Tough Call – Which Final Table Roster Was “Softer”?

Before his ninth place exit from the World Series of Poker Final Table on Monday night, back-to-back November Niner Mark Newhouse had a TV package shown where he candidly stated that he thought that this year’s final 9 was “a softer field” than the final nine of 2013.

According to, when this short clip was shown to the fans in the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio, the boo-birds came out and the opposition voiced their displeasure over Mark’s opinion.

Newhouse’s candid opinion didn’t go over too well.  The remark drew jeers, followed by a massive “boo” from the crowd.

The boos are understandable as every player at the 2014 final table had their own fans there to root them on to victory. But were the boos warranted? Despite exiting in 9th place, once again, was Newhouse correct in his assessment that the 2014 was indeed “softer?”

Since the 2014 final table had yet to play out, one would have to look at perception and player comparison (which is hard) to get an idea. As an exercise – that’s what we decided to do.

We welcome the haters to chime in on our “flawed” logic as we try to compare the toughness perception of both the 2013 and 2014 WSOP Main Event final tables to determine which table seemed tougher.

In order to consider Newhouse’s position, we could use a refresher on the class of 2013, which is an obvious favorite in terms of major titles alone. In 2013 J.C. Tran, Amir Lehavot and Mark Newhouse brought a total of two World Poker Tour titles (Tran has won another since) and three WSOP Bracelets to the table. In 2014 despite a number of 2nd place finishes and victories in side events from Jacobson, Newhouse was the only one to have reached the tournament mountaintop with his World Poker Tour title.

Titles aside, in terms of pure dollars coming into the final table, the players of 2013 also outpaced the crew from 2014. Obviously helped by the longstanding career of JC Tran, the total earnings of the 2013 final nine amounted to over $14M (which included a goose egg from eventual runner up Jay Farber) while the 2014 field, which included Newhouse’s boost from the year before and Jacobson’s impressive live grind, came in at around $8.8M.

In 2013, the three players that had previously earned titles also all previously recorded over $1M in earnings. Another glance at the 2013 earnings shows that the next three on the earnings list (Marc-Etienne McLaughlin, Michiel Brummelhuis and David “Raptor” Benefield) all have over $600K as well. In 2014 after Jacobson and Newhouse the next three earners (van Hoof, Larrabe and Sindelar) all were roughly in the $350K range.

That’s just a few easy comparison points that we feel poker players can wrap their brain around as a kind of base layer. We know, we know – these are just live cash numbers, it doesn’t take into account online success, single luckbox victories and cash game prowess which was constantly mentioned on the ESPN broadcast.

We wanted to do a little more speculative comparing by taking a closer look.

At first we thought to match players position by position – stack vs. stack. But then we thought it would be more fun to try and match each of these tables with their final table foil from the opposite year. Again, we know this is a little data skewing but this is what made the most sense to us.

We’ll countdown from the chip position of the 2014 table.

Jorryt van Hoof & Michiel Brummelhuis

With both of these players hailing from the Netherlands and both having a very healthy resume of live tournament action prior to their ascension at the final table, this seemed like a natural matchup. Last year Brummelhuis’ bio called him one of the most respected well-liked players in the Dutch community. Van Hoof on the other hand had a beastly online reputation and the looks of a classic Bond villain. Not only does Jorryt have a decade in the industry but he’s good enough to train others as well. Perhaps that’s what swayed us.

Toughness edge: Jorryt van Hoof (sunglasses edge Brummelhuis)

Felix Stephensen & Marc-Etienne McLaughlin

A pair of young guns, both in their early twenties (23 & 25 respectively) with a ton of national pride, we paired these two up for their poker intensity and volume of playing online. There’s not much to compare here when it comes to live tournaments as Felix specifically stayed away from tournaments in his young career choosing to focus on online PLO while McLaughlin had cashed in 3 of the past 5 WSOP’s before sitting at his final table. Stephensen is a fantastic player, no doubt, but in pre-game perception there’s a big edge to Marc-Etienne.

Toughness edge: Marc-Etienne McLaughlin (NFL cap edge Stephensen)

Mark Newhouse &… Mark Newhouse

Even though we’re looking at this from Newhouse’s POV you need to consider him when considering the overall toughness of the field. The Mark from 2013 was a WPT winner, sure, and a well-traveled grinder. But the 2014 Newhouse had just been the first person to make back-to-back November Nine’s and with that, his cred and WSOP veteran status went through the roof. Easy call.

