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PokerNews Op-Ed: The 2014 ESPN Fantasy Poker League Draft

ESPN Fantasy Poker Participants

For the past five years, I have participated in the annual ESPN Fantasy Poker League put on by ESPN’s Andrew Feldman. The highly publicized league consists of half poker pros and half media members. This year’s lineup included (in order of draft pick): Eric Baldwin, Josh Brikis, BLUFF Magazine Editor in Chief Lance Bradley, Matt Glantz, myself, Feldman, Daniel Negreanu, Eric Crain, Jason Somerville, defending champ Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers, and Chops from Wicked Chops Poker.

This marked the ninth year of the league, which is built around the World Series of Poker, and over the years participants have come and gone. For instance, Dwyte Pilgrim, Dennis Phillips, Gary Wise, Bernard Lee, Mark Seif, Gavin Smith and Howard Lederer are all former participants. No one dropped out this past year, but we did expand by adding Crain to the invite-only league.

So how does the ESPN Fantasy Poker League work? It's simple. Each participant drafts a team of eight players who they think will find success at the WSOP. Each team earns points based upon the following criteria.

  • 1 point for making the money
  • 2 points for the top 50
  • 5 points for top 20
  • 10 points for the final table (defined as top 9 in hold 'em, 8 in mixed and other games, 6 during shorthanded events, 8 in heads-up (5-8th will be awarded 5th, etc).

In addition:

  • 1 additional point for ninth
  • 2 additional points for eighth
  • 4 additional points for seventh
  • 6 additional points for sixth
  • 10 additional points for fifth
  • 15 additional points for fourth
  • 20 additional points for third
  • 30 additional points for second
  • 40 additional points for first
  • Double points will be awarded for all $10,000 events, $25K heads-up and the $50,000 Player's Championship event.
  • Players will earn one extra point by cashing per every 100 players in the field. For example, if you cash in a 2,000-player event, you will earn an additional 20 points.
  • Every team can drop two players and replace him or her with another player. Stats will only count once on your roster.

In the 2010 Draft, I managed to rack up 596 points and claim the title, but since then I have been coming up short (and sending a $100 over to Bradley every year as part of a side bet).

Feldman always writes a great draft recap over at ESPN with his thoughts and assessment of each rounds best and biggest stretch picks. Here I will borrow a page out of his books and simply offer my thoughts on the various rounds.

Round 1

PokerNews Op-Ed: The 2014 ESPN Fantasy Poker League Draft 101
Daniel Negreanu

11BaldwinDaniel Negreanu
22BrikisPhil Ivey
33BradleyJason Mercier
44GlantzScott Seiver
55HollowayPhil Hellmuth
66FeldmanMichael Mizrachi
77NegreanuDavid "Bakes" Baker
88CrainShawn Buchanan
99SomervilleScott Clements
1010MathersDan Kelly
1111ChopsMike McDonald

This marked the third year in a row that Negreanu was taken first overall, so no surprise there. “Kid Poker” has already stated that he is hungry for a bracelet, and has even put his money where his mouth is by offering anyone even money that either he or Phil Ivey will capture gold this summer. Speaking of Ivey, who I have previously both criticized and praised in this league, he went second overall.

I had the fifth overall pick, and I opted to go with Phil Hellmuth. I like that he plays a lot of events, but he tends to be a bit polarizing. He either has a great year (like he did in 2011 and 2012) or he hard makes any noise (like in 2013). Obviously I’m hoping he’ll return to form in 2014, but either way I can’t complain about having the all-time bracelet winner on my team.

Round 2

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Jeremy Ausmus

112ChopsSorel Mizzi
213MathersChris Klodnicki
314SomervilleSteven Chidwick
415CrainDavid "ODB" Baker
516NegreanuBryn Kenney
617FeldmanNick Schulman
718HollowayJeremy Ausmus
819GlantzJustin Bonomo
920BradleyVanessa Selbst
1021BrikisJohn Monnette
1122BaldwinErik Seidel

I really wanted Stephen Chidwick, but Somerville beat me to him (something that would repeat itself throughout the draft). My backup plan was Jeremy Ausmus, who is one of the most consistent and disciplined players I’ve ever met. I also like the fact that he’s local (he can get a good rest each night) and has a family (there’s no motivation like it).

If you look at the four picks after mine you’ll see they’re filled with quality players. Honestly I wouldn’t mind having any of them on my team. Overall the second round was filled with quality picks.

