The World Series of Poker drew to a close earlier this week with the final day of play in the Main Event. Just like every year since 2008, the tournament was paused once it reached the final table, to resume again in November. That means it’s time for us all to dissect the lineup and their prospects once play gets underway again. Here’s how the lineup looks to me, with odds on the players as set by Bodog.
J.C. Tran – Seat 7 – 38,000,000 chips (95 big blinds)
Among all the poker players I ever talked with and covered whose main job was to play the game, there were few who were as truly professional as J.C. Tran. Humble, confident, approachable, and as skilled as essentially anyone else ever to take to the felt, he was a markedly different player from the standard-issue “young guns.” He was also always a threat to win even when he held the shortest stack as his $8.3 million in career earnings can attest. With the chip lead in hand, he certainly deserves to be the favorite here.
Tran would probably have been my pick to win this tournament even if he had finished its July portion third or fourth in chips. With the expanded options the chip lead will give him, all of his strongest qualities should become magnified, and his experience having weathered pressure under the lights and before the cameras in the past should prove to be an enormous asset. Poker, especially the no-limit variety, is a crazy game, so I won’t say that I’d be surprised if Tran doesn’t win this tournament. But I can’t imagine anybody being surprised if he goes wire-to-wire.
Amir Lehavot – Seat 5 – 29,700,000 chips (74.25 big blinds)
I first became aware of Amir Lehavot when he emailed me in 2008 about a poker site he was designing called PokerWit, where players could improve their game by posting hands they’d played and discuss them with fellow players. He had played a lot of online poker and was making the move over to live tournaments, and PokerWit reflected how much of a student of the game he was. All that thinking about poker away from the tables really paid off for Lehavot in 2011, when he took fourth at the LA Poker Classic main event and won the $10K Pot Limit Hold’em championship at the WSOP. Now he’s in position to achieve something much bigger than either of those previous highs. If he’d finished a little further back in the standings, I probably would have made Amir Lehavot my dark-horse pick to win this tournament. As it is he still stands a pretty good chance of winning.
Amir will have ample opportunity to pick on J.C. Tran’s big blind, which could lead to some fireworks since these two have the biggest stacks at the table. But that also means that Tran, aside from hands in the small blind, will be in position on Lehavot for every other hand. That’s going to be tough to overcome, but with just one or two breaks at the right time he could become a very big threat to win the tournament.
Marc-Etienne McLaughlin – Seat 6 – 26,525,000 chips (66.31 big blinds)
It’s been a good WSOP for Canadian poker players, whose 10 bracelets this summer set the record for most wins in a year by a nation other than the United States. Tattoo artist Marc-Etienne McLaughlin represents a chance for the Great White North to cap off that great record pick up another bracelet via the country’s first ever Main Event title. McLaughlin has previously gone deep in this tournament twice, finishing 30th in 2009 and 86th in 2011, so his style clearly meshes well with the tournament structure. He was second in chips to end Day 5 and remained in contention throughout Day 7 to make the final table. “Slow but steady” is a pretty effective approach in a tournament paced as slowly as the Main Event, and McLaughlin has shown both the ability to stay in that gear for long stretches.
Jay Farber – Seat 9 − 25,975,000 chips (64.93 big blinds)
The amateur player who runs like he sold his soul has been a fixture at the Main Event final table for quite some time. This year the role falls to Jay Farber, a VIP host at a Vegas nightclub who piled up a larger-than-average stack on nearly every day of the tournament before finishing the last day fourth in chips. His entire WSOP resume consists of this lone cash, which means he likely sees himself as a man with nothing to lose. Jerry Yang had that mentality in 2007 – and he had far fewer chips to work with. If Farber keeps running well he could go deep, but he could also be prone to a misstep. And if anyone is hurt by the time off, it’s probably the guy who’d never been anywhere close to such a position before and got himself into a groove.
