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Top-10 Questions and Answers from the World Series of Poker's Main Event final table

17 November 2008

LAS VEGAS -- It began way back on July 3. The November Nine was created on July 15 and then 117 days later everybody reconvened at the Rio in Las Vegas and action got back underway. Then after a record 15 hours, 39 minutes of final-table action, the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event champion was crowned when Peter Eastgate knocked off Ivan Demidov.

We here at Casino City were in Las Vegas for the entire Main Event -- both the summer and fall sessions. It amounted to spending as much as an entire month living in Sin City, just so we could bring you the kind of coverage you won't find anywhere else.

So who better to answer a Top-10 list of questions that inquiring poker minds must be asking?

10. How did your Top-10 Fearless Predictions for the Final Table work out?

Funny you should ask. Because that question allows me to get my "shameless plug" portion of the column out of the way right at the top.

I did pick Peter Eastgate to win the Main Event and break Phil Hellmuth's mark as the youngest player to ever win the event. It was a daring pick because he was a 5-to-1 shot to win and not a lot of people were even mentioning him as a possible winner. But after it was all said and done, Eastgate clearly proved that he was the best player among the November Nine.

As for my other picks, I correctly predicted that Kelly Kim would not be the first player eliminated, despite his short stack. I also said that Craig Marquis would be the first player eliminated, which I found 6-to-1 odds on at Bodog. And I predicted correctly three out of the final four players, including the pick of Dennis Phillips to finish in third place.

But I did miss badly on a couple of picks and the one player who I totally overlooked was Ivan Demidov, which in hindsight was ludicrous. I didn't even have him in my final four and he was, by far, the second-best player at the table. In fact, at numerous moments throughout the more than 15 hours of poker that took place over the two days, Demidov looked like he was on his way to victory.

I don't think Demidov is getting enough credit for what he pulled off during the last few months, becoming the first player in history to make the final table of both the WSOP and the WSOP Europe. Think about this for a moment. The 27-year-old Russian outlasted 6,844 players to finish second at the Main Event. In Europe the field was much smaller, but also much more competitive due to the steep buy-in of $18,400 and he still managed to place third out of 363. So while I accept your congratulations for the Eastgate pick, I certainly deserve some jeers for neglecting the greatness of Demidov.

9. Ultimately, how did Eastgate pull it off?

Eastgate wins

Peter Eastgate shows off his new bracelet after winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. Photo by Gary Trask, Casino City

In two words: aggression and composure. The steely-eyed Eastgate has a classic poker face. Demidov said before the final table that the one guy he wanted to avoid was Eastgate because he had trouble reading him and that, my friends, is probably one of the best compliments you could give a fellow poker player. And as each player was eliminated on Sunday, they all mentioned how Eastgate was keeping them guessing with his style of play.

Although ESPN didn't show much of Eastgate in the first hour of its final-table coverage (more on that later), he won three of the first 12 hands of Day 1, four of the first 15 and seven of the first 21. None of them were huge pots, but this simply goes to show that he wasn't invisible early on. He came into the final table with the fourth-highest stack and never fell further back than that throughout the two days of play. In just three short years of playing poker, Eastgate has earned the reputation as one of the best online short-handed and heads-up players. So when it got down to three-handed play and Eastgate held a decent chip lead, you had to figure he was going to hold on and win.

8. Who was the biggest winner?

The obvious choice is Eastgate for about 9.1 million reasons. But money and bracelets aside, Dennis Phillips came out of this whole November Nine thing looking pretty darn good.

First of all, he was the surprising chip leader when things were decided way back in July and he embraced that role. He visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., threw out the first pitch at a home game of his beloved St. Louis Cardinals and committed to donating a share of his winnings to charity. He accepted nearly every interview request he received and he came across as a genuinely nice guy -- a "regular guy" who just so happened to be the leader of the most publicized tournament in the history of poker.

When he returned to Las Vegas for the final table, Phillips brought along 300 or so of his friends and family. PokerStars made the brilliant PR move of producing replica truck driver shirts for Dennis Phillips Nation to wear inside the Penn & Teller Theater and they were the most vociferous segment of the crowd. They had placards spelling out D-E-N-N-I-S P-H-I-L-L-I-P-S and real-life Dennis Phillips masks. They even brought along a truck horn to sound whenever Phillips won a hand.

Phillips quickly coughed up his chip lead, however, and less than 20 hands into the night had the second-shortest stack. Amazingly, Phillips was nearly the first player eliminated from the November Nine, but he prevailed in a face-off with David "Chino" Rheem thanks to pocket queens. The next thing you know he was climbing back into contention – with his boisterous cheering section making noise with every good hand – and ended up finishing a very respectable third. Not bad for an amateur.

He exited the final table stage with the same class and grace as he entered it. He said all the right things and commended the play of his opponents. He even told us that in a way he was happy to have it all over with so he could make his 10 a.m. tee time the next morning.

