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LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Poker professional Mike Matusow has some advice for the nine players at today's final table of the World Series of Poker, as well as for the hundreds of fans making the trek over to the Rio to watch the action: Go heavy on the Red Bull and pop a few NoDoz pills, because you're in for a long night.
"This really should be a two-day final table because you have so many chips in play," said Matusow, a Las Vegas resident who finished ninth in last year's World Series of Poker championship event, taking home $1 million. "It's the marathon of all marathons."
Nine players hope to be the one with all $87.7 million in tournament chips stacked in front of them at the end of competition. But if play mirrors the 2005 final table, it will take awhile.
Last year, Joseph Hachem of Australia outlasted the competition for almost 14 hours, winning a then-record $7.5 million. This year's champion will take home $12 million.
Jamie Gold, a former Hollywood agent from Malibu, Calif., enters play as the chip leader with more than $25.6 million in tournament tokens.
Poker professional and four-time World Series bracelet winner Allen Cunningham of Las Vegas is second with more than $17.7 million. Richard Lee, a San Antonio investor, is the only other player whose chips are in double figures with $11.8 million.
Matusow, a longtime figure on the poker circuit, said the tournament is now Cunningham's to lose. Most poker professionals questioned on Wednesday's day off said the lack of World Series experience might be the undoing for the remaining players.
"They don't understand deep-stack poker, which involves a lot of chips," Matusow said. "The inexperienced and Internet players get reckless. It's a different poker world than it used to be. Allen is one of the top five pros in the world, and he understands all this."
Matusow said Gold has one large ace up his sleeve: two-time world poker champion Johnny Chan has served as his unofficial coach during the tournament. Several times during Tuesday night's play, Gold ventured over to Chan, who was standing at the rails, to collect some advice.
Chan, winner of 10 World Series of Poker bracelets, said Gold, 36, needs to make sure he plays slow when he finds himself heads-up in a hand against Cunningham.
" 'Don't call Allen. Let Allen call you,' is what I told him," Chan said. "Jamie has really become a strong poker player, and he's been doing all the right things during this tournament."
Chan said he expects the final table players to be "tight," playing slowly the first few hours. Once a couple of players bust out, then play might get a bit adventuresome.
Chan said if Gold stays within his game plan, his Hollywood career could have a whole new twist.
"I told him that whatever he has going right now outside of poker, drop it," Chan said. "He's now playing for his life."
Most poker tournament professionals expect Gold and Cunningham to be the final two players as the field is whittled down, which would mean slow play and a long night.
Robert Williamson III, who won a World Series bracelet in 2002, said Cunningham's tournament background will be a key factor. He doesn't think the 29-year-old pro will make too many daredevil moves.
"It seems to me that this tournament is Allen's to lose," Williamson said. "He would have to make some gross errors."
While the focus has been on Gold and Cunningham, that's not to say the other seven players are also-rans. The final nine outlasted a record field of 8,773 players who ponied up $10,000 each or who won their way into poker's signature event.
Matusow said he "heard good things" about Paul Wasicka, a bartender and restaurant manager from Westminster, Colo., who is fifth with more than $7.9 million.
"I think he and Alan are the two best players that are left," Matusow said.
Greg Raymer, who won the 2004 championship, said players can't be intimidated by the bright lights from ESPN, which is taping the final table for airing in November but also broadcasting the event on a live pay-per-view telecast.
"That's just one of the aspects of poker that comes into play," Raymer said. "Other than Alan, I don't know any of the guys at the final table. They could be world-class poker players or world-class chumps. The television lights will have a different impact on each player."
Steve Dannenmann, a certified public accountant from Severen Md., who finished second to Hachem last year and won $4.25 million, hopes the players take on his attitude: enjoy yourself, because you might never get back.
"Lose the sunglasses, so the world knows what you look like, and get rid of the Internet site logo shirts, because you're going to be a millionaire anyway and you don't need the (sponsorship) money," Dannenmann said. "Be respectful to the other players, but make it look like you're having fun. Enjoy it and take in the experience, because your life is going to change."
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