Ryan Riess – Seat 4 – 25,875,000 chips (64.68 big blinds)
The youngest player at the table, the 23-year-old Riess has enjoyed a pretty good year since graduating from Michigan State University with a business degree. He took second place in the WSOP Circuit Main Event in Hammond, Indiana, for $239K last October, and since then he has added another $70K in cashes from three WSOP events and various small-buy-in events around the country. In this tournament he has demonstrated great patience, having survived the first three days of the tournament with a below-average stack and then navigated through the final day of play despite starting it in the bottom third of the chip counts. He has also shown a willingness to take a big coin flip when necessary, as he did with pocket nines to knock out two-time bracelet winner Rep Porter. Riess has a good stack to start but probably the worst seat at the table with Lehavot, McLaughlin, and Tran lined up 1-2-3 behind him.
Sylvain Loosli – Seat 1 – 19,600,000 chips (49 big blinds)
Online cash-game specialist Sylvain Loosli was in the top ten chip counts over the last three days of this tournament before it paused upon reaching the final table. Unlike many others at the table, the 26-year-old Frenchman already had a big stack going into the final day and merely had to maintain. He got as high as 34 million when there were still 12 players left, but as the night went on his stack drained away until he was just sixth in chips. Still, with nearly 50 big blinds to his credit, Loosli has plenty of room to maneuver. If the short stacks on his left don’t make life hard for him, and he can avoid bleeding chips like he did most of the end of Day 7, he could determine his own fate at least in the early going.
Michiel Brummelhuis – Seat 2 – 11,275,000 chips (28.18 big blinds)
Michiel Brummelhuis is the first Dutchman ever to make the final table of the Main Event, beating Marcel Luske’s 10th-place finish from 2004. He got there by hanging on for his tournament life, starting 25th in the chip counts on the final day of play. He’s not in a particularly good spot at the table, with the potential to be handcuffed with short-stacked Mark Newhouse on the left and two big stacks in Lehavot and Riess directly behind him. It would take some very good fortune for Brummelhuis to have a legitimate chance of winning. But then again, they do play this game with a deck of cards…
Mark Newhouse – Seat 3 − 7,350,000 chips (18.37 big blinds)
Mark Newhouse’s success in poker came early. He won the WPT Borgata Poker Open for $1.5 million in 2006 at the age of 21, and three years later he won the PokerStars Sunday Million, banking $245K. But dig for more about him and you’ll find almost as much history infighting within the poker community as results at the tournament tables. Newhouse been on top of the world, he’s been broke, he’s been owed money, and he’s been in the middle of a handful of scandals. The point here is less that Newhouse fell from grace into the middle of a bunch of crap than that he fell from grace into the middle of a bunch of crap and is still here to tell the tale years later. That survival ability probably won’t see him pull off a huge comeback, but it could very well see him move up the pay scale a few spots.
David Benefield – Seat 8 – 6,375,000 chips (15.93 big blinds)
You wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near 15/1 odds on David Benefield if he had even 10 more big blinds in his stack. You can ignore his relatively light tournament resume; the former roommate of Tom Dwan, Benefield has won millions playing in some of the world’s biggest cash games. Post-Black Friday he’s been enrolled at Columbia University, studying political science and Chinese. His combination of a high skill level and detachment from the game could make him incredibly dangerous if he gets his hands on any chips. Of course, getting those chips is the real trick.
So what about those odds?
J.C. Tran deserves to be the favorite here given all the factors in play. The only problem for anyone looking to put a bet down on him is that at 9/5 there’s just not much value. Even though he has 20 big blinds fewer than Tran, Amir Lehavot’s a much better bet at 9/2 because he has still has more than enough room to maneuever.
In the middle of the pack Marc Etienne McLaughlin at 5/1, Ryan Riess at 6/1, and Jay Farber at 15/2 have nearly identical chip stacks and their odds reflect not just their past records but also their seating position at the table.
If you’re looking at the longshots, I think David Benefield and Mark Newhouse are both just as likely to pick up chips. Benefield, though, is less likely to implode if he does.