud of Aram, and I felt a lot of love among his rail and support system. It was an awesome environment.”

The story doesn’t end here for Podheiser, however. After a long night of celebrating on the Strip with his friends, he woke up Saturday around 1 p.m. and had a whole day to kill in Vegas before his flight home early Sunday morning. Off the cuff, he decided to hop over to Wynn Las Vegas to late register the daily $1,100 tournament. And with his own cheering section on his rail, including Zobian, Podheiser won the event, taking home a sweet trophy and the $61,000 first-place check, sending his ROI for the last-minute trip through the roof.

“We all sweated every big pot just like it was the Main Event,” Podheiser said. “If there was an all-in at the table, we all stood up, locked arms and cheered for the cards we wanted. It was by far the most fun I've ever had at a poker table. What a weekend.”

9. Americans on Main Event roll
Now, on to a WSOP Main Event final table recap with some interesting trends and numbers.

With John Cynn’s victory, a U.S. player has won four Main Events in a row and six of the last seven.

For some reason, international players fared much better during the November Nine Era, the nine-year stretch (2008-2016) when the WSOP Main Event final table was decided in July but not played until November. Non-Americans won four of those nine Main Events: Peter Eastgate (Denmark) in 2008, Jonathan Duhamel (Canada) in 2010, Pius Heinz (Germany) in 2011 and Martin Jacobson (Sweden) in 2014.

Before 2008, 35 of the 38 Main Event winners were from the U.S.

8. Score one for the “old” guys
The 33-year-old Cynn is just the second winner in the last 11 years to be over the age 30. The other was Qui Nguyen, who won in 2016 at the age of 39. Since 2008, the average age of the Main Event winner is 25.6.

The previous 38 champs had an average age of 40.8.

7. Chip leader jinx
The chip leader entering the final table has won the Main Event just three times (Scott Blumstein in 2017, Joe McKeehen in 2015 and Jonathan Duhamel in 2010) in the last 11 years. Of the chip leaders who failed to win, Darvin Moon (2009), Martin Staszko (2011) and Jesse Sylvia (2012) finished second, Dennis Phillips (2008), Jorryt van Hoof (2014) and Cliff Josephy (2016) took third, before Nic Manion fell to fourth this year.

The biggest chip leader disappointment? JC Tran in 2013, who took fifth-place, barely doubling his initial ninth-place payout.

This was most definitely not the year to be a final table chip leader beginning play. When the final nine got underway on Thursday, Manion had a slight edge over Dyer, who proceeded to steamroll the table, taking a commanding lead — more than twice as many chips than his closest pursuer — entering Friday’s six-handed action. Dyer then coughed up the lead, falling to third place and the short stack as we went into Saturday, with Miles taking over the chip lead.

We all know what happened from there. In an epic heads-up war, Miles and Cynn played a total of 199 hands, a new record, that included an NBA-game-like 15 lead changes and took 10 hours and 23 minutes to complete before the Illinois pro finally took it down.

Miles became just the third player since 2008 to have the lead at the start of heads-up play and fail to win. Cynn joins Riess and Heinz as the three players who managed to battle back from a heads-up deficit and win.

6. Second-best stack hasn’t fared much better
Not only has the chip leader struggled at the Main Event final table, but the player with the second-biggest stack entering nine-handed play has also struggled over the last 11 years, with Nguyen the only player to start in second place and prevail.

In fact, the second-best stack has finished fourth or worse five times, and, other than Nguyen, only two of those players have even made it to heads-up play: Felix Stephensen in 2014 and Ivan Demidov in 2008.

This year, it was Michael Dyer who came into the final table in second place, and the Houston native, who showed us a side the ESPN cameras didn’t catch when we spoke to him Saturday night, took third place.

5. Past WSOP success a non-factor
Keep this in mind next year when trying to pick the winner of the Main Event final table. The player with the most previous WSOP cashes has finished fifth or worse seven times in the last 11 years, with Joe Cada and his 33 cashes taking fifth place this year.

The best finish for the player with the most WSOP cashes came in 2011 when Ben Lamb, who also made the final table last year, took third.

Also, since 2008, 2012 champ Merson is the only previous WSOP bracelet winner to capture the Main Event

4. Unsung heroes

While it typically goes unnoticed, the proficient manner in which the dealers at the WSOP featured tables handle their job is downright impressive, especially those at the Main Event final table.