Round 3

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Mike Leah

123BaldwinAntonio Esfandiari
224BrikisMike Leah
325BradleyDaniel Alaei
426GlantzMatt Glantz
527HollowayShannon Shorr
628FeldmanChris Moorman
729NegreanuCalvin Anderson
830CrainPaul Volpe
931SomervilleBrock Parker
1032MathersBrian Rast
1133ChopsDavid Sands

Brikis really made my decision this round easy. I was eyeing up Mike Leah, who has been on a tear in 2014, but when he was taken off the board three picks from me, selecting Shannon Shorr was a no brainer. He’s like Ausmus in a lot of ways and one of those plays I can count on.

I really like some other picks in this round too including Calvin Anderson by Negreanu, who always seems to know something the rest of us don’t, and Kevmath’s Brian Rast, who is perhaps one of the most underrated players in poker. On the flip side, I was surprised to see Chops take Sands, who I understand cut back on poker in favor or a job in finance.

Round 4

PokerNews Op-Ed: The 2014 ESPN Fantasy Poker League Draft 104
Greg \"FBT\" Mueller

134ChopsYevgeniy Timoshenko
235MathersJesse Martin
336SomervilleGreg Mueller
437CrainBertrand Grospellier
538NegreanuDavid Chiu
639FeldmanNoah Schwartz
740HollowayMarco Johnson
841GlantzMike Gorodinsky
942BradleyBrett Richey
1043BrikisJohn Racener
1144BaldwinJohn Juanda

My plan for this round was to select Greg “FBT” Mueller. He used discipline and dedication to lose nearly 50 lbs. heading into the WSOP, and I really liked that. It shows me that he is prepared, motivated, and coming in at the top of his game. Unfortunately Somerville liked it too and drafted him before I had the chance. No worries though as Marco Johnson, widely considered one of the best-mixed game players in the world, was still on the board when it was my turn.

Round 4 wasn’t as kind to everyone though. Both Crain and Baldwin may be punished for their respective picks. It seems John Juanda will be cutting back on the number of tournaments he plays to around 10, while Bertrand Grospellier may not arrive to the WSOP until July due to a stolen passport (those things take time to get).

Round 5

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Jeff Madsen

145BaldwinMike Matusow
246BrikisJared Jaffee
347BradleyJohn Hennigan
448GlantzBrian Hastings
549HollowayJeff Madsen
650FeldmanBarry Greenstein
751NegreanuGeorge Danzer
852CrainDavid Bach
953SomervilleAllen Kessler
1054MathersOle Schemion
1155ChopsRob Mizrachi

I was impressed with Glantz’s pick of Brian Hastings, who I very well may have selected as the 49th pick had I had the chance. Instead, he was off the board in 48th and I selected Jeff Madsen. The 2006 WSOP Player of the Year recently took down the Heartland Poker Tour California State Poker Championship, which is just his latest accomplishment in a stellar year. Few are entering the summer with as much momentum as Madsen, and I hope I’m able to capitalize on that.

I’m also conflicted by Kevmath selecting Ole Schemion. Don’t get me wrong, the German wunderkind is probably the best no-limit hold’em player in the world right now, but this is the first time he’s playing the WSOP and he is doing so on a limited schedule. Schemion is definitely a high-risk/high-reward pick, and only time will tell if it pays off for Kev.

Round 6

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Matthew Ashton

156ChopsMaria Ho
257MathersDavid Williams
358SomervilleChristian Harder
459CrainJon Turner
560NegreanuYuval Bronshtein
661FeldmanSam Trickett
762HollowayMatt Ashton
863GlantzGeorge Lind
964BradleyMike Watson
1065BrikisSteve Billirakis
1166BaldwinTom Schneider

I was initially going to steer clear of Matthew Ashton because I had heard he was going to spend most of the summer in Brazil for the World Cup. When I heard that is was just for a week, I quickly reevaluated and couldn’t pass him up in the sixth round. It seems like a good choice too as he went on to finish third in the WSOP National Championship a few days later. That event doesn’t count in this league, but hopefully it’s a good sign of things to come.

Two other picks I really like in this round were Yuval Bronshtein and Tom Schneider. Negreanu got the former, and if he hadn’t there is a good chance I would have taken him over Ashton. In regard to the latter, Baldwin picked up the former WSOP Player of the Year, who won two bracelets last summer. Schneider has an impressive résumé and it’s surprising to see him fall so far. Good value by Baldwin.

