07/21/2011 3:39PM

Last table set for Main Event at World Series of Poker

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And then there were nine . . . but it took a little longer than expected.

The World Series of Pokers’ $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold’Em World Championship – commonly referred to as the Main Event – played down to its final nine players Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino just west of the Las Vegas Strip.

This was the first year that ESPN offered live coverage, or at least near-live coverage as broadcasts were on a 30-minute delay to appease gaming regulators, on its cable TV networks and online at ESPN3.com. In addition, players’ hole cards were not shown during “live” play, so it was closer to what it’s like watching a tournament live as opposed to the taped/edited versions with hole cards that helped spark the poker boom the past decade.

Much has been written about TV’s impact on the growth of sports and how TV now has a lot of control of when games are played and even how they’re played with the TV timeouts, etc. I guess we saw poker cross that threshold this past Tuesday as the day started with 22 players, and the plan was to start at noon and continue until the field was cut to the November Nine that will come back to play for the $8.7 million first-place prize and the coveted WSOP bracelet.

The normal schedule of play in the Main Event is for a level to last two hours, with a 15-minute break and with a two-hour dinner break in the events after three levels of play (6:30 p.m. Pacific). However, on Tuesday there were seven eliminated in the first three hours of play, so tournament officials threw in an extra one-hour break to ensure there would still be action by the time of the ESPN telecast at 5 p.m. By the time play hit the dinner break, 12 players remained.

It always surprises me that as big as the Main Event is and how many people end up watching the shows on TV, it’s a rather intimate affair, not much bigger than it was when the fields were less than 1,000 people. After the dinner break Tuesday, I counted 180 spectators in the stands at the featured table and 100 standing around the secondary table (only a few people had pulled up chairs to sit at the rail). There are no reserved seats, and both were fluid numbers with people coming and going. A few dozen people were milling around the Amazon Room, but even if you included the dozen players and the WSOP and ESPN crews, it was still less than 400 people witnessing the event in person (it must rival the smallest crowds at ESPN-televised events).

But I digress.

ESPN2 took over the coverage at 9 p.m. Pacific to coincide with the 8:30 p.m. restart after the dinner break with two tables of six apiece. They got more than an hour of action with no one eliminated, but then two players hit the rail and the two tables were combined into the official final table of 10, which would then play until one was eliminated to create the November Nine.

Even with the players in this spot obviously wanting to survive and have a shot at the big money, it usually doesn’t take long for one of the short stacks to be forced to go all-in, but this year it took over 45 minutes before a flop was even seen, which drew a Bronx cheer from the crowd. The final table ended up playing for three hours and 36 minutes before John Hewitt, 23, of Costa Rica, was finally eliminated in 10th place. He earned $607,882 for his efforts. The rest of the November Nine received $782,115, the minimum they can win for finishing ninth when they return Nov. 5.

Befitting the title of World Series of Poker, the chip leader of a very international November Nine is Martin Staszko, 35, of Trinec, Czech Republic, with $40.175 million. He is followed by Eoghan O’Dea, 26, of Dublin, Ireland, at $32.925 million; Matt Giannetti, 26, of Las Vegas, at $24.750 million; Phil Collins of Las Vegas, at $23.875 million; Ben Lamb, 26, of Las Vegas, with $20.875 million; Badih Bounahra, 49, of Belize City, Belize, with $19.7 million; Pius Heinz, 22, of Cologne, Germany, with $16.425 million; Anton Makeiivskyi, 21, of Dripropetrovsk, Ukraine, with $13.825 million; and Sam Holden, 22, of Sussex, England, with $12.375 million.

Of the nine, only three (Giannetti, Collins, and Lamb) are from the United States and all three are ironically (or maybe not so ironically) from Las Vegas and are all 26 years old. If that seems young, consider that seven of the November Nine are 26 or younger, with chip leader Staszko and Bounahra being the only exceptions.

In this space two weeks ago, we discussed how it was a long process for Wynn Las Vegas to get approval from the Nevada Gaming Control Board to put up the first prop bets on the WSOP Main Event, including whether a woman would finish in the top 40 (for the record, the answer to that was “yes” as Erika Moutinho of Easton, Conn., finished 29th, one spot ahead of her boyfriend, David Sands, and you can be sure that storyline will be prominent when ESPN begins its traditional taped coverage on Tuesdays starting Aug. 16).

Well, it was much easier to get approval for odds to win the November Nine, and within 24 hours there were odds posted at Wynn Las Vegas, the Lucky’s network of books, and Cantor Gaming’s four outlets, led by the M.

Staszko was made the 5-2 favorite by the Lucky’s books, with the Wynn going with 3-1 and Cantor offering the best value on him at 7-2. Consensus odds on the rest of the field were O’Dea 4-1, Giannetti 5-1, Collins 6-1, Lamb 6-1, Bounahra 8-1, Heinz 10-1, Makiivskyi 12-1, and Holden 14-1.

The best bet on the board appears to be Lamb at 6-1 (he was offered at 7-1 by Lucky’s) as he’s been the most consistent poker player of all, leading the WSOP Player of the Year standings as he had finishes of first in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event (his first WSOP bracelet), second in the $3,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event, eighth in the $50,000 Players’ Championship, and 12th in the $10,000 Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em Championship.