In addition to taking home $4.5 million, Dennis Phillips proved to be one classy individual and one hell of a poker player.

7. Who was the biggest loser?

No, it wasn't Craig Marquis, the ninth-place finisher. In fact it's tough to call any of these nine guys "losers" since they each went home with at least $900,000. But the person coming out of the Main Event looking the worst was Chino Rheem. It's actually astounding that I am writing those words if you consider how likable and amicable Chino appeared to be in the ESPN coverage of the WSOP in the weeks leading up to the final table.


David "Chino" Rheem(photo courtesy of PokerStars)

He has great camera presence and despite his relatively short stack, he was considered a legitimate threat to not only contend, but win the Main Event. But something happened to Chino during the 117-day break. For some reason he put the whole weight of all poker professionals on his shoulders. Despite the fact that there were five other pros in the November Nine, Chino said that he felt like it was his responsibility to snap the streak of six-straight amateurs winning the Main Event. Someone who is close to the tournament told us that they thought Chino came into the final table with the "wrong attitude." And it showed both in his play and the manner in which he behaved after he was eliminated.

After he became the third player eliminated on a hand that could hardly be termed a "bad beat" relative to some of the other tough beats in this tournament, Rheem sounded off on a respected ESPN reporter at the start of his press conference. Sure, the reporter could have phrased his question better than simply asking, "Chino, how are you feeling right now?" But Chino's berating of the reporter was out of line. Chino did compose himself and genuinely talk about how much winning the tournament meant to him, but the damage was done.

Rheem was also nowhere to be seen the next night when Eastgate and Demidov went head-to-head. (For the record, Phillips and Darus Suharto were there from the start on Monday night while Marquis showed up later on and Ylon Schwartz appeared just as it was wrapping up at 2:30 a.m.). Rheem also failed to appear at the ESPN viewing party on Tuesday night at the Rio. And let's just say that from what we heard, Rheem's relationship with PokerStars isn't exactly all candy and roses.

In the end, I really think Rheem could have come out of this whole thing as a big winner – no matter where he finished – if he had simply embraced the opportunity. Instead, he seemed to feel the pressure, got bounced earlier than most people expected and then decided to take it out on the world.

6. Which player suffered the toughest beat?

Although he handled it was complete class, Marquis had the most to gripe about when he was eliminated. The college student from Texas may have been playing a bit too loose when he went all-in with pocket sevens, especially if you consider that Kelly Kim was hopelessly short and running out of blinds at the time. But Marquis was looking good when his heads-up face-off with Scott Montgomery began with him catching a seven on the flop for a set that made him a 96% favorite to win the hand. Even after Montgomery caught a flush draw on the turn Marquis was still a 91% favorite. But Montgomery – who, by the way, has the dead-on "aw shucks" mannerisms of golfer Phil Mickelson – hit the runner-runner flush, thus making Marquis the first player to be eliminated.

In his press conference, Marquis couldn't have been more gracious. Despite catching the set on the flop, he pointed out that it was basically a coin flip going into the flop and that's how he was going to look at things. For a guy who suffered a much tougher beat that Rheem, Marquis certainly acted well beyond his age of 23-years-old.

5. What was the biggest surprise of the final table?

There is no doubt that the element of the final table that took everyone by surprise was the number of spectators that not only showed up to watch poker by the thousands, but were willing to stand in line hours and hours just to get into the Penn & Teller Theater. We spoke to the first person in line on Sunday morning and he said he got there at 2 a.m., about eight hours before the doors were opened. We continued to check the line entering the theater throughout the day on Sunday and there was a two-hour wait until the late afternoon. The line finally stopped forming around 9 p.m.

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Dennis Phillips had around 300 people supporting him at the

final table.
Photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City

On Monday night, despite the absence of the Phillips Fanatics, the line began forming about three hours before the doors opened and it was standing room only when the cards went in the air at around 10:30 p.m. Eastgate wasn't crowned champion until 2:30 a.m. and by that point the theater was about half full, but that didn't take away from the festive atmosphere that was created inside the Penn & Teller Theater.

As Norman Chad correctly pointed out during the final table telecast, "Who would have ever thought there would be upper-deck seating for a poker tournament?"

4. What did you think of ESPN's coverage of the final table?

Overall, I thought that ESPN did exactly what it had hoped to do when the 117-delay was announced back in May. The network created a sense of excitement and drama, especially for those viewers who didn't know the end result.

The first time I watched the final table episode was on Tuesday night at the ESPN viewing party at the Rio, which was interesting because we got to see first-hand the reaction of both the ESPN people who worked so hard on the show as well as the players who attended the party, a group that included Eastgate, Demidov, Suharto, Marquis and Schwartz.

Before the episode aired, we were speaking with Suharto about the final table and a key hand that played out between Phillips and Demidov early on in the action. Demidov went all-in on a fairly big pot and after contemplating for some time, Phillips ended up folding.

"I guarantee Dennis had Ace-King there," Suharto told us. "And Demidov probably had Ace-Queen or something."

