The final table of the World Series of Poker's Main Event begins on Monday night, when the final nine players in the tournament (dubbed the November Nine) play down to two (though ESPN has the option of calling and audible and stopping play when the tournament gets down to three players). The remaining players will then reconvene on Tuesday and play until a winner claims the $8.36 million first-place prize.
Whether you're a hard core poker fan planning to DVR every second of live coverage, or a casual fan that may flip back and forth between the "plausibly live" coverage on ESPN2 (shown on a 15-minute delay without hole cards until the completion of the hand) and the Monday Night Football game, here are the top-10 things to watch for during Monday's final table coverage.
10. Mark Newhouse's eyes
A lot of people complain about how uninteresting the new crop of poker pros is, because of their quiet, non-expressive personalities. These players, some say, take the term "poker face" too seriously and don't have any fun at the table.
Mark Newhouse doesn't betray much in his facial expressions during a hand. In fact, he has spent much of the Main Event thus far wearing dark sunglasses at the table to hide his eyes. But when the hand is over, his takes off the shades and his eyes tell the entire story.
For proof, watch this hand against Anton Morgenstern from Day 7.
9. A subdued Norman Chad
Make no mistake, I think Norman Chad has done an amazing job promoting poker over the last 10 years. He took over as the color commentator for ESPN poker broadcasts in 2003, providing context for Chris Moneymaker's remarkable run.
But over the last couple years, Chad has been more of a caricature than a commentator. His over-the-top, high-pitched and off-topic rants are a distraction. He tends to take a step back, however, during live coverage, sounding more like the 2003 version of himself. As he said during a recent conference call ESPN hosted to promote their live final table coverage, "What's most important for me is I've got to know what the hole cards are. I can't even speak until I find out what the hole cards are."
That's a bit of a hyperbolic statement from Chad, who has offered some salient observations during live coverage in recent years. In fact, I prefer his more subdued approach in the live shows as compared to what he does during the canned coverage leading up to the final table.
To see the evolution of Norman Chad over the last 10 years, compare the open in the final hour of coverage in the 2003 Main Event to the first seven minutes of an episode of the 2013 Main Event.
8. Antonio Esfandiari's analysis
When Norman Chad takes a step back, there's room for Antonio Esfandiari to step in. The poker pro has been a stalwart of ESPN's live poker broadcasts. While he's made his mark on the table, Esfandiari has contributed more to poker as a commentator than he has as a player. Since hole cards won't be revealed until the end of the hand, the ESPN crew will spend much of their time guessing what players hold. If you've never watched ESPN's live poker coverage in the past, make sure you tune in, if even for 30 minutes. You'll be shocked at just how often Esfandiari figures out what players are holding. And the fact that he's able to put the pieces of the puzzle together so well shows just how much skill it takes to play poker at a high level.
7. Amir Lehavot's investors
It's one thing to sell pieces of a poker tournament before an event begins. It's another thing entirely to sell pieces once you've already reached the final table.
But that's exactly what Amir Lehavot did when he made the November Nine. He was willing to sell up to 30 percent of himself at a rate of $29,938 per 1 percent, but only picked up a total of $35,000 in investments.
This low number of takers won't actually impact his final cashout that much. He's guaranteed himself another $35,000 if he finishes ninth, but will lose out on an extra $54,181 if he wins. The reality is that's not much when you're talking about an $8.36 million first-place prize.
However, if Lehavot ends up winning, his investors will get a 154 percent ROI in a real short time, and we may see more November Niners try to make this arrangement in the future.
6. Endless WSOP.com ads
This year's WSOP Main Event final table is the first since the World Series of Poker's online poker site, WSOP.com, launched for real-money play in the state of Nevada. You can bet that there will be plenty of opportunities during commercial breaks for the WSOP to advertise its online poker product, especially in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, when advertising rates are likely to be low and the audience will be populated almost entirely by hard core poker enthusiasts.
5. Those crazy French Canadians
This November Nine marks the first time I've been able to cover the final table since Jonathan Duhamel won the Main Event in 2010. (My wife had twins early in 2011, so taking a second trip out to Vegas every year was asking a lot.) In 2010, I was amazed at how large and exuberant the French-Canadian poker community was. There were almost as many Montreal Canadiens jerseys in the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino's Penn and Teller Theater when Duhamel beat John Racener heads up as there are in Bell Centre for a Saturday night game against the rival Maple Leafs.
Marc-Etienne McLaughlin is not only a member of that community, he's also a good friend of Duhamel's, and apparently the two play dodge ball against each other often.
If McLaughlin wins a few early pots, expect the French-Canadian contingent on the rail to start making a lot of noise. The atmosphere is likely to feel more like a soccer match than a poker game. And if he advances to Tuesday's play, I'm willing to bet that his supporters will be louder than whoever he might be facing.
4. Jay Farber's rail
All my talk about McLaughlin's rail, however, goes out the window if Jay Farber makes it to Tuesday. Not only is Farber a local, he's also a VIP host in Vegas, which means he's likely to have quite a few well-connected friends rooting for him. If Farber, the only real amateur remaining in the tournament, pulls off the improbable and makes it to heads up play, Tuesday will officially be bananas in the Penn and Teller Theater.
3. JC Tran taking advantage of his position
JC Tran has a lot going for him heading into the Main Event final table. Not only is he the most well-known pro remaining in the field, he also has the chip lead with 38 million chips, 8.3 million more than Lehavot, his closest competitor.
He also has the best seat at the table, with short stack David Benefield and Farber, the only amateur at the table, on his left. In the three seats to his right, he has the second- (Lehavot), third- (McLaughlin) and fifth-largest chip stacks (Ryan Riess). Expect Tran to take full advantage of that position, especially early on when players are looking to move up the ladder for a larger payday.
2. Phil Hellmuth's intermission reports
During live coverage of sporting events, networks need to air intermission or halftime reports to keep people watching during breaks in play. The same goes for poker, and this year, Marianela Pereyra will host a brief segment with Phil Hellmuth acting as an analyst. The potential unintentional comedy here is immense. I think Hellmuth is the best tournament poker player of all time. But when it comes to being on live television off the felt, Hellmuth has a lot of rough edges. I can't wait to see some of these segments during the breaks, because I think there might be some potential for viral videos out of these.
1. A long slog on Monday
The average stack at the final table is more than 50 big blinds, which isn't a ton of play, but it's enough. Chances are it will take close to five full levels of play to get to heads up on Monday night, which means that play may conclude after 3:00 a.m. PT. So if you're on the East Coast and you go to bed before the final two are determined, check ESPN2 when you wake up on Tuesday. You never know, there may be three or four players still battling it out on the felt.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.