Nine poker players from six countries passed the biggest bubble in cards early Tuesday, making the World Series of Poker main event final table and earning a shot at $10 million in November.
Mark Newhouse had been here before, finishing ninth last year. And he carried the finalists across poker's grandest threshold with the session's last hand, into a four-month break to prepare to compete for millions.
Newhouse eliminated series veteran Luis Velador in 10th place, calling Velador's all-in raise behind two bettors for the last of Velador's chips. Velador held pocket fours, Newhouse turned over pocket fives, and the community cards kept Newhouse ahead for the knockout.
''This isn't realistic to me,'' said William Pappaconstantinou, a 29-year-old dealer at a charity poker room in New Hampshire. The player known as ''Billy Pappas'' from his days as a nine-time world foosball champion sat seventh in chips after lasting through what he said was the tournament's toughest session of cards.
''I'm just a poor kid dealer trying to live a dream,'' he said.
He can't call himself poor anymore - the nine finalists will be paid more than $730,000 each later Tuesday, then play for the rest of their cash when the final table starts Nov. 10 back at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino.
The grind of more than 13 hours including breaks was the latest in a no-limit Texas Hold 'em marathon unfolding over thousands of hands. The nine finalists topped a field through 68 1/2 hours of cards split over seven sessions.
Three tables with 27 total players began play at noon Monday, with 11 bounced by dinnertime. Eddy Sabat was eliminated just after the break in 16th place, winning nearly $348,000, while Thomas Sarra Jr. and Oscar Kemps were out soon after, winning nearly $442,000 each.
Sabat and Kemps lost the last of their chips to 31-year-old Jorryt van Hoof of the Netherlands, who propelled to a lead that would carry him to the final table with the most chips in play. Chips don't have any monetary value in the tournament; each player must lose all of his or her chips to be eliminated, and win them all for the title and gold bracelet.
The other finalists include 23-year-old Felix Stephensen of London, 22-year-old Andoni Larrabe of Spain, 30-year-old Dan Sindelar of Las Vegas, William Tonking, 27, of Flemington, New Jersey, 27-year-old Martin Jacobson of Stockholm, and 31-year-old Bruno Politano of Ceara, Brazil.
The tournament started July 5, attracting 6,683 players over three starting days including some of poker's biggest names, including Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan. Only the top 10 percent of finishers saw any profit on their $10,000 buy-in.
Newhouse, 29, made his second final table at the main event in as many years - a slim prospect before the tournament began given fields of more than 6,000 contenders each year. He won more than $773,000 last year. He is the first player to make consecutive main event final tables since the World Series of Poker began delaying its final table in 2008, and the first overall since Dan Harrington did it in 2003 and 2004.
Series organizers changed the payout structure to guarantee $10 million for first place, the largest main event prize since Jamie Gold won $12 million for topping a field of 8,773 players.
''We all have a shot,'' Pappaconstantinou said.
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/oskargarcia
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