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9 players from 7 countries make WSOP final

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Nine poker players from seven countries made the final table of the World Series of Poker main event early Wednesday after a 23-year-old from Costa Rica busted out of the no-limit Texas Hold `em tournament in 10th place.

Poker professional John Hewitt was eliminated early Wednesday with pocket 3s after losing to Eoghan O'Dea's broadway straight. O'Dea had a king-jack, and caught an ace on the turn to complete his hand.

``I think at the end, it was a little bit of relief,'' said O'Dea, the 26-year-old son of an Irish poker player who made two main event final tables and won a bracelet at the series in 1998.

``Things can change completely,'' O'Dea said.

Hewitt lost the bulk of his chips minutes before being eliminated after calling an all-in wager from 49-year-old Badih Bounahra of Belize with an unsuited king-queen. Bounahra had pocket kings, which doubled him to nearly 19 million in chips.

The blunder - Hewitt was likely at best a less than 50-50 shot to win the hand no matter what Bounahra was holding - put Hewitt extremely low on chips and opened him up significantly to attacks from other players with mediocre hands.

``The player he was up against was really tight,'' O'Dea said. ``He definitely could have maybe let that go against him.''

The nine finalists, including chip leader Martin Stasko of the Czech Republic with 40.2 million, will settle the $8.71 million title in November.

Hewitt's ouster capped 3 1/2 hours of 10-handed play, during which the top players from a starting field of 6,865 players tried to avoid busting out on poker's biggest bubble - worth far more than the pay difference of $174,233 between 10th and ninth place.

The finalists, all relatively unknown, now have until November to make names for themselves before coming back to play for the title.

``As far as life, this is one of the coolest days of my life and will be for many years,'' said Ben Lamb, a 26-year-old poker professional from Las Vegas who capped a summer during which his run at the 58-tournament series was better than any other player.

Lamb, who finished with an about-average 20.8 million in chips, is the front-runner for the series' player of the year award, ahead of 11-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth and already a winner at another tournament earlier this summer.

But Lamb said making the final table of the main event - poker's most prestigious yearly event - topped the remarkable run.

``Truthfully, this is way cooler than anything else,'' Lamb said. ``If I had to stand out, this is it.''

``Every poker player's dream is to be here, and to have all my success before and then be here still - it's surreal,'' Lamb said. ``This is one of the biggest heaters, if not the biggest heater, in poker, ever.''

The final table includes three Americans, plus entrants from Britain, Germany, the Ukraine and Ireland, all who have played nearly 72 hours of poker in total since the tournament started July 7.

While Staszko has a more than 10 million-chip advantage over his next closest competitor, the rest of the field is relatively close to one another in chips, making for an even less predictable than usual finale. Besides O'Dea, Lamb and Bounahra, the remaining finalists were 26-year-old Matt Giannetti of Las Vegas, Anton Makiievskyi of the Ukraine, Sam Holden of Britain, Pius Heinz of Germany, and Phil Collins of Las Vegas.

Collins, a poker professional who finished closest to average with 23.9 million in chips, said making the final table was the culmination of several years of playing cards for a career.

``I tried to enjoy playing this as much as I could, despite being nervous,'' said Collins, who is named after the famous ``Genesis'' frontman but is not related to him.

``This is a once in a lifetime experience,'' he said.


Oskar Garcia can be reached at

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