With only a few events to go in this year's World Series, it is obvious that it has had a huge effect on the CardPlayer Magazine Player of the Year race. Last year at this time, Daniel Negreanu had used the WSOP as a springboard to a huge lead. Although he needed a last moment tournament victory to seize the 2004 Player of the Year championship, he had played consistently throughout the year to earn the title.
This year is quite different. With the World Series landing pretty much exactly in the middle of the year, no one has been able to break away from the pack. In addition, with the performance of the professionals in Las Vegas, it seems as though it will be a yearlong battle to see who will take the POY championship for 2005.
Leading at the halfway point is Californian John Phan. Phan has used the early part of the year to build up a good amount of points, but (excepting one final table) he has pretty much been shut out at the World Series. This has allowed the pack to catch up with him quite a bit.
Michael Gracz, the winner of the 2005 Party Poker Millions cruise, has been jumping up the board. He has picked up a bracelet at the World Series for his second championship of the year and is within 672 points of the first place Phan. The 24 year old North Carolinian seems to be primed for a big move in the second half of the year.
The players in third through fifth place, Erick Lindgren, Ted Forrest and Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, are holding their positions, but have to consider this year's World Series a bit of a letdown. Between the three of them, they have only been able to make it to one final table and have to be a little disappointed with their performances. Both Forrest, who came into the WSOP on a huge rush, and Mizrachi, who just hasn't seemed to be able to carry on his early season success, have to be concerned as we step into the second half of the year.
The rest of the Top Ten has been in a constant state of change, exemplified by the movements of players who have been doing well in Las Vegas in June. Amir Vahedi is one constant from last month, and he has dropped two spots from last month and is in seventh. Phil Ivey is another constant who has used his bracelet victory in the $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha (w/rebuys) tournament at the World Series to maintain his sixth place spot on the list.
The remainder of the Top Ten are all newcomers. Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari, Harry Demetriou (who has been on a tear at the Series) and World Series double bracelet winner Mark Seif all hold down slots eight through ten. They have been getting their games in great shape to make a challenge not only at the World Series Main Event championship but also to be in the year long race for Player of the Year.
The second ten is filled with players who have either captured bracelets at this year's World Series or are making several final tables during the event. Bracelet winner Farzad Bonyadi, multi-final tablist Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Mirage Poker Showdown champion Gavin Smith and Paul Darden (falling out of the Top Ten) are all waiting there should one of the leaders falter. In addition, PokerStars Caribbean Adventure champion John Gale, David "The Dragon" Pham and former World Champion Scotty Nguyen are all in the hunt as well.
One of the most surprising things is that the hottest player at this year's World Series, Allen Cunningham, has yet to crack even the Top Twenty. Allen has become the first player to capture $1 million before the Main Event (on the strength of a bracelet in Event #2 and three other final table finishes), yet it doesn't seem to have translated into Player of the Year points for him. He is just off the Top Twenty, however, in twenty third place.
It seems that the cream is rising to the top in this year's race. While early year champions John Stolzmann (Jack Binion World Poker Open) and Danny Nguyen (Bay 101 Shooting Star) are still in the top 25, they are rapidly being passed by the experience of the professionals. There is only 2,000 points separating twentieth place from first, however, so the CardPlayer Magazine Player of the Year race will actually be a battle throughout the year!
Michael Gracz made his name by winning the Party Poker Million earlier in the year, and qualifying at Party Poker