Michigan poker stars: November Nine’s demise ‘overdue’

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The “November Nine” has been 86’d.

A staple of the World Series of Poker’s Main Event since 2008, the circuit announced Monday that it’s going away, and all play will be completed in July.

Previously, the thousands of competitors in the Main Event — the crown jewel of the WSOP’s summer circuit, with a winner’s share around $8 million — have played in July, until nine competitors remained. Then, play would be halted until November (or late October in presidential election years), when the nine players returned to battle for the prize.

Shelby Township’s Joe Cada, the 2009 champion ($8.5 million), and Clarkston’s Ryan Riess, the 2013 champion ($8.4 million), each participated in the “November Nine.”

The long break was designed to create a buzz and publicity for the WSOP and ESPN, surrounding the final table of the country’s most famous Texas Hold ’em tournament. And it worked for a while. Now, though, poker fans have been drawn more to live television coverage.

“I think it is good that it is going away,” Riess told The News.

There are pluses and minuses to the change, as far as poker players are concerned.

In past years, players who made the final table could use the three-month layoff to study up on their opponents and brush up on their games; secure lucrative sponsorships; and make travel arrangements for family and friends to attend the finale at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

But there are drawbacks, too. For starters, final-table players have to wait months to receive the lion’s share of their winnings (they’ve gotten paid ninth-place money in July, and the balance in November). Also, there is the risk that life events could prevent a player from returning.

“It would be really bad for poker if a November ‘Niner’ was unable to make the final table (prison, death, etc.),” Riess said.

Said Cada: “I think it was overdue. Especially how much money is on the line, accidents do happen.”

Cada, 29, who wore a Michigan hat during his final table, said while he enjoyed his “November Nine” experience and buzz, he would’ve preferred it to be continuous, as that’s when you’re in your “zone,” he said. Riess, 26, who wore a Lions jersey during his final table, also has fond memories of the “November Nine.”

Still, both prefer the new setup. This year, the Main Event will start July 8, and get down to the final table July 17. Then there will be two off-days, and final-table play will begin July 20 (down to six players), continue July 21 (down to three players), and finish July 22.

Riess would tweak that schedule slightly, if he could.

“I do believe that there should be more than two days off in between,” Riess said. “I think a week or so would be perfect. Gives the players more time to get sponsorships and to arrange for family and friends to fly out for the final table.”

The final table will be shown via a half-hour delay — due to gaming regulations — on ESPN2 the first day, and ESPN the final two days. ESPN also will show live poker July 11-12, and ESPN2 will show live poker July 8-9 and July 14-17. This is the first time ESPN will air same-day coverage from Day 1 through the conclusion of the Main Event. The WSOP’s deal with ESPN runs through 2020.

The 74-event World Series of Poker circuit begins later this month, and continues through the end of the Main Event. There’s a new tag-team event early in the series this year, a $10,000-buy-in event that starts May 31, and Riess and Cada are going to be partners.

“Should be fun,” Cada said.

This already has been a good year at the felt for Riess, who won a World Poker Tour event in Florida for $716,000, and finished second in an online tournament for $187,000.