World Series of Poker Main Event: Q&A Session With The Stars

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37-year old, Fernando Pons, had put his four-year-old daughter to bed, and settled down on the couch, next to his wife, to play in a €250 online satellite on 888Poker. (He had qualified for €30).

A few hours later he had won a seat in the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. A few months later and he made the final table of the November Nine, winning $1m, and playing for the right to earn $7m more.

The Incredible Game of Poker

What happened to Pons doesn't occur in any other sport. Football fans can't compete for a place in the World Cup. Short, stubby basketball fans can’t slam dunk their way into the NBA Finals, and fans of tennis can’t turn up at Wimbledon and start smashing balls across the net.

And that’s why poker is so incredible.

One day you are sitting in a €30 online qualifier, and the next day you are appearing on ESPN on the final table of the WSOP Main Event, having secured a seven figure payday, and with the opportunity to 7x that and become the World Champion.

With the WSOP Main Event just weeks away, we took the opportunity to ask 18 professional players ten questions related to the privilege of competing in the most prestigious event in poker.

We wanted to know who would win, what would they sacrifice for a role in the November Nine, and what would they do with the money? We asked them what their walk-on music would be, who they would turn to for coaching, and if they would prefer the money or the title?

So without further ado, here are ten completely random questions about the WSOP Main Event, and a lot of weird and wacky answers from some of the best in the business.

Q1: Can You Select the Winning Order?

We asked our panel to predict the winning order.

13 of the 18 strong panel selected the final positions, and five of them couldn't figure it out including Mike 'Da Bookie' Hill who said if he could predict such things, he wouldn't have been sat in an airport lounge answering these questions. He would be sailing on a yacht in the Ionian Sea.

WSOP Main Event Winner

Of the 13 players who edged their bets, only five were nominated as potential champions with the clear favourite Cliff Josephy with 53.8% of the votes. Kenny Hallaert & Griffin Benger had 15.4% of the votes, and Fernando Pons and Gordon Vayo each took 7.7%.

None of the 13 players polled believed Jerry Wong, Vojtech Ruzicka, Qui Nguyen, or Michael Ruane would win the event.

Heads-Up

When it came to determining who was more likely to reach heads-up Cliff Josephy amassed the most votes with 38.5%. Kenny Hallaert & Gordon Vayo were the second favourites with 19.2% respectively.

11.5% of those polled felt Griffin Benger would make it to heads-up, and Fernando Pons, Jerry Wong, and Michael Ruane received one vote each. The only players who failed to get a single vote to finish in the top two positions were Vojtech Ruzicka and Qui Nguyen.

The Top 3

The big money is always in the top 3 positions, and the WSOP Main Event is no different.

Check out the payouts:

  • 1st place - $8,000,000
  • 2nd place - $4,658,452
  • 3rd place - $3,451,175
  • 4th place - $2,574,808
  • 5th place - $1,934,579
  • 6th place - $1,463,906
  • 7th place - $1,250,000
  • 8th place - $1,100,000
  • 9th place - $1,000,000

As expected, Cliff Josephy polled the most votes to finish in the Top 3 earning 28.2% of votes. Griffin Benger is the second favourite with 17.9% of the votes, and Kenny Hallaert and Gordon Vayo both pulled in 15.4% each.

Nobody thought Vojtech Ruzicka had the stamina to make it to heads-up, but 10.3% of those polled thought he would finish third.

First Out

Only one of the nine will travel all the way to Las Vegas and leave without earning a single cent. The voters were adamant in their decision that our very own Fernando Pons would be the first player eliminated. Pons shouldn't take it personally. He is the least experienced and will begin with the shallowest stack.

The Spaniard picked up 61.5% of the votes. Jerry Wong was the second favourite to exit first with 15.4%, and Griffin Benger, Vojtech Ruzicka, and Qui Nguyen also picked up a vote each.

Q2: Would You Prefer $8m for 2nd, or $4,658,452 and the Title?

In poker, it’s a question that’s as common as chips and decks of cards.

"Are you in it for the money or the prestige?"

17 players chose a definitive answer with Steven van Zadelhoff making life a little complicated.

"If I had half of my action I would prefer the $8m. If I had all of my action I would want the title," said Van Zadelhoff.

Chance Kornuth chose the $8m, but also added a caveat.

“I would take the $8m unless my sponsorship money got the number close to $6-7 million. I could make the difference up in cash games,” said Kornuth.

12 players voted for the money; 5 wanted the glory. The decision wasn't even a close one for Sofia Lovgren who told us she would take second and the title ‘without a doubt.'