Round 7

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Jason Koon

167BaldwinJoseph Cheong
268BrikisDan Smith
369BradleyJeffrey Lisandro
470GlantzAlexander Kostritsyn
571HollowayJason Koon
672FeldmanJC Tran
773NegreanuAllen Cunningham
874CrainJean-Robert Bellande
975SomervilleAndrew Lichtenberger
1076MathersDan Idema
1177ChopsSteve O'Dwyer

I don’t know about my pick here. I like Jason Koon, but looking at it now I can’t believe I passed up on Andrew Lichtenberger and Dan Idema, both of whom I had on my shortlist. If I could go back and change it I probably would, but of course I can’t. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that Koon, who is talented and has a ton of potential, is able to get me some points.

Round 8

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David Peters

178ChopsVitaly Lunkin
279MathersRep Porter
380SomervilleMatt Matros
481CrainVictor Ramdin
582NegreanuAndy Bloch
683FeldmanEli Elezra
784HollowayDavid Peters
885GlantzVladimir Shchemelev
986BradleyJoe Kuether
1087BrikisJonathan Duhamel
1188BaldwinOwais Ahmed

I had a tough time choosing in this round. I had three players on my list, and all three went. Unfortunately all three were still available when I picked. Ultimately I selected David Peters over both Joe Kuether and Jonathan Duhamel. I like all three players a lot, but I guess what pushed me in Peters’ direction was his recent enthusiasm for playing big buy-in events such as the €100,000 Super High Roller at the European Poker Tour Grand Final.

Round 9

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Max Steinberg

189BaldwinTony Gregg
290BrikisFabrice Soulier
391BradleyHuck Seed
492GlantzJustin Young
593HollowayMax Steinberg
694FeldmanMarvin Rettenmaier
795NegreanuBen Yu
896CrainAaron Steury
997SomervilleChris Bjorin
1098MathersKonstantin Puchkov
1199ChopsBlair Hinkle

This was uncharted territory for the ESPN Fantasy Poker League as in years past we had only gone eight rounds. This year we added two more.

As I waited for other players to pick, I was eyeing up Chris Bjorin. The wily veteran is as steady as they come, but when it came to my pick, I had the sudden urge to take a risk. Despite not knowing his plan for the summer, I opted to go with Max Steinberg, who is someone I’ve been impressed with time and time again. Last year he finished runner-up in the National Championship, and then he went on to notch five WSOP cashes including a runner-up finish in Event #27 $3,000 Mixed Max No-Limit Hold’em for $231,501. Not a bad follow-up year for the 2012 WSOP bracelet winner.

Round 10

PokerNews Op-Ed: The 2014 ESPN Fantasy Poker League Draft 110

1100ChopsDan Shak
2101MathersPhil Galfond
3102SomervilleBrandon Cantu
4103CrainEric Crain
5104NegreanuEric Wasserson
6105FeldmanMukul Pahuja
7106HollowayAdam Friedman
8107GlantzScott Bohlman
9108BradleyGreg Merson
10109BrikisJosh Brikis
11110BaldwinEric Baldwin

This round was actually kind of funny as it seemed a lot of participants were running out of picks (evidenced by the fact that three of them selected themselves). It's kind of funny that Baldwin went from the first pick overall a few years back and now was the last player selected (by himself nonetheless).

Anyway, I actually three or four players remaining on my list, so I had plenty to choose from. I ultimately rounded off my team with Adam Friedman, who I actually just spent some time with at the Mid-States Poker Tour FireKeepers in Battle Creek, Michigan. Friedman, who is often remembered as the crying guy at the 2005 WSOP, defeated Todd Brunson in an epic heads-up match at the 2012 WSOP to win his first bracelet, and then last year took down an HPT title.

Friedman is one of the most respected mixed-game players in the world, and my personal interaction with him let me know that he is excited and hungry for the WSOP. Friedman was definitely worth an earlier pick, but I figured he wouldn’t be on anyone else’s radar so I waited to pick him up at the end.

For more on the 2014 ESPN Fantasy Poker League, check out Andrew Feldman’s draft analysis on ESPN Poker.

Who do you think has the best team? Any players you were surprised to discover did not get drafted? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Get all the latest PokerNews updates on your social media outlets. Follow us on Twitter and find us both Facebook and Google+!

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