Sure enough, this particular hand was the second one showed in the final table episode and Suharto was dead-on with both of his predictions. This from a man who still considers himself a "donkey."

When I got home I watched the episode again and got a closer look. Considering the short deadline that ESPN was up against in order to pull off the "same-day coverage," I still think the program was great TV. Unfortunately, the producers had to take more than 15 hours of poker and condense it into less than two hours. In fact, only 24 out of the 274 hands that were played at the final table were showed on TV. That's less than 10 percent. So obviously there was quite a bit of action that went down at both the table and in the spectator sections that simply could not be captured.

So taking all of that into account, I think ESPN did a first-rate job, and it showed in the ratings that the episode received.

3. What were some of those key elements that ESPN failed to capture?

A couple of things jump out at me. First of all, there was no mention of the fact that it took more than four hours of action on Day 1 for a player to be eliminated. Craig Marquis was bounced on the 52nd hand of the night, but since it was just the eighth hand shown on TV, the viewers have no idea just how long it took to get the ball rolling on the entire night.


ESPN presented "same-day" coverage of the WSOP for the first time last week. (photo by Phil Ellsworth/ESPN)

Truth be told, the first few hours of play were slow and the players seemed nervous. There wasn't a ton of chit chat and we didn't even see a flop until the 13th hand. And while Dennis Phillips may have appeared to be the aggressor in the early going on TV, that wasn't the case. Phillips actually didn't even get involved in a hand until the 16th hand of Day 1. The aggressor in the early going was, without a doubt, Ylon Schwartz, who had a commanding chip lead about 30 hands into the night, sitting with a stack of more than 40 million while Demidov was in second-place with just over 27 million.

Eastgate, meanwhile, wasn't shown in a hand on TV for the entire first hour, yet he was definitely a factor throughout the night. And when the telecast did show Eastgate in seven hands of the second hour, they were all ones where the eventual champ caught some great cards, which may have appeared to make him look fortunate. But please do not let this fool you. Eastgate and Demidov were the best two players at the final table, that's why it was fitting that they met in heads-up play.

Speaking of the heads-up play, the telecast did not let on to the fact that it took place the night after the final table was played down to two. The casual viewer probably thought this was done all in one session, which is misleading. Also, time constraints limited ESPN to showing just two hands of the heads up play, even though it lasted more than four hours and featured 104 grueling hands. Once again, the TV viewer had no idea that while Eastgate came into heads up play with a chip lead of 80,300,000-56,600,000, Demidov came out flying and actually took over the chip lead 11 hands into heads up play with a stack of 73,450,000 to Eastgate's 63,450,000.

The first hand that ESPN showed of the heads-up play was actually the 97th hand of the night. Eastgate had already lost the lead, gained it back and put Demidov on the ropes.

Once again, we understand what ESPN was up against here. But failing to explain the longevity of the heads-up match and the fact that Eastgate actually fell behind at one point was a disservice to the poker fans that were not fortunate enough to be inside the Penn & Teller Theater.

2. Did the Harrah's and the WSOP get what they wanted out of the 117-day delay?

The poker purists out there don't want to hear this, but Harrah's and the WSOP, for the most part, got exactly what they wanted out of the controversial decision to delay the final table. Let's go back to the day that the announcement was made by WSOP Commissioner Jeffery Pollack, who said, "Our intent is to provide an even bigger stage for our players. Now fans and viewers will ask 'who will win' our coveted championship bracelet instead of 'who won.' The excitement and interest surrounding our final nine players will be unprecedented."

Well, considering the thousands of people that jammed the theater to witness the event in person and the fact that TV ratings for the final table episode were up nearly 50 percent and gained the kind of ESPN rating that a regular-season NBA basketball game garners, I would say that Pollack got what he envisioned.

Yes, mainstream media didn't pay as much attention as everyone would have liked. And the players simply did not receive the lucrative sponsorship logos that most expected. Also, there is a lot of validity to the points many people made – including members of the November Nine – that the delay ruined the integrity of the game.

But, in the end, this was good for poker. And the hope is that will result in more participation next year and, in turn, create larger prize pools. If that's the case, how can anyone involved complain?

1. So, will there be a similar pause next year for the final table?

While everybody from Pollack to ESPN Senior Producer Jamie Horowitz to Tournament Director Jack Effel sidestepped this question when we asked them, the guess here is that there will indeed be another pause next year before the final table.

The ratings and crowd sizes alone simply demand that there be another attempt at this. But I also feel that there will be some concession made by the WSOP organizers and ESPN. It seemed clear to me that 117 days was far too long to wait for the final table to get back underway. The guess here is that ESPN adjusts its schedule for the WSOP telecasts and the final-table delay is more in the 40 to 60 day range next year.

Either way, we'll see you back at the Rio next summer for what should be a very interesting 40th edition of the World Series of Poker, no matter when the final table is played.

Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has more than 25 years of experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has more than 25 years of experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:!/casinocityGT