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January 18, 2018

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A rundown of the 9 vying for $8.5 million at the World Series of Poker


Steve Marcus

Members of the October Nine reach for the championship bracelet held by Jack Effel, World Series of Poker tournament director, after making the final table in the World Series of Poker’s $10,000 buy-in, no-limit Texas Hold’em main event at the Rio Monday, July 17, 2012. From left are: Russell Thomas, Jacob Balsiger, Jeremy Ausmus, Steven Gee, Greg Merson, Jesse Sylvia, Robert Salaburu, Andras Koroknai and Michael Esposito. All the players are from the United States except Koroknai who is from Hungary.

The poker world will immortalize one of the nine players who take the stage at the Rio’s Penn & Teller Theater on Monday evening.

Winning the World Series of Poker Main Event means more than the jaw-dropping $8,531,853 payout. The victor also secures his place in the game’s history as a world champion.

The only question is, who will prevail this year? All nine members of the final table, which begins play Monday evening at 4:30 and airs on ESPN2, have a chance.

Meet them all below. Career earnings are taken from tournament poker database The Hendon Mob. The ninth-place payout of $754,798 that all the players received this summer are included in their lifetime earnings.

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      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Seat 1: Russell Thomas

      Chips: 24,800,000 (4th)

      Age: 24

      From: Hartford, Conn.

      Odds to win: 4-to-1

      Career tournament earnings: $891,997

      Bio: Thomas is one of three players at the final table who didn't list poker as their full-time occupation before the Main Event began. He decided to take a lucrative job as an actuary after graduating from Temple University instead of pursuing poker as his lone source of income. Thomas has taken a leave for the Main Event, however, and may never return depending how much money he makes.

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      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Seat 2: Jake Balsiger

      Chips: 13,155,000 (8th)

      Age: 21

      From: Tempe, Ariz.

      Odds to win: 8-to-1

      Career tournament earnings: $756,682

      Bio: If Balsiger wins the Main Event, he would surpass Joe Cada as poker's youngest champion. He's 75 days younger than Cada was when he prevailed in 2009. Balsiger is a senior at Arizona State University studying political science. The $10,000 buy-in Main Event is the biggest tournament Balsiger ever entered. He couldn't shake the desire to compete in the WSOP after growing up watching the action on ESPN.

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      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Seat 3: Jeremy Ausmus

      Chips: 9,805,000 (9th)

      Age: 33

      From: Las Vegas

      Odds to win: 11-to-1

      Career tournament earnings: $1,186,483

      Bio: The eight-year poker pro moved to Las Vegas upon graduating from Colorado State University in 2005. Ausmus worked as a woodworker in college before he discovered he could make money at cards. He built a meager bankroll that grew exponentially after spending years at the local cash-game tables and the online felt.

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      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Seat 4: Steve Gee

      Chips: 16,860,000 (5th)

      Age: 57

      From: Sacramento, Calif.

      Odds to win: 6-to-1

      Career tournament earnings: $1,253,220

      Bio: Gee worked in software for the state of California before stepping down four years ago to concentrate on poker. His main objective was winning a World Series of Poker bracelet, which he accomplished in $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em tournament in 2010. He won $472,479 for that title, some 18 times less than what's at stake in the Main Event.

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      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Seat 5: Greg Merson

      Chips: 28,725,000 (3rd)

      Age: 24

      From: Laurel, Md.

      Odds to win: 5-to-2

      Career tournament earnings: $2,074,502

      Bio: Almost unanimously, Merson is the best player left in the Main Event. "Gregy" won his first WSOP bracelet a week before the Main Event in the $10,000 buy-in six-handed no-limit hold'em event, which featured a stacked field of professionals. But he originally built his profile in online cash games. Chip leader Jesse Sylvia went as far as to say Merson was "completely out of my league."

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      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Seat 6: Jesse Sylvia

      Chips: 43,875,000 (1st)

      Age: 26

      From: Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

      Odds to win: 3-to-2

      Career tournament earnings: $813,276

      Bio: Sylvia surged to gain the chip lead with an aggressive style of play in the final day this summer. It was no surprise to those who log long hours at local card rooms where Sylvia is a regular. He'll sometimes disappear for months at a time, though, because of his free spirit. Sylvia, for instance, once spent three months living in Costa Rica on $1,200. Someday, he wants to go to film school in Los Angeles.

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      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Seat 7: Robert Salaburu

      Chips: 15,155,000 (7th)

      Age: 27

      From: San Antonio, Texas

      Odds to win: 7-to-1

      Career tournament earnings: $817,386

      Bio: With Salaburu to Sylvia's left, look for this part of the table to draw the most action — especially if Salaburu can get his hands on a few more chips early. Salaburu is the most aggressive player to make it this far. He held the chip lead for nearly two days late in the tournament but took a big hit in a pot against Sylvia — who else? — in the final round of the summer. He's been on the poker circuit for years, but this is his first major breakthrough.

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      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Seat 8: Andras Koroknai

      Chips: 29,375,000 (2nd)

      Age: 30

      From: Debrecen, Hungary

      Odds to win: 3-to-1

      Career tournament earnings: $2,595,811

      Bio: After seven countries were represented at last year's final table, Koroknai is the only non-American to make it this far in 2012. He won a World Poker Tour event, the 2010 L.A. Poker Classic, for $1.7 million. That victory made him a recognizable face in the poker world, but not quite a widely known professional.

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      Photo by Steve Marcus

      Seat 9: Michael Esposito

      Chips: 16,260,000 (6th)

      Age: 44

      From: Seaford, N.Y.

      Odds to win: 6-to-1

      Career tournament earnings: $928,097

      Bio: Esposito limits his poker to a tournament or two per year. The Main Event was the only tournament he entered at this year's World Series of Poker. The New York City commodities trader has a more conservative style than most of the players at the table. He'll patiently wait for his spots instead of taking risks in an effort to get more chips.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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