Toughness edge: Mark Newhouse 2014 (resurrection edge Newhouse 2013)

Andoni Larrabe & Ryan Riess

This match up felt right. Two young, serious professionals who cut their live tournament teeth playing side events of big time tours and both came to the final table almost equal in previous tournament cashes. Larrabe’s career score had come from a $5K at the PCA while Riess took 2nd in a WSOP Circuit event. Razor’s edge in terms of pre-game toughness. Andoni had a seriousness about him and Riess had a much talked about WSOP circuit grinder rep. But we’re going to give this one to the Champ because as you may remember…the kid called his shot and took it down.

Toughness edge: The Champ Ryan Riess (coolness edge Larrabe)

Dan Sindelar & Amir Lehavot

Dedicated grinders both, while this is the best match-up for each other that we could come up with, there’s a clear winner. Of course, with the weight of being one of the WSOP bracelet winner in 2013 Lehavot, by experience alone, is going to edge out Dan. To his credit, Dan had over $300K in prior winnings and being a Nevada local pro brings with it a sense that it could have been him to take it down, but Lehavot’s time on the felt and past accomplishments makes him the right call.

Toughness edge: Amir Lehavot (“everyman” edge Sindelar)

Billy Pappas & Jay Farber

Jay Farber is to partying as Billy Pappas is to Foosball: champions. They both though also called themselves amateur poker players. Yes, Farber went farther and yes, he had Dan Bilzerian by his side but Pappas was a part-time poker dealer and had climbed the mountaintop in his chosen sport of Foosball. We see this as a clear edge to Billy as just about everyone could remember when Farber made the November Nine and having to explain that there is indeed luck in poker.

Toughness edge: Billy Pappas (beer bong edge Farber)

William Tonking & Sylvain Loosli

Unassuming New Jersey online grinder meets the unassuming French online grinder. Both men about the same age and both were said to cut their chops playing online. While Tonking boasted about $90K in live tournament earnings and clipped a $50K score playing in New Jersey, Loosli had almost no live tournament cashes to speak of ($3K) but allegedly played $25/50 cash games online. That’s a big big game. Still, neither one of these guys went into their final tables with a ton of heat behind them so we think it’s a coin flip. We’re picking one though.

Toughness edge: William Tonking (hoodie edge Sylvain Loosli)

Martin Jacobson & J.C. Tran

This is the big one. The two most accomplished members of their respective final tables and it’s so close. Both have millions in earnings and both had hit the live circuit hard producing results year in and year out. But really, is it that close? Now that Martin is the champ perhaps it’s making it feel like a closer call, but this is JC Tran – bracelet winner, WPT champion walking into the final table of the Main Event with what was close to double the career earnings of Jacobson when he made his. Jacobson is as deserving a champ as there is, but before the play went down, Tran was the scariest with the most experience.

Toughness edge: JC Tran (determination edge Jacobson)

Finally we’re left with one matchup and it’s not very close…

Bruno Politano & David Benefield

Everyone loved Bruno when he was snapping his fingers and petting Scooby Doo. He’s a big personality with a lot of love to give his homeland and with that (and before the constant tanking) this poker pro was a fan favorite that spectators were rooting for. His foil is David “Raptor” Benefield and while they have not too much in common except that they both came in to their respective final tables as the short stack. Benefield a former Full Tilt Red Pro, Cardrunners instructor and noted online savant appeared on Poker After Dark. There’s no comparison here. Benefield is a beast and even without a ton of live results was someone everyone was weary of from hand #1.

Toughness edge: David Benefield (pride edge Politano)

So we think that’s it both super close and very very difficult to compare but we’re calling it for Newhouse – on paper 2013 is a tougher field to fade. Of course, as we know, for Newhouse, both tables were equally difficult as we know what happened to him. As for how they played out, one would be hard pressed to say that there was a better final three in recent history than in 2014 with van Hoof, Stephensen and Jacobson – three European players – at the peak of their powers playing some damn fine poker.

If you made it this far and still want to tell us how dumb we are, we’ll own it, just hit us up on Twitter. Yes, this is speculation and off the cuff analysis, and if you don’t like our matchups, let us say that we ran these by a few different people to get their feedback and critiques – including Eric Danis from the Global Poker Index who knows more than any of us (even likely you) about these players.

But if you are anything like the staff of F5, all this talk is just getting us excited for what WSOP 2015 will bring. It can’t get here soon enough.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem and wants help, call the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling (VACPG) helpline at 1-888-532-3500
published 9 years, 6 months ago • by permalink

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