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January 29, 2022

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The biggest stories in World Series of Poker

A win by the World Series of Poker’s chip leader would rival that of Moneymaker’s breakthrough, but Ivey is also compelling


associated press file

Players who made the final table of the World Series of Poker include, from left, James Akenhead, Jeff Shulman, Phil Ivey, Antoine Saout, Darvin Moon, Joseph Cada, Steven Begleiter, Kevin Schaffel and Eric Buchman. The tournament began in July at the Rio and, after a four-month hiatus, resumes Saturday. Moon is the chip leader.

Q&A with Jeff Shulman

Showing Their Cards

With the final table set, ESPN's Norman Chad and Lon McEachern weigh in on life behind the scenes of the World Series of Poker.

Final Table Chip Count

If You Go

  • What: World Series of Poker final table
  • When: Play begins at noon Saturday and continues until all but two players are eliminated. Heads-up play begins at 10 p.m. Monday.
  • Where: Penn & Teller Theater, the Rio
  • Admission: Free for spectators 21 and older on a first-come, first-served basis
  • TV: ESPN, 6 p.m. Tuesday

Player Links

Before the start of the 2003 World Series of Poker, I recall seeing Chris Moneymaker’s name on the list of entrants at the old Binion’s Horseshoe downtown and marveling that someone would have the temerity to compete in the tournament under such an outlandish pseudonym.

When Moneymaker — his real name, of course, as the poker world would soon learn — reached the heads-up portion of the event against veteran Sam Farha, ESPN’s Norman Chad still found it hard to give the unknown player much respect.

“I was rooting for Sammy Farha,” Chad said. “Why? Because I was an idiot. I did not see the effect that a Chris Moneymaker would have.”

Moneymaker’s victory in the main event has been credited with launching what came to be known as the “poker craze,” though it received assists from televised tournaments employing hole-card cameras — then a novel concept — and the explosion in popularity of online poker.

The poker sensation has since leveled off, but the game could undergo another miniboom, Chad said, if Darvin Moon holds on to his chip lead and wins the 2009 World Series main event.

The tournament resumes Saturday at the Rio with nine finalists competing at the final table after a hiatus of nearly four months.

Moon, who controls 30 percent of the chips in play, has much in common with Moneymaker. Moon is an amateur poker player, heretofore a complete unknown. A self-employed logger from rural Maryland, Moon has an everyman aura about him. He’s the consummate underdog: Moon likes to say that of the 6,494 entrants in the $10,000 no-limit Texas hold ’em championship tournament, about 6,300 are better than him at poker.

The Dickensian aspect of his name doesn’t hurt, as Chad sees it.

“It’s not quite as dramatic (as Moneymaker’s victory) but if Darvin Moon wins, there’s something about the name alone,” Chad said. “It’s different than if (fellow finalist) Eric Buchman wins it. It’s just another unbelievable, improbable story. If Darvin can pull it off, I just think it becomes the stuff of storybooks.”

Lon McEachern, Chad’s poker partner at ESPN, likened Moon’s performance to golfer Tze-Chung Chen’s stirring — yet ultimately unsuccessful — run for the title in the 1985 U.S. Open.

“He is the unknown factor,” McEachern said on a conference call previewing the final table. “Yeah, he’s catching a lot of cards. But maybe people won’t give him enough credit for the game he does bring. Obviously he’s going to be the scariest one at the table with the big chip stack.

“Whether Darvin will be like another T.C. Chen, who knows, but he’s a fascinating character.”

Chad expects Moon to continue playing solid poker marked by pushing high-quality starting hands rather than taking the risks associated with a trickier style at the table.

“He’s not going to be reckless,” Chad said. “He’s not going to be the table bully, which sometimes the chip leader does because they know they can push around the smaller stacks. He’s going to do the smart thing from a money standpoint. He’s going to sit around and let the smaller stacks knock each other out. There’s no reason Darvin can’t guarantee himself a top 3 or 4 finish, which is a lot more money than the $1.2 million he’s guaranteed.

“He’s probably the worst player at the table, but he loves to advertise that. He does some things that seem to indicate a higher skill level than he gives himself credit for. I think there’s a little shark in him, a little pool hustler in there.”

If Darvin Moon is the No. 1 story of the final table, then No. 1a is the presence of Phil Ivey, the game’s best player according to a consensus of his fellow professionals — a notoriously argumentative lot who rarely form a consensus on anything.

Ivey, though always dangerous, brings one of the shortest stacks of chips into the final table.

“Poker players can agree on nothing,” Chad said. “If they’re at a crosswalk and the signal says ‘Walk,’ they’ll start arguing about whether they should walk or not. So the fact they do agree on Phil Ivey is a rare circumstance.

“He has a sixth sense like all good poker players do, but he has like a sixth-and-half sense. He has the ability to read situations better than the next person. In poker it’s hard to say anybody’s the best, but yeah, they’re pretty unanimous. Hardly anybody says, ‘Ah, he gets lucky.’ Everyone agrees he is the best.”

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