Last 9 At WSOP Sent Home To Prepare With $1.26M - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Last 9 At WSOP Sent Home To Prepare With $1.26M

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - The World Series of Poker has thrust nine millionaire winners into the spotlight as they wait 116 days to get back to the table for the rest of the no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event.

They hung on to win at least $1.26 million as poker's richest tournament played at an unexpectedly brisk pace, and now must decide how to best spend the next four months to set up a run at the $8.55 million crown.

"So I guess I'm going to actually start watching some poker on TV," said Phil Ivey, a 33-year-old poker legend who regularly plays the biggest cash games in Las Vegas and is one of the best players in the world.

The seven-time tournament winner at the series is guaranteed his best finish yet at the $10,000 buy-in main event after placing 10th in 2003, 20th in 2005 and 23rd in 2002. His wins here have come playing games other than no-limit Texas Hold 'em, including two gold bracelet wins this year with a chance for a third in 57 events.

"So far I've just made the final table, so it's a pretty big accomplishment," said Ivey, who has won $3.46 million at the series, not including this year's main event. "Winning it would be top of the line."

Ivey will start in November with 5 percent of the chips in play - 9.75 million - and a goal of winning them all to take the title.

To do it, he'll have to get past eight relatively unknown players, including a former Bear Stearns Cos. executive who won his seat in a hometown poker league, the publisher of Card Player magazine and Darvin Moon, a married, self-employed logger from Oakland, Md., who currently leads with 30 percent of the chips at the table.

"Everyone at this table is way better than I am," said Moon, 45, who said this trip was his first to Las Vegas. "Something is helping me."

Moon busted 27-year-old professional poker player Jordan Smith in 10th place on Wednesday night by catching an eight on the board to match the pair in his hand for a set. Smith held pocket aces - the best starting hand in Texas Hold 'em.

The bust sent the nine players and hundreds in the crowd into a collective frenzy and instantly paused the tournament after nearly eight hours of play on the players' eighth session.

The tournament started July 3 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas when each player bought in and was given 30,000 starting chips. The field was so large that its start was split over four days, with the players remaining joining together on their third session.

"It's just mind-boggling - it's overwhelming, the whole scene with all the photographers," said 51-year-old Kevin Schaffel of Coral Springs, Fla., a regular in $10-$20 cash games who said he was playing through a cold the past few days.

"It's just such a thrill, I mean I can't express it any other way," he said. "The money will sink in down the road and that's going to be great."

Harrah's Entertainment, Inc., the private casino operator that owns the series, paid each player the $1.26 million for ninth place on Thursday. The rest goes into an interest-bearing account until the day before the final table starts Nov. 7. By then, the prizes will likely be a little richer.

"I have no idea what I'm going to do in the next four months," said Steven Begleiter, the former head of corporate strategy for Bear Stearns who now works at a private equity firm. "I have a vacation planned with my wife, I got to get to Europe with her - she deserves a trip - decompress a little and not see a flop for a long time."

Bear Stearns, the investment firm, was bought out by JPMorgan Chase & Co. in March last year in a deal orchestrated by the Federal Reserve and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Begleiter, 47, of Chappaqua, N.Y., said he played in the first starting day July 3, went back to New York and came back for his second session July 7.

"I hoped to have a run. How long's a run? Well, I never really dreamed I would be at the final table," he said. "So I hoped to cash maybe. I don't really know what I hoped. I hoped to play well."

Officials brought in last year's third place finisher Dennis Phillips to talk to the nine players on Thursday about what to expect in the next four months. The trucking account manager from a St. Louis suburb was the chip leader heading into the final table but eventually lost to Peter Eastgate, who won the tournament and $9.15 million.

"It's our expectation that each member of the November nine recognizes that in some way they're now an ambassador for the game," said Jeffrey Pollack, commissioner for the World Series of Poker.

Last year was the first year the world series delayed its final table until November - a move to generate buzz and television ratings for ESPN, which airs most of the tournament weeks after it is completed.

The other players at the final table include Card Player Publisher Jeff Schulman, 34, of Las Vegas; Joseph Cada, 21, of Shelby Township, Mich., who would be the youngest main event champion if he wins; Antoine "Tonio" Saout, 25, of Saint Martin des Champs, France; James Akenhead, 26, of London; and Eric Buchman, 29, of Valley Stream, N.Y.

"Everybody here knows what they're doing and they have good tournament strategy," said Ivey, who said he did not want to discuss publicly how he would specifically prepare for his opponents.

"To me it's a poker game," he said. "I love to play so I'm just going to do my best, trust my reads and perform the best I can."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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