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You recognize their voices. You know their faces. They have been as much a part of ESPN's World Series of Poker coverage as the players. They are Lon McEachern and Norman Chad. McEachern and Chad have been providing commentary for the World Series of Poker since 2003, and they will be at it again next week during the Main Event Final Table.
McEachern and Chad took part in a 45-minute media conference call on Friday, and they shared some interesting facts about all the November Nine participants. So for this week's Top-10, we're bringing you the top-10 tidbits from the World Series of Poker conference call.
10. Akenhead needs to make a move
James Akenhead is trying to become the first British-born player to win the Main Event, but he has his work cut out for him. He is the short-stack of the table, holding only 6.8 million chips compared to Darvin Moon's 58.93 million. Chad was very impressed with Akenhead, saying he has "more experience and more skill than about half the players on the table." However, Chad said he needs to make a move, and quick.
"James is selectively aggressive," he said. "He has the least chance of winning this only because he has the least amount of chips right now. He needs to get lucky sometime in the first hour or two. And then he can play poker."
9. Saout is the great unknown
Antoine Saout is also trying to make history as the first Frenchman to win the Main Event. Saout reached the final table of the Main Event of the World Series of Poker Europe, so he's been on top of his game. Chad said that out of the November Nine, the players know the least about him, but what they've seen has been impressive.
"We know the least about Antoine," he said. "He didn't even start playing poker until a couple of years ago. When you talk to the other players, they say he hasn't had a hair out of place. They haven't seen him do anything stupid and he's played pretty snug and smart poker."
8. It's all about Ivey
As expected, many of the questions during the conference call revolved around Phil Ivey. He is by far the most well-known name at the final table, and is possibly the most well-known name in poker. He is on the cover of the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine and will be on the network's "E:60" program. If you've listened to any of this year's broadcasts, you know Norman Chad loves him some Phil Ivey. And Chad was effusive with his praise on Friday, even comparing him to Ted Williams.
"He just does all the little things a little better than everybody else," he said. "Phil Ivey is the same thing as a really good athlete that way. He's got mathematical skills that are similar to other people but they're just a little better. He's got instincts that are similar to other people but just they're a little better. He doesn't go on tilt like other players often do. When you put all these things together, and then he's got what I called a sixth sense, which all the good poker players have, but he has like a six and a half sense. Where he just has the ability to read situations better than the next person."
7. Schaffel's got game
Kevin Schaffel has the sixth-largest chip stack heading into the final table with 12.39 million. He is the oldest out of the nine at the age of 52, and is a scratch golfer. He's played a lot of poker since July, coming in second place at the World Poker Tour's $9,800 No Limit Championship Event in Los Angeles. He also placed 19th at the European Poker Tour's £5,000 No-Limit Main Event in London. McEachern, who is also a fan of golf, said he "loves" Schaffel and that he expects him to compete with the younger guys at the table.
"He's not a flash in the pan," he said. "He's the oldest player at the final table, (52), so he's been playing longer than anyone else I'd imagine."
6. Cada's the young gun
Michigan native Joe Cada is the youngest player at the final table at the age of 21. He is looking to become the youngest winner of the Main Event, only a year after Peter Eastgate beat Phil Hellmuth's mark. Cada is by no means inexperienced, having cashed in two WSOP events this year. McEachern says Cada is in good position at this table.
"Cada is learning with every hand he plays… (Having) 13 million chips is usually a good amount of chips for someone as smart as Cada is," he said.
5. Shulman/Hellmuth make a good team
The most outspoken player at the final table is Jeff Shulman, the president of Card Player magazine. He said earlier in the year that he would throw away the championship bracelet should he win the Main Event. He has somewhat backed away from that statement, but still remained critical of Harrah's Entertainment. Shulman also made news when he reportedly hired Phil Hellmuth as his personal coach. Chad believes it's a good move.
"It's either the greatest move in history or the greatest mistake in history," he said. "Jeff Shulman could win the Main Event and be overshadowed by his coach... It's probably a smart move because Jeff and Phil do have similar styles of play and Jeff would be able to consult with Phil... It's kind of hard to argue with getting coaching from the guy who has more World Series bracelets than anybody else."
4. Begleiter's the lighting rod
Steven Begleiter is one of three members of the November Nine who have never cashed in a WSOP event in Las Vegas (Darvin Moon and Saout are the other two). He is third in chips with 29.885 million. He is also one of the most controversial players still alive in the Main Event. He is a former executive at Bear Stearns, the infamous Wall Street investment bank. Chad says a lot of eyes will be on Begleiter when he takes his seat, calling him the "lightning rod" of the table.
"Most of the poker community has a bigger opinion on him than everyone else," he said. "Partly because of his Wall Street background. And partly because of the hands we saw where he got pretty lucky. He was fortunate to win situations where he should have lost."
3. Lon loves Buchman
Eric Buchman is the pro with the most chips. He has 34.8 million of them, second on the table. He's cashed in nine WSOP events. He's made three final tables. And Lon McEachern is all over him.
"This is the guy I think has the best chance to win the Main Event," he said. "I believe with his skills, with the roll he's been on. He is just a quality player. He's got a number of strong finishes if you look at his poker resume. He's got a great even-tempered attitude. He never gets too high. He never gets too low. He's sitting pretty in second place. He's got some short stacks off to his left that he can maybe take advantage of. I would fear Eric Buchman if I was any of the other eight players."
2. Moon's a fascinating character
Many media members had questions about Darvin Moon, this year's chip leader and rags-to-riches story. The logger from Maryland has a massive stack of 58.93 million chips. Moon is the only player without a poker room sponsorship (Chad thinks that he will get one by next week). Moon has also been fond of saying how bad of a player he is. Both McEachern and Chad think he's sandbagging.
"He is the second best thing to happen to this final table next to Phil Ivey," said McEachern. "He doesn't verbally give himself enough credit. He said he's going to change his game style when he comes back to the final table. I think because of the unknown factor he's going to be the scariest one at the table with the big chip stack… He is a fascinating character in his own way. I think a lot of players aren't going to give him enough credit for the game he's going to bring."
"He's not going to be reckless," added Chad. "He's not going to be the table bully… He's going to do the smart thing from a money standpoint I believe and let the smaller stacks knock each other out. There's no reason Darvin can't guarantee a top 3 or 4 finish… He's probably the worst player at the table, but he loves to advertise that."
1. Plenty of storylines
When one media member said that this year's final table didn't seem to be as interesting as ones in years past, Chad was quick to say he didn't agree. There is a great mix of ages at this table, with three players in their 20s, three in their 30s, and three in their 40s and 50s. Ivey is trying to cement his place in history. Cada is looking to become the youngest Main Event champion of all-time. Akenhead and Saout are looking to become the first champions from their respective countries. And does it get any more unlikely than Darvin Moon as a Main Event champion? As Chad says, everyone has an interesting back story if you look hard enough for it.