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Nine card sharks left the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas early Wednesday morning with $1 million each, but a lot of the professional poker world was left with an empty feeling.
Poker's biggest star, Daniel Negreanu, came up two places short of making the final table of the Main Event in the World Series of Poker. It was the second time he finished 11th in the Main Event, matching his finish in 2001. There were only 613 entrants that year, less than 10 percent of this year's field of 6,420.
"I'd be lying if I told you the entire poker industry wasn't holding its breath as one by one, players were eliminated and Negreanu remained," said Donnie Peters, PokerNews editor-in-chief.
Negreanu went all-in with a pair of aces and was called by Joe McKeehen, who beat him with a straight.
"Having him at the WSOP Main Event final table would have made it the biggest one ever. It also could have done wonders in the push to bring regulated online poker to California, or the United States as a whole," Peters said.
But it wasn't to be. Attention now turns to the remaining players who make up this year's "November 9."
Each was already paid out $1,001,020, as they are all guaranteed 9th-place money. But they have their eyes on a bigger prize: $7.6 million for first place.
Even without Negreanu, this year's final nine have some interesting personalities among them. The 72-year-old Pierre Neuville, from Belgium, only started playing full-time in the past few years because, as an executive at Hasbro until recently, he was forbidden from gambling. He joined Hasbro in 1982, when he sold a board game company he created.
Neuville is joined at the final table by Neil Blumenfield, a 61-year-old from San Francisco. They are both trying to reverse a trend: The last seven Main Event champs were all younger than 30.
There are five 20-somethings at this year's final table, including Max Steinberg, who wears a suit and tie at the table, in stark contrast to the image many have of the young player in sunglasses and a hoodie.
McKeehen, 24, will be the huge favorite to win, as he has nearly a third of the total chips in play. But the Pennsylvanian may also be the villain, having knocked out Negreanu.
For now the players will take their money, study and prepare for the next four months until the final table resumes on Nov. 8 and plays down to a winner on Nov. 10. The final will be broadcast live on ESPN.