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Top 10 tidbits and trends from the November Nine Era

2 Nov 2015

By Gary Trask
It's been seven years since the World Series of Poker made the contentious decision to delay the Main Event final table, creating the November Nine phenomenon.

While poker purists were outraged, ESPN and WSOP officials were steadfast in their defense that the pause was best for the game, creating more of a buzz and allowing the final table to be aired on "semi-live" TV.

"Our intent is to provide an even bigger stage for our players," said then-WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack back in May 2008 after the decision was announced. "Now fans and viewers will ask 'who will win' our coveted championship bracelet instead of 'who won.' The excitement and interest surrounding our final nine players will be unprecedented."

Along the way there have been numerous tweaks to the format and television schedule. Some have worked. Some have not. Has the goal of this drastic paradigm shift been accomplished? That depends on who you ask.

Joe McKeehen is trying to become just the second chip leader in the November Nine Era to prevail at the Main Event final table.

Joe McKeehen is trying to become just the second chip leader in the November Nine Era to prevail at the Main Event final table.

But with seven November Nines on the books, and the eighth set taking place next week at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, one thing is sure: The final table delay is here to stay.
With that in mind, we've gone back and crunched the numbers from the November Nine Era, with the hope that these tidbits and trends will help us when looking into our crystal ball and attempting to predict happens at this year's final table.

10. Youth has been served
The average age of the Main Event winner during the last seven years is 23.4. The average age of the previous 38 champs was 40.8.

The record for the youngest player to win the event was broken in the first two years of the November Nine when Peter Eastgate won it in 2008 as a 22-year-old, smashing Phil Hellmuth's record, set in 1989, by nearly two years. Joe Cada toppled that feat a year later when he took home the bracelet just days before his 22nd birthday.

Three of the Main Event winners in the November Nine Era were born in 1987. The oldest was Martin Jacobson last year, at the ripe old age of 27.

What does it mean for this year? Compared to previous years, the 2015 final table will look an old age home, with an average age of 35.3. Of course, that number is bolstered by having two senior citizens at the table.
Neil Blumenfield, 61, would have taken home the honor of being the oldest player to make the final table if it weren't for 72-year-old Pierre Neuville coming along for the ride. And since the youngest player at the table (Tom Cannuli) is 23, Cada's record is safe for at least one more year.

9. More international flavor
Prior to 2008, 92% of the Main Event winners (35 of 38) were from the U.S. That number has changed dramatically since the November Nine was introduced, with four international winners from four different countries: Peter Eastgate (Denmark) in 2008, Jonathan Duhamel (Canada) in 2010, Pius Heinz (Germany) in 2011 and Martin Jacobson (Sweden) in 2014.
One side note: The 2011 final table had the most diversity, with seven different countries represented.

What does it mean for this year? We have three international players at this year's final table hoping this trend continues. Neuville (Belgium), Zvi Stern (Israel) and Federico Butteroni (Italy) will try to do what the above-mentioned champions pulled off and secure the first Main Event bracelet for their homelands.

8. Previous bracelets are no help
While ESPN executives would love to have a final table chock full of big names and bracelet winners, it doesn't happen. Sure, there have been a few cases (Phil Ivey in 2009, Michael Mizrachi in 2008, JC Tran in 2013) in which star players made it to the final nine, but those are rare exceptions.
The majority of November Nine players have had very little past success in the WSOP. Greg Merson, the 2012 champ, is the only previous bracelet winner to capture the Main Event during the November Nine Era.
Phil Ivey had seven bracelets to his name before bowing out quietly in seventh place back in 2009. That's the same amount that the other 62 players who have made it to the final table the last seven years had in their jewelry boxes before making the final table combined.

What does it mean for this year? Max Steinberg, a popular pick to do some damage at this year's final table, is the lone player with a bracelet this year after winning a $1,000 No Limit Event at the 2012 WSOP.

7. Neither are WSOP cashes
Having multiple WSOP cashes on your resume has also proven to be zero help. Five of the last seven bracelet winners had two or fewer WSOP cashes to their name. Also, the player with the most previous cashes at the final table has finished fifth or worse five times. The best finish was when Ben Lamb took third in 2011.
Peter Eastgate won the first Main Event of the November Nine Era, but his title as youngest player to win the bracelet lasted just one year.

Peter Eastgate won the first Main Event of the November Nine Era, but his title as youngest player to win the bracelet lasted just one year.

What does it mean for this year? Neuville leads the pack this year with 19 previous cashes. Steinberg is second with 11. This is the first year of the November Nine Era in which all nine players have at least one previous WSOP cash.
The players at this year's table have 58 WSOP cashes among them, the second-highest in November Nine history. They're behind only the 2009 table, which had 68, thanks in large part to Ivey's 38 cashes, and just ahead of the 2013 table (56), whose chip leader, JC Tran, had 40 cashes to his name, the most in November Nine history.

6. The winner has come from multiple spots
Only one November Nine chip leader has won the Main Event (more on that later). The biggest comeback from a chip stack point of view came last year, when Jacobson entered with the second-smallest stack before prevailing.

Also, 2011 champ Pius Heinz overcame being the third-smallest stack. No player has ever come back to win the bracelet from sixth or ninth place.

