If there was any member of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event November Nine that would have voted to play right through to a winner the day after reaching the final table, it would have been Israel's Ofer Zvi Stern. The reason Stern wanted to play the final table right away is because during the interim, his opponents would be allowed to get coaching and prepare more. For him, it's going to be a completely different tournament come Sunday.
"Let's go on," Stern told PokerNews on media day. "Don't break now, let's keep on. That was my feeling. It was surreal to make it. I'm still processing it. I wish we could have done the final table right then and there. The November Nine, it's going to be different. People are going to be coached and relaxed and in stable moods. There's less pressure. I wish we could play 40 or 50 hands, but the bubble burst. We have a long way to go."
The 36-year-old player from Herzliya became the second player from Israel to make the November Nine, following in the footsteps of Amir Lehavot, who finished third in the 2013 WSOP Main Event for $3,727,823.
Prior to his deep run in the 2015 WSOP, Stern $146,746 in live tournament earnings on his résumé. His previous best result came from a 34th-place finish in the 2015 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure $25,000 High Roller for $44,540. He also had five prior WSOP cashes on record and one World Poker Tour cash. Since he reached the final table, Stern has added two cashes, including one at the 2015 WSOP Europe festival.
Stern currently sits 39th on Israel's all-time money list without his ninth-place money from the WSOP, but with at least $1,001,020 coming to him for making the November Nine, he is guaranteed to jump into fifth place.
Entering the final table second in chips, Stern is the second pick behind Joe McKeehen to take it all down. He'll enter Sunday's final table with 29.8 million in chips, or 74.5 big blinds. While that may sound like a lot, Stern still has a way to go if he wants to be up on the leaderboard with McKeehen, who has 83.5 more big blinds to start play.
"I played with Joe for a long while [on Day 7] before we redrew," Stern said. "We were OK playing against each other, it was balancing out. Once he left, I was able to take full control of the table. I was able to apply pressure on other players using my stack by picking some good spots. There was good prize bumps, so I could apply pressure. Prize bumps are really important to me as well, but I could play it to my advantage."
While Stern was very strong in his opinion to continue playing the final table straight away, he planned to take time during the interim to keep things quiet.
"Hopefully [the three months will be] quiet," he said on media day. "I'm not sure if I will play anything from now until then. We already know what the positions will be like. I'll try to avoid coaching. No playing, no coaching, no listening to anyone. Just keep my play and keep to my strategy. My reads on opponents will be obsolete by the time we reach the November Nine. Everybody's gonna be coached, everybody's gonna be different. It's a new game."
As for the final table on Sunday, Stern will rely on his ability to adapt to his opponents in order to produce a top finish.
"I hope that I'll adapt and maintain control," he said. "I'm away from Joe, which is good. Neil [Blumenfield] and Pierre Neuville] are on my right and left. I feel pretty good about my spot and the position of the short stacks. I hope I can have a good strategy that will work for me. It's gonna be life-changing for me. I think Joe's going to take command and try to bust some players. The short stacks are going to play their spots. Nobody's going to bust them light. I'm going to try not to double up the short stacks. We'll play it as the dynamics go."
It fair to say that Stern is confident in his game and his plan moving forward, but he's also giving plenty of respect to his competitors, namely Max Steinberg and McKeehen. Overall, it's going to be a challenge he said.
"Max Steinberg and Joe McKeehen [are the two best players at the final table]," he said. "I feel really confident facing them, but I think it's going to be a challenge for me. I have a lot of respect for the other players. Tom Cannuli is getting the best coaches ever. He will probably make a lot of adjustments to his play. He can be dangerous. He has balls and he can make moves in spots. I think he's not money scared any more. Pierre is a really good player. All the players are worthy opponents."
Although he's found himself at poker's biggest final table, Stern doesn't consider himself a pro. He has a job and refers to himself as an amateur, but he also said he almost didn't make it to play the Main Event this year. And that could've certainly changed everything.
"I'm in technology," Stern said. "I play poker as an amateur. We don't have any poker in our country. Poker was not a big game in Israel for many years. Once Texas hold'em became a big thing, we started developing our community. Sometimes, I travel and try to enjoy the experience, enjoy the cities I travel to, and try to get a big score. I try to grind satellites and make it to a big tournament. This time, I was here at the beginning of the series grinding satellites and grinding tournaments. I had some results, but I couldn't make it to the Main Event. I came back to my country and at the last moment, I decided to go for it. I booked a flight, came right over, and played the satellites Saturday morning. I came for the Colossus and cashed in it. From there, it progressed, and I played more tournaments and had some good results."
As it turned out, Stern's decision to return to Las Vegas and play in the Main Event could easily be one of the best decisions of his life. Now, pending another batch of solid decisions, he could find himself atop poker's Mount Everest.