Dutch Boyd knows what it feels like to win a WSOP bracelet - he has three - I wonder if that affected his decision?

"I think the title has more long-term equity," said Boyd.

In stark contrast, Seth Berger has finished 2nd and 3rd in WSOP events, so he would gladly take the second prize and the title of World Champion.

"I would prefer the $4.6m and the title," said Berger. "It's already life changing money so to win and feel so accomplished with no regrets would be a better feeling for the rest of my life than more life-changing money."

Scott O'Reilly was also attracted to the bracelet and had the same thought process as Boyd.

"I am sure some would disagree, but I would take second place and the bracelet. Obviously, it's a whole chunk of change difference, but there is too much ethos and sense of personal achievement to turn it down. Also, winning the ME has so much added long term EV that the money difference would become even less relevant."

Q3: Would You Cry if You Won?

Are we going to see waterworks when the paparazzi start snapping? Is the emotion going to become too much?

We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, we asked our 18 superstars if they would shed a tear should they ever win the WSOP Main Event, and 50% of them said they would.

Here are a few of the people with good old-fashioned hearts:

"I would have a weep," said Steve Watts.

"I would cry like a baby, and I wouldn't stop for weeks," said Dutch Boyd.

"I cry when I watch Star Trek," said Mike Hill.

“Probably, I’m not exactly the most emotionally stable guy in the world,” said Ben Wilinofsky.

And those with hearts of stone:

"I've developed a poker face where I try not to show a lot of emotion," said Sofia Lovgren. "I cry when I watch sad movies, and when people I love are happy, but wouldn't cry if I won the WSOP Main Event."

“Probably not, I’m fairly dead inside,” said Niall Farrell.

“I wouldn’t have time to cry because I will be distracted dancing with all my loons on the rail,” said Kevin Allen.

Q4: Would You Prefer a Pro to Win or the Underdog?

The beautiful thing about the 2016 WSOP Main Event is the presence of Fernando Pons. The Spaniard had never visited Las Vegas before the summer, and now he could win $8m and the title of World Champ.

It’s David v Goliath.

It’s Rocky v Ivan Drago.

It’s Leicester City winning the Premier League.

But what do the pros think?

Would they like to see a fairytale?

No.

73% of those polled sided with their own kind and wanted a pro to win the Main Event, with the most popular reason being the reward is more gratifying for a pro because of the years of hard work.

"I would like to see the most hard working and best players win as I think they deserve it more," said Sofia Lovgren. "However, for the poker world, I believe that it might be useful if an underdog wins like Pons, as it will attract even more recreational players to the game."

"I would say an amateur, but with {Cliff} Josephy being in the final it would be fitting for him to win it," said Kevin Allen.

“A pro is better for the 'sport' element, an amateur is better for the 'romantic' element, both are fine with me,” said Steven van Zadelhoff.

"I root for the underdogs," said Seth Berger. "It's better for poker and nice to see."

"I have no problems with a pro winning," said Scott O'Reilly, "These guys have paid their dues and if it's their time, then so be it. However, there is something to be said about a great story; it helps pull people into the game having the hope they can be the next 'Pons.' Also, short stacking is the new big stacking. So watching someone ICM it up and then go on a tear is always a joy."

Q5: Who Would be the Best Winner for Poker?

The pros might want a pro to win the Main Event, but who do they think would be the best winner for poker?

12 of the 18 players had a definitive answer with the fairytale ending proving to be the most popular choice when it came to selling poker to the rest of the world.

Fernando Pons received 50% of the votes, and Qui Nguyen also picked up a vote for the same reason. After Pons remarkable €30 to the $1m story, the second most popular story was that of Cliff Josephy. The man who was instrumental in paving the way for modern staking, and allowing so many pros to prosper, due to his stable, took 33.3% of the votes. The only other player picking up a vote was the Global Poker League (GPL) commentator Griffin Benger.

"I think Pons would grab the most mainstream media coverage which long term is going to bring more people into the game and increase the ever declining liquidity that we all need to do our job," said Scott O'Reilly. "On a side note Cliff {Josephy} winning would be a hell of a story. This guy has paid his dues for years, but he's also paid the dues of many, many others, certainly one of the original and best stables the game has seen."

Q6: Would You Lose a Pinkie for a Berth in the Final Table?

How badly do you want it?

We asked our team of experts if they were willing to spill blood for the cause and give up their pinkie?

Once again this was an even split with 50% saying they would lose a digit and the other 50% saying they needed all of their fingers and thumbs to calculate pot odds.