What does it mean for this year? Two players have come from the fifth-biggest stack entering the table to win the Main Event, and that is good news for Steinberg backers this year, as their man sits in fifth place with 20.2 million chips.
Butteroni, who has gone from working on a watermelon farm to playing for $7.6 million, has the unenviable task of trying to be the first player to go from the short stack to Main Event champ, while Cannuli is hoping to break the jinx that has hampered the sixth-biggest stack.

5. Second chip position guarantees nothing
The player with the second-most chips entering the final table has not only never won the event, but has only made it to heads up twice (Ivan Demidov in 2008 and Felix Stephensen last year). Even more surprisingly, the guy with the second-most chips at the start of the final table has finished in sixth place three times.

What does it mean for this year? Stern will be looking to break the streak of poor results for the man with the second-biggest stack — and he'll be doing so from a historic deficit.

4. Leaders have been within reach
The reason it's been so difficult to predict the winner of the November Nine is that, for the most part, there hasn't been a dominant chip leader to the point where knocking him off was impossible.
The biggest lead a chip leader has had entering the final table was in 2009, when Darvin Moon's stack of 58.9 million chips was more than 24 million better than second-place Eric Buchman. The smallest lead for the chip leader came last year, when big stack Jorry van Hoof had just a 5.6-million advantage over Felix Stephensen. The average discrepancy between the big stack and the second-biggest stack over the last seven years has been 8.9 million.

What does it mean for this year? Taking the above into account makes what Joe McKeehen did in the hours before the final table was decided back in July even more impressive. The 24-year-old took the word "bullying" to a new level, pushing around his table and building what would be a record chip lead for a November Nine final table.

3. Huge chip disadvantages can be overcome, however
Despite the above, we've learned that it's not impossible to conquer what may seem an insurmountable chip deficit. Case in point: Cada trailed big stack Moon by a staggering 46.715 million chips when the cards went in the air for the 2009 final table, and ended up with all of the chips and a check worth $8.5 million.
In fact, the average chip deficit the eventual champion has overcome over the last seven years is more than 21.5 million. Next to Cada, the second-largest comeback was Heinz in 2011 (23.75 million) over Martin Staszko, followed closely by Jacobson last year (23.475 million) over van Hoof.

What does it mean for this year? There has been a lot of talk about McKeehen's enormous chip lead entering this year's final table. While the numbers above certainly provide more hope for the other eight players than they are receiving, if someone other than McKeehen wins this year's Main Event, it will be the biggest comeback in the November Nine Era, since second-place Stern enters 33.3 million off the lead.

A combination of experience and coaching could play a factor if Max Steinberg makes it to heads up play next week at the WSOP Main Event final table.

A combination of experience and coaching could play a factor if Max Steinberg makes it to heads up play next week at the WSOP Main Event final table.

2. Heads-up leader has prevailed
Not only does the November Nine concept provide a delay between the bubble bursting and the final table, but there's also a break before play resumes for heads up. And that extra preparation time has made it difficult for the player chasing the lead to overcome any significant deficit.
Only two players (Ryan Riess in 2013 and Heinz in 2011) have won the Main Event after entering heads-up play with the second-smallest stack. Both players weren't exactly battling back from huge disadvantages to start heads up, although at several points Riess had just 25% of the chips in play against Staszko, but would not be denied.

What does it mean for this year? It tells us the combination of experience and coaching matters when it comes to heads-up play at the final table. Maybe that's why many are giving Steinberg a very good chance at winning the bracelet next week. The well-regarded pro is not only the lone bracelet winner at the table, but he also boasts an accomplished network of friends that will likely be on his rail, including Cylus Watson, who finished 22nd in the 2012 Main Event; Ben Sulsky, renowned as "Sauce123" in the online poker world; and his brother, Danny.
You can also expect Cannuli's cheering section to look like a "who's who" of poker pros, since he's good friends with Antonio Esfandiari, Jeff Gross and Brian Rast. Cannuli also credits his fortuitous introduction to Daniel Negreanu away from the felt as playing a major role in his success.

1. Chip leader is batting .142
It's a well-known fact by now: The chip leader entering the November Nine final table has won the bracelet just once in seven years. It happened in 2010 when Jonathan Duhamel took a 19.1 million chip advantage into the final table. When he advanced to heads-up play, he had a 188.95 million to 30.65 million lead over John Racener and made quick work of him, becoming the first Canadian to win a Main Event.

While the six other chip leaders have not been able to walk away with the crown, most of them played deciding roles in who would. Moon (2009), Staszko (2011) and Jesse Sylvia (2012) made it to heads-up play before finishing second, while Dennis Phillips (2008) and van Hoof (2014) took third. The biggest chip leader disappointment was, surprisingly, Tran, who dropped to fifth place, barely doubling his initial ninth-place payout.

What does it mean for this year? If there was ever a year that the chip leader would bulldoze his way to the bracelet, this is it. McKeehen's stack of 63.1 million is more than twice the size of second-place Stern (29.8 million), meaning he'll have 32.8% of the chips in play when the first hand is dealt.

That's a lofty gap to overcome for the other eight players at the table, but as detailed above, history shows it's not Mission Impossible.
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