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Top-10 November Nine first impressions

7 November 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- I have covered the World Series of Poker the last two years, but Sunday was my first time reporting on the WSOP Main Event final table. The November Nine concept was first introduced in 2008, and in the three years since it has turned from a subject of derision to the major event on the poker calendar.

That being said, I still didn't appreciate how big the event was until I saw it in person. Here are my top-10 first impressions of the November Nine.

10. It gets cold in Vegas?

Las Vegas in July is painfully hot. Just because it's a dry heat doesn't mean it’s any easier to handle. Temperatures that are well into triple digits still feel like temperatures in triple digits. Las Vegas in November? Not so much. In fact, I needed a jacket to walk to and from the Rio in the morning as temperatures were in the low 30s. Quite the change from four months ago.

9. Plenty of dead time

Although the atmosphere at the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio was rowdy and rambunctious (much more on this later), the main attraction was still poker. And poker can get slow. Real slow. Many hands don't see the flop, and those are the ones that go quick. But if a hand goes beyond the flop, minutes can pass before a player makes a decision. As Casino City's Vin Narayanan Tweeted shortly after the final table kicked off, "Five minutes two hands. One flop. And this is probably quick."

8. Crowd is never asleep

That being said, the crowd was in the game the entire afternoon/night. Sure, if a cheering section's player was out of a hand, they would stay silent and recover. But if he was still in the hand, all bets were off. There were chants. There were catcalls. In fact, one of the most common phrases uttered by WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel was, "Shhhhhhh." Later on he said, "Try to give these guys some courtesy when they're in the middle of a hand. Thank you." There was always a buzz in the stands despite the long periods of dead time.

7. Chad delivers strong shuffle up and deal

ESPN poker commentator Norman Chad was responsible for the customary "Shuffle up and deal" call before play began. He led off the proceedings by proclaiming, “This is truly the world's game." He then was able to rattle off the hometowns of each of the final table participants by heart. Pretty impressive, even though it's well known that all University of Maryland graduates have great memories.

6. The crowd is organized

As the November Nine has evolved, so did the cheering sections of the final table participants. Who can forget Joe Cada in 2009 running to his rail, all of whom were decked out in Michigan Maize and Blue? Or Jonathan Duhamel fans sporting Montreal Canadiens jerseys in 2010? November Nine players are coming to the final table with an organized crowd. Phil Collins fans sang "In the Air Tonight." Ben Lamb's crowd started many a "Benba!" chant, and one young man was even dressed up as a lamb. Flags of Ireland, Ukraine, Germany, Belize and England were seen in the crowd. And it seemed like everyone was wearing a custom T-shirt.

5. It pays to know someone

However, not everyone got to get his or her hands on those T-shirts. Only close family and friends of players were allowed to enter the Penn & Teller Theater before the general public. Of course, some players (specifically Badih "Bob" Bounahra) seemed to have more family and friends than others. Chances are if you weren't wearing a custom T-shirt (or a wig, in Sam Holden's case), you were stuck in line with everyone else.

4. ESPN's rough live feed

Much was made of the ESPN's decision to offer a live stream (on a 15-minute delay) on both ESPN2 and Each of the November Niners who busted out said they enjoyed the live coverage and tried to use as much of it as possible to their advantage. Poker fans who were watching the live stream, however, probably weren't as enthusiastic. The live feed had issues throughout play on
Sunday. The WSOP's official Twitter feed reported the first issue early in the day's action:

"Sorry, folks, we're experiencing a minor issue with the feed. It should be up and running in 15 min. Players now on the 1st break of the day."

"We had to increase our Internet bandwidth and that has caused some configuration issues. We will be back up shortly!" said the WSOP, in response to a follower's question.

After the first two breaks, the WSOP feed was back to normal and seemed to run smoothly throughout the rest of the day. Let's hope similar issues don't plague the broadcast on Tuesday.

3. Bob Bounahra is a star

Badih "Bob" Bounahra was the oldest player at the final table. He was the only one who chewed on a cigar. He was also the one with a smile on his face nearly the entire time. Bounahra, a native of Belize, had the largest and most boisterous rail of any of the November Nine, and that's saying something considering "O'Dea, O'Dea, O'Dea, O'Dea!" chants could be heard all the way up in the press box and "In the Air Tonight" was sung each time Collins won a major pot. Bounahra's fans banged drums. They waved flags. They cheered wildly anytime his name was mentioned. After he busted out in seventh place, his fans gave him a hearty ovation. And that hearty ovation continued when he spoke to the media in the lobby of the Penn & Teller Theater. The 2011 Main Event champion wasn't decided on Sunday, but a star was born.

2. Start slow, finish fast

The first two hours of play on Sunday were painfully slow. Few hands saw the flop. No one called an all-in before the first break. After that first break, though, all hell broke loose. Lamb eliminated Sam Holden. Less than 10 minutes later Anton Makiievskyi was busted by Pius Heinz. You barely had time to catch your breath when Bob Bounahra was sent to the rail by Martin Staszko. Right after Bounahra finished talking to the media, Collins survived his all-in against Lamb. The level ended with Lamb hitting a miracle river card to stay in the tournament, crippling O’Dea in the process. The fast pace continued right after the break. O’Dea was eliminated by Staszko in the first hand of the level. The very next hand Collins got knocked out by Heinz. Lamb’s epic suckouts were the cherry on top to a fast and furious last few hours of play.

1. The soccer cliché is true

The most clichéd statement you will hear about the WSOP Main Event final table is that it feels like you're at a European soccer match. And I'm here to say that the cliché is 100% true. With the flags, and the chants, and the outfits, and the heavy drinking, the WSOP Main event final table is simply a spectacle that any true poker fan will enjoy.
Top-10 November Nine first impressions is republished from