“It would mess up my golf game, no way,” said Dusty Schmidt.

"Why not? my wife likes my bigger fingers," said Ben Wilinofsky.

Q7: If You Won $8m, What is the First Significant Thing You'd Buy?

Earlier this year, Nancy Kidwell put an entire community up for sale in Nevada. It came equipped with a casino; diner, 10-room motel, caravan park, convenience store, and an airstrip.

The price?

$8m, the same amount that the winner of the WSOP Main Event will win.

But what would our panel of experts buy if they won $8m?

There was no dispute over this one.

The overwhelming majority of those questioned would buy a house. Nesrine Reilly and Scott O’Reilly would use the money to go on vacation, Mike Hill would buy an Aston Martin, and Dutch Boyd would go a little old school.

“The first thing I'd buy is a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Rock. I'd also treat myself to an Oculus Rift and a joint,” said Boyd.

Q8: If You Made the Nov 9 Who Would You Choose for Coaching?

When the WSOP introduced the November Nine concept in 2008, it was a very controversial experiment. Eight years later, and it's become a mainstay of the competition.

There are a number of benefits the players receive during the break. The opportunity to find sponsorship deals is one. The chance to take a break and return physically and psychologically wired is another, and receiving coaching from the greatest players in the business also makes sense.

We asked our panel who they would turn to for coaching should they make the November Nine. The responses were interesting.

All 18 panellists cast an opinion on this one. Only Ludovic Jonsen and Nick Petrangelo said they wouldn’t receive coaching, although Jonsen was keen to point out that most of his mates are pretty good poker players. The rest would all work with someone to improve their game ahead of the final table.

The most popular selection was Fedor Holz with Dominik Nitsche, Niall Farrell, and Nesrine Reilly all opting for the Global Poker Index (GPI) World #1. Other people nominated were Greg Merson, Calvin Anderson, Phil Galfond, Stephen Chidwick, Sam Trickett, Rainer Kempe, Steffen Sontheimer, David Peters, Brian Rast, and Layne Flack.

And the 2014 champion, Martin Jacobson, received a few nominations with panel members complimenting his excellent preparatory work in his documentary 10 For 10.

Dusty Schmidt would work on his mindset.

"I would spend a lot of time talking to Jared Tendler to be sure I played my A game at the final table."

Dutch Boyd has it all figured out:

"I'd turn to Blake Eastman and Zach Elwood for tells profiles of the other players. And I'd reach out to Scott Seiver, Ryan Laplante, Brian Rast, the Mizrachi's, Danny Alaei, Layne Flack, Brandon Cantu and Jeff Madsen for simulation work. And I'd reach out to my Twitch channel for crowdsourced help in identifying leaks in opponents."

Ben Wilinofsky isn't quite sure which route he would down:

"I'd probably ask Scott Seiver first, and he'd shower me because he's too big time for such small challenges. Then I'd ask Vanessa {Selbst} and she'd be helpful but have no idea what to do with any of the new software. Then I'd ask Ike {Haxton}, and he wouldn't bother responding to my messages. Eventually, I'd swallow the little bit of vomit in my mouth and ask Mike McDonald."

Q9: What Would be Your Entrance Music?

Who can forget the Apollo Creed entrance in Rocky IV?

Winning is one thing, but you have to look good doing it.

We asked our experts what entrance music they would select - I mean, come on, they are always listening to music at the tables - and this is what they had to say.

  • Dominik Nitsche would pick the upbeat track Endgegner from Bushido.
  • Sofia Lovgren would go for The Ocean by Mike Perry. 
  • Niall Farrell would stay true to his roots with the Braveheart theme tune.
  • Fellow Scot, Ludovic Jonsen, wasn’t as patriotic as Farrell going with G-Eazy’s Me, Myself and I.
  • Dusty Schmidt went with the Queen classic. We Will Rock You.
  • Mike Hill went even deeper into ‘classic’ territory by choosing the Rocky theme tune.
  • Dutch Boyd would swagger towards the table to the sounds of Talisman by Air.
  • The WSOP would need to get the beeping machine out for Nick Petrangelo's choice of King Kunta by Kendrick Lamar. 
  • Ben Wilinofsky would stick with the hip-hop vibe plumping for Harmony Homicide by Kool G Rap.
  • Nesrine Reilly is another one of those Hip Hop loving poker players. The French starlet would saunter down to the table listening to the sounds of Drake and Started From The Bottom.
  • Dylan Linde thinks Rick and Morty would inspire him to victory with Get Schwifty. I just hope he doesn't stop on his way down to the table to do his business on the floor.
  • The most popular song was All I Do is Win by DJ Khaled selected by Kevin Allen and Steve Watts.

