By: Jason Lake
Joe McKeehen nearly ruined last year's November Nine. He started the World Series of Poker Main Event final table with more than twice as many chips as anyone else. McKeehen may also have been the best poker player at the tale. It seemed near-certain he'd win – even if McKeehan was “only” a +175 favorite to take home that gold-and-diamond bracelet. Good thing McKeehen's victory was as entertaining as it was dominant.
This year's chip-leader might also be the best player at the table. However, Cliff Josephy's lead is anything but commanding, and there's no shortage of talent gunning for the bracelet and the $8-million top prize. Here are this year's WSOP Main Event November Niners, listed by seat number with their stack sizes (in millions of chips and big blinds) going into the first day of battle on October 30:
1. Griffin Benger (26.175M, 52BB)
The charismatic Canadian is a former Counter-Strike world champion, and he's not bad at poker, winning Season 1 of Shark Cage for a cool million. You may know him from the inaugural Global Poker League webcasts.
2. Vojtech Ruzicka (27.3M, 55BB)
Ruzicka is the first Czech player in the November Nine since Martin Staszko, who finished second in 2011. Like Benger, Ruzicka is a former EPT High Roller champ, and he's got a good stack despite dropping to 10 big blinds on Day 4.
3. Fernando Pons (6.15M, 12BB)
It'll be tough sledding for the short-stacked Spaniard; Pons is a part-time player with a full-time gig as an account executive. He has a little over $20,000 in previous tournament earnings – plus a minimum of $1 million for reaching the November Nine.
4. Qui Nguyen (67.295M, 135BB)
With nearly the same stack as the leader, Ngyuen can win his first-ever WSOP bracelet in his first-ever Main Event cash. The 39-year-old Las Vegas resident has $52,986 in lifetime earnings.
5. Cliff Josephy (74.6M, 149BB)
Josephy is the only player at the final table with a WSOP bracelet, winning the $1,500 Seven Card Stud event in 2005 and the $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em event in 2013. Josephy is also the oldest player in the November Nine at age 51.
6. Michael Ruane (31.6M, 63BB)
Ruane is an online grinder from New Jersey with a shade under $45,000 in live earnings. He built his stack by winning a 40M pot against James Obst on Day 7, in a hand that took 18 minutes to play.
7. Gordon Vayo (49.375M, 99BB)
From San Francisco via Bloomington, Illinois, Vayo has been grinding online for 10 years. But he's also a WSOP veteran, cashing in 26 times – including eight times this year.
8. Kenny Hallaert (43.325M, 87BB)
Another survivor of the 10BB wars, Hallaert is No. 5 on Belgium's all-time money list; Pierre Neuville, who made last year's November Nine, is No. 2 behind David Kitai.
9. Jerry Wong (10.175M, 20BB)
Wong was the chip-leader after Day 6, but the Brooklynite will be the second-shortest stack at the final table. His previous best was third place at the 2013 PCA Main Event.