The November Nine Have Skillz
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
The poker community nowadays are a fickle bunch. So many 'stars' are born for all of fifteen minutes before they disappear back into the fringe. That guy who won the Sunday Million and was going to take the live poker world by storm? You seen him lately? Precisely. When we're told so many are The Next Big Thing, it makes it that much harder to swallow what we're told. That's why the last week has been a refreshing experience for those of us who worried about November...
The November Nine was a much maligned concept, surely a creation for the likes of ESPN and Harrahs to spin even more money out of the World Series of Poker. For a poker tournament which now seems to be a device to cram as many brands as possible (with the odd hand of poker thrown in to break it all up), the prospect of waiting three months before we found out who won the most beloved of tournaments – while being told there's a certain brand of peanut we all really ought to be eating – is plain torture. Screw the peanuts, we want to know who the champ is already!
The marketing men in America would have loved it if one of those Nine were a big name pro – a Matusow or a Hellmuth – or even if one of them was a good looking lady. We're sorry you missed the final table too, Tiffany. What they were left with were a menagerie of all that was unmarketable. The online pro who has garnered much of the support, as well as the urban cool of the man with the best nickname are the highlights of a table which promises us an account manager for a trucking firm, a Russian dude, two accountants, some bloke who's stack is so short it might not be worth him even coming back and a couple of poker professionals who we've not heard much of until this point. Hardly compelling viewing, right?
Wrong. The antics at the WSOPE in London this past week or so has meant that the final table of its American sibling will be all the more viewable, thanks mainly to Ivan Demidov. The Russian might have been an unknown quantity when he booked his place in Las Vegas this fall, but his performance in the Main Event of the WSOP Europe has grabbed people's attention. The kid can most certainly play; down to six-handed he looked like the European heir-apparent, with resistance only coming from fellow Muscovite Stanislav Alekhin. It was only a huge hand against John Juanda where he took one risk too many that arguably stopped him completing one half of what would have been a historic double. Only time will tell if he's good enough to overcome the chip lead of Dennis Phillips at the Rio, but on this evidence he should tear chips out of the hands of those around him.
Demidov was rightly at the centre of the poker world for a good few hours on Friday morning, but we should also pay credit to the performance of Phillips at the EPT London High Rollers event. The eighty-five players who coughed up the £20,000 entry fee to that tournament constituted some of – if not all – of the best in the world. Ivey, Antonius, Hansen, Ferguson, Benyamine, Negreanu... the list was fearsome. Phillips acquitted himself admirably, narrowly missing out on a final table spot. Mind you, it wasn't the easiest final table to get yourself booked in at: Benyamine, Nguyen, Juanda and co made sure you had to be damned good to gain admittance to that particular shindig.
It wasn't only Demidov and Phillips who were in town. Scott Montgomery and David 'Chino' Rheem both showed glimpses of what they are capable of, albeit in short bursts, while Kelly Kim and Peter Eastgate all had their moments. Sure we would have liked to have had Hellmuth there taking a shot at his twelfth bracelet, or Mike Matusow needling his way to success. We confess – we would have liked Tiffany Michelle there, just because the girl is easy on the eye and tough on the felt. As fans of poker though, we need to recognise what we've been left with. The WSOP Europe has shown us that this November Nine can play, and might just be watchable after all. For Christ's sake though, ESPN, save us the peanut ads.