Q10: If You Won, What Would You Focus on as Ambassador?

The WSOP Main Event is unique as it's the one tournament of the year that's guaranteed to propel the winner into the global mainstream press. It's an event that transcends poker. It's an opportunity for the winner to grab the microphone and send a message to millions of earlobes.

We asked our esteemed panel, what they would focus on if they won the WSOP Main Event and became poker's ultimate ambassador for the year, and this is what they said.

Sofia Lovgren would use her position to promote the game to more female players.

"I would focus my attention on women in poker. I want to promote poker as the ultimate mental game. The game is still so male dominated, and I believe even more women can master this game if they just try."

Nick Petrangelo would push for an improved live tournament schedule in the United States.

"If I were the ambassador for a year I would push for different scheduling of the events in the United States. The festivals with one $3,500 re-entry just don't make any sense and don't incentivize pros or amateurs to travel. I would like to see festival style tournaments in the states, with mains, high rollers, turbo side events, etc."

Ludovic Jonsen would like to use his time focusing on making the game fun for the players and those watching the game at home on TV.

"I would concentrate on interacting with the players. I would create lots of parties, fun and encourage speech play heads up in pots to make the game more exciting when televised as it's boring to outsiders looking in when they catch a glimpse flicking through the TV channels."

Steven van Zadelhoff has the same opinion:

I would focus on showing poker players can be open, social, professional and friendly people that love their sport/job.”

Dylan Linde also believes creating a new story for the players is imperative.

"I think I would try to help poker look less intimidating and more friendly to new players."

Chance Kornuth agrees, and also wants to venture into the world of service to others.

I would concentrate on treating the recreational player well and making sure they enjoy themselves while playing. Also to encourage successful poker players to give back to the less fortunate in life in other ways."

Nesrine Reilly would also like to work on making poker more attractive to a broader audience, but she would take the angle of making healthier food options available at poker games, and fight to improve the environment at the same time.

How bad are the food options in most casino stops? Also, how much plastic do they use with their free bottled water and millions of plastic cups? All casinos should have fountain water inside and should try to reduce their plastic use or look for better kinds of plastic like hemp plastic. I would change those things and also make poker more welcoming to amateurs."

Dusty Schmidt believes there is a rich source of poker players in the golf industry, and that's where he would spend his time promoting the game.

"I would focus hard on the golfers because the reality is golfers love poker and love to gamble, but very few of them have an online poker account."

Dutch Boyd would focus on regulation and allowing poker to prosper in places where it currently finds its pathway blocked.

I'd concentrate on getting poker recognised as a skill game and mind sport, and I'd try to influence legislators to allow poker to thrive outside of casinos and cardrooms. In particular, home games and non-raked games need to be legal everywhere."

Not everyone views winning the WSOP Main Event as an ambassadorial stepping stone.

“I’d pretty much be doing more of the same. I don't think winning the Main Event would change my status in the poker community too much at this time,” said Dominik Nitsche.

“Just because I've been fortunate enough to win a poker tournament doesn't give me the right to influence anything in poker. I would continue to carry myself professionally and do whatever media stuff was asked from me, but I wouldn't be sending Tweets out Negreanu-style like I have the solution to everything,” said Kevin Allen.

And for others, the way forward is pretty simple.

"I would use my position to attract more rich fish into the game," said Steve Watts.


Coverage of the 2016 WSOP begins on ESPN2 Tuesday, Sep 6 at 10 pm (ET) on ESPN2 with highlights from the Global Casino Championships. Highlights of the WSOP Main Event begins Sunday, September 11, and it will end with live coverage of the three-day WSOP Main Event where we will learn how accurate our 18 professional poker players were when asked to dissect the most prestigious poker tournament in the world.

Articles like this are not possible without the professional poker playing community giving up their time to respond to questions. With that in mind, everyone at 888 would like to thank the following stars for their contribution.

Dominik Nitsche, Sofia Lovgren, Niall Farrell, Steve Watts, Kevin Allen, Nick Petrangelo, Ludovic Jonsen, Dusty Schmidt, Dutch Boyd, Steven van Zadelhoff, Ben Wilinofsky, Dylan Linde, Nesrine Reilly, Mike Hill, Scott Reilly, Ronnie Bardah, Seth Berger, and Chance Kornuth.

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