In 2015, 888poker's top placing World Series of Poker Main Event qualifier was Ghattas Kortas, who took 44th place. Amazingly, we now have two qualifiers in the 2016 WSOP November Nine in Canada's Griffin Benger and Spain's Fernando Pons!
The 2016 WSOP Main Event began with 6,737 players, of which 148 were 888poker qualifiers. Not only did those players represent 30 different countries, but 30 of them also qualified via our Supersize $5 Million promotion, meaning that if they won the $8 million first-place prize, they would pocket a $5 million bonus on top.
Sweating the Online Qualifiers
The sweat was on, as each day we kept close tabs on the qualifiers. Of the original 148, 114 made it through to Day 2. On Day 3, just 45 remained, which shrunk to 26 by the time the money bubble burst. Only nine players made it through to Day 5, which is when the Romanian Joldis Cosmin, the last player to qualify via the Supersize $5 Million promotion, exited in 85st place.
On Day 7, with the field slated to play down from the final 27 to the November Nine, just two remained - Benger and Pons. This fact in of itself was quite a feat as we had never before had a qualifier run so deep in the Main Event – in this instance, the top 27. Benger is a well-respected pro and commentator for the Global Poker League who was looking for redemption after finishing 90th in the 2014 WSOP Main Event. Pons, who had $10,589 in live Earnings, was looking to parlay a €30 investment in an 888poker.es satellite into a major payday.
"I was actually in Malta," Benger said of winning his package on 888poker. "I went over to my friend's place, and he was there rooting me on, bought me a smoothie, and we were just there playing, My friend Roland - shout out to Roland. I wasn't going to come play the Main Event unless I won a package, and I sort of decided last minute to register to play the tournament because I find those satellite to be great. Check them out on 888poker. It all just worked out. I steam-rolled through the final three tables of the satellite and got there. Locked it up pretty easily."
On the other hand, Fernando Pons' run was reminiscent of Tommy "One Cent” Yates, who last year turned a $0.01 satellite into a $13,000 WSOP package and a $19,500 payday in the 2015 Main Event. And, Pons' inspired journey reminded us of another famous Main Event winner.
When asked if he knew who else had won a €30 satellite ticket and made it big, he replied, “Oh, yes – Chris Moneymaker!” Moneymaker turned a satellite entry into $2.5 million when he won the 2003 WSOP Main Event. "Well then, I guess I'm the PonsMaker"
Although Benger had plenty of supporters in attendance, Pons had his one in the long-time friend of 12 years, Massa Paola, who was on his sixth visit to the WSOP. It was Pons' first visit to Vegas, a man Paola described as "dedicated, quiet, and focused." The duo only planned to stay in Sin City for five days and so Pons ended up having to go clothes shopping every day as the trip had to be extended for obvious reasons.
The Making of the November Nine
Benger began the final 27 twentieth in chips with 6.53 million, while Pons was in better shape with 17.27 million putting him seventh. Throughout the day, players such as Antoine Saout (25th - $269,430), Valentin Vornicu (23rd - $269,430), and Jared Bleznick (16th - $338,288) hit the rail, but the two 888poker qualifiers remained.
After the dinner break, Benger had positioned himself to make the November Nine running his chips up to over 33 million, thanks to picking up pocket aces against 17th-place finisher William Kassouf's kings. It was a clash WSOP Media Czar proclaimed "the hand of the tournament." Meanwhile, Pons found himself in the middle of the pack, battling for a coveted spot in the November Nine.
The final table bubble finally burst when Josh Weiss fell in 10th place. Both Benger, who made the November Nine seventh in chips with 26.175 million, and Pons, the short stack with 6.15 million celebrated their remarkable achievement. Fernando, who has no previous WSOP earnings, has become a guaranteed millionaire overnight – as have all the November Niners. Truly an incredible feat for a mostly online player.
Senior Vice President & Head of B2C at 888 Holdings, Itai Pazner said: “We are beyond thrilled that for the first time in history, two of our players have made it to the WSOP Final Table through playing in our online Satellite Tournaments.
Professional poker player, Griffin Benger, entered our Satellites with a $160 investment alongside our amateur Spanish player, Fernando Pons, who from a mere €30 buy–in, is set to become the new Chris Moneymaker story, with a minimum $1,000,000 win as a November Niner.
The incredible success Griffin and Fernando have achieved with 888poker brand, has only strengthened our increasingly dominant presence in the industry, both online and offline.
As the exclusive sponsors of what is no doubt the biggest poker event on the planet, we hope to see history repeat itself with Griffin and Fernando going all the way!”
Come November, both players will be sporting an 888poker patch at the final table and aim to become the first 888poker qualifier to win the WSOP Main Event. Will Benger solidify his reputation as one of the game's best and etch his name in poker history? Can Pons have a Moneymaker-like experience and turn a modest €30 investment into $8 million and poker immortality?
Stay tuned to 888poker as we’ll be bringing you more on both these players between now and the November Nine.