Long Beach, CA's John Phan used strong performances in two tournaments to pass the man who had been leading the race for the last two months, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi. At the Bicycle Casino at the very end of March, Phan took second in the Main Event at the Winnin' O' The Green tournament, which only set him up for his sterling performance at the World Poker Tour Championship. He made the final table of the tournament and finished fourth, with the points earned for that performance pushing him past Mizrachi for the POY lead.
Mizrachi himself had a chance to hold on to his lead at the WPT Championship, but some ill-timed attacks left him well short of the final table in eleventh place. While he was able to capture the all important points in the POY race, it was not enough to counter Phan's two performances in the month of April. Overall, Mizrachi trails Phan by over 700 points with the start of the fourth season of the World Poker Tour and two more World Series of Poker Circuit events (as well as many other qualified tournaments) set for the month of May.
For those of you who may not have had the chance to see John Phan in action, both I and my colleague John Caldwell have. John will back me up when I say that you could time Phan's poker actions with a calendar. He is an excellent player who is, suffice it to say, deliberate about his actions at the table. He will take a tremendous amount of time at the table before he makes a decision, something that many poker players do not do. While many chide Phan for this deliberate style, it must work well for him as he has performed excellently in many a tournament this year, making four final tables.
There were other shakeups involved in the Top Ten. While Erick Lindgren, Amir Vahedi and World Poker Open champion John Stolzmann all held steady in third through fifth place, John Hoang and Jean Robert Bellande have both broken through to enter into the top pack. Hoang, from Alhambra, CA, has by far the most final tables of any player in the game right now with seven and has used those performances to accumulate a steady amount of points. The same can be said for Hollywood, CA's Bellande, who has scored points across the board in WPT events, WSOP Circuit events and other tourneys in California.
Three WPT champions round out the Top Ten. The WPT Championship victor Tuan Le, Bay 101 Shooting Star champ Danny Nguyen, and PartyPoker Million IV survivor Michael Gracz all have the same amount of points from their championships and sit poised to strike if someone ahead of them falters.
It doesn't get easier for the leaders; the second ten have some dangerous players waiting there as well. Paul Darden (knocked out of the Top Ten this month), 2004 POY Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey and Chau Giang are all waiting there, playing strong poker and ready for the start of the fourth season of the WPT and the (hard to believe) soon to start World Series of Poker. In fact, when looking at the leader board, the difference between fifth place (the previously mentioned John Stolzmann) and twenty fifth place (Chris "Jesus" Ferguson) is a mere 700 points!
Even though the year is nearing the halfway point, no one can be feeling any sense of security. In a way, the move of the World Series to June has added into the drama. By pushing one of (if not the most) premiere event of the sport to the center of the year, it has given a good length of time for players to jockey for position without someone taking a dominant lead early on in the season (as Negreanu did last year with his WSOP performance). This will give many players the goal of not only going for the WSOP Player of the Year title, but definitely give the players the incentive of playing many other qualifying tournaments to get into the CardPlayer Magazine fight. May promises to be an interesting month as everyone gets in position for what will definitely be a year long marathon for the Player Of The Year Championship!