LAS VEGAS — Nine players will return soon to the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for a shot at poker glory as the final table in the World Series of Poker $10,000 Main Event gets under way.
A victory garners the winner a gold bracelet, the biggest prize in poker, and $8.5 million. With 6,800 players, making the final is a huge feat, and eight Americans will be battling for the title, broadcast live Sunday through Oct. 30 on ESPN and ESPN2. Here's a look at the players:
(Martha's Vineyard, Mass., now Las Vegas; 43.875 million chips)
Poker pro Sylvia, 26, is the chip leader and has cashed in a few events since 2008 but nothing this huge.
The spotlight will be on him and his ability to take advantage of his huge stack. Sylvia is a friend and former roommate of fellow final table player Russell Thomas and plans to get involved in the movie industry.
(Debrecen, Hungary; 29.375 million chips)
The last non-American, Koroknai has plenty of chips to make a move. The 30-year-old professional has been traveling the globe in recent years playing major tournaments. While he may not be well known, Koroknai is no slouch at the table with more than $1.8 million in lifetime winnings. He credits poker with getting him through a bout of depression following serious injuries suffered in a moped accident in Greece.
(Laurel, Md.; 28.725 million chips)
Another professional, 24-year-old Merson cashed three times at the WSOP including winning the $10,000 No Limit Holdem Six-Handed championship for his first gold and $1.13 million. Merson says he was living the “poker lifestyle” a few years ago and saw his bankroll sink. He battled back successfully, and says he is living more frugally and staying positive.
(Hartford, Conn., grew up in Philadelphia; 24.8 million)
An actuary, Thomas' studies in probability have helped him, but playing poker is the best way to improve, he says. He cashed in the Main Event in 2011 for $40,654 after a fifth-place finish in a $1,500 event at the WSOP in 2010 for $84,256. Thomas considered turning pro after graduating from Temple University, but had a good job lined up and enjoys a normal routine.
(Sacramento, Calif., born in China, 16.86 million chips)
The oldest player remaining, Gee, 57, has been playing poker for 45 years. Now a professional, he formerly worked as a software projects manager for the California Public Employees Retirement System. Gee is no stranger to WSOP success with several cashes and won a $1,000 No Limit Holdem event in 2010 for $472,479. That experience could help overcome his chip disadvantage.