With the flurry of tournament activity in March, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi was able to hang on to his lead in the CardPlayer Player Of The Year race, albeit by the slimmest of margins.
Still riding the high of his tournament victory in the World Poker Tour's L. A. Poker Classic, Mizrachi has been able to hold off the rash of competitors that are coming after him. His early season lead has shrunk, however, and there is a new challenger to the top of the mountain.
John Phan, a professional player from Long Beach, CA, has pulled into the second slot behind Mizrachi. Phan, who won a No-Limit championship during the Los Angeles tournament, followed up on that win with a strong second place showing during the Winnin' O' The Green No-Limit Main Event. The tournament, conducted at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, allowed Phan to pass Erick Lindgren for the second slot.
Both Lindgren and Amir Vahedi drop one spot from last month's rankings, with two new entries coming into the Top Ten behind them. Maciek Gracz of Raleigh, NC, used his championship at the PartyPoker Million IV to catapult into a tie for fifth with Danny Nguyen of San Jose, CA, who captured the title at the Bay 101 Shooting Star Main Event. John Stoltzmann is tied with those two as well, after his win early in the season at the Jack Binion World Poker Open.
Making his own noise and entering the Top Ten is former WPT champion Paul Darden. While he has yet to crack the winner's circle in 2005, Darden, from New Haven, CT, has used solid play to make four final tables and earn nearly $400,000, in addition to the eighth spot in the POY race. Rounding out the top ten are Nicholas Frangos and 2004 Player Of The Year Daniel Negreanu.
Several players are charging that haven't quite reached the Top Ten. John Hoang of Alhambra, CA, has made an amazing six final tables to be on the edge of the leaders in eleventh place. Jean-Robert Bellande of Hollywood, CA, has also been on a streak, winning the Main Event championship at the Winnin' O' The Green and moving into eighteenth with his three final table finishes.
With three World Poker Tour and two World Series of Poker Circuit events to come in April and May, as well as other tournaments that will count towards the rankings, the one thing that can be counted on is that there will be change before everyone heads to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. Many players, even those outside the Top Ten, are beginning to hit their stride and bring their "A" games to prepare for the world championship of poker. The primary question, to be answered over the next couple of months, is can Mizrachi continue his early season streak to maintain his lead in the POY race? Only the next couple of months will tell...
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