Much like a third base coach in baseball, you know the dealers are doing a good job if nobody is talking about them, because if they screw up, it’s going to get plenty of attention. But that’s rarely the case, if ever, when it comes to the WSOP dealers.

Think about it: These men and women are flipping cards under the hot ESPN lights in front of a worldwide live audience with millions of dollars at stake. They have to remain calm, count chips, call out the action and react to a producer talking to them through a hidden earpiece, letting them know when it’s OK to rip off the flop, turn and river. One little mistake could affect the entire table. Talk about a pressure cooker.

But, year after year, these dealers do a flawless job, and that’s no accident. The WSOP hand-picks around five dealers to be used during the final table and they are selected for their attention to detail, ability to work under pressure and passion for the job.

3. Final table break is needed
For the first time since 2007, there was no extended break in between when the WSOP Main Event final table was decided and when play began. Of course, from 2008 to 2016 there was a break of more than three months, a time referred to as the November Nine Era. Last year, the final table as played in July, but there was a two-day break. This year, the final nine players were decided at around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and play started the very next day at 5:30 p.m.

Don’t be surprised if next year the WSOP decides to slip in an off day before the final table action begins.

Ty Stewart, the WSOP Executive Director and Senior Vice President of Caesars Interactive, told us that they plan to see what the TV ratings for the final table look like and then decide if a break will be added once again.

“The idea was just to keep the momentum going with the broadcast,” Stewart said. “Our focus is what’s best for the overall coverage, and what’s best for the coverage now is this format.”

TV ratings aside, most of the players we spoke to said they would have liked at least a one day break, which not only would allowed for some much-needed rest, but also would have made it easier to make arrangements for family and friends to arrive in time.

"Yeah, I think a couple days' break is nice, just so you have time to get family and friends in," said Cada, who is unique in that he played in a final table during the November Nine Era, when he won it in 2009, and this year with no break. "The rail means so much, so an extra day or two helps with making those arrangements."

Mike Sexton, among others, agrees.

2. Player cooperation
This marked the seventh time I have covered the WSOP, and every year I’m amazed at how gracious the players are with fans and media.

Again, there are millions of dollars at stake. It’s an emotionally and physically draining game, with the players sometimes spending more than 12 hours a day at the table. Yet, when they are approached by a fan for a picture or a media member for quick interview, they are typically very accommodating, even though they are in the midst of a short, 15-minute break, which barely gives them time to get up, hit the restroom and get back to the table in time before the cards go back in the air. This goes for both the lesser known players and the superstars of the game like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth.

This is something you really don’t see in any other sport. Can you imagine if Tiger Woods had to mingle through the crowd as he walked from the third green to the fourth tee box and got stopped by a reporter with a microphone, or got tracked down for a selfie with a fan? Would never happen.

1. A new poker ambassador
Speaking of gracious players, this year’s Main Event final table group was an easy one to root for, and when it came down to Miles and Cynn as the final two, we were assured of getting a champion who would serve as a great “ambassador” for the game.

Some past champions haven’t been comfortable embracing that role, while other have been fantastic about it. Last year’s champ Scott Blumstein was omnipresent at this year’s final table and is as friendly a player as you’ll ever encounter. It’s a safe bet that the soft-spoken and mild-mannered Cynn will be the same way. He was fun to watch because he appeared to really be enjoying himself at the table, aside from the later moments of heads-up play when both players were exhausted.

As for Miles, the manner in which he handled himself throughout the final table was fun to watch. His smile was infectious and his story is an incredible one, overcoming a drug addiction and the loss of his stepmother last month.

He also showed tremendous class by posting a lengthy apology on Twitter for suggesting that Cynn slow-rolled him on the final hand, in a moment of complete exhaustion.

My favorite moment of the entire week came early Sunday morning about five hours into heads-up play, when the players were on a 15-minute break. As he often did throughout the final table, Cynn found a spot just off the stage, sat on the floor and looked at his phone. Miles, as he often did, found a similar spot and meditated.

When Miles was finished, Cynn called out his name. Miles turned around and then went directly over and sat right down next to his opponent. The two sat there like a couple of kids riding the bus to school, laughing and talking.

It was a very cool moment and was a perfect illustration of why the game of poker needs more guys like John Cynn and Tony Miles.

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