It does seem that there has been a calming period on the CardPlayer Magazine Player of the Year race this month. While the professionals may be exhausted from the month and a half orgy that was the World Series of Poker, it is also possible that they are reserving their strength for a drive at the end of 2005. It does appear, though, that we are setting up for a serious battle as the final months of the year come into play.
For the first time in 2005, POY leader John Phan was shut out of a final table. Phan, from Long Beach, CA, has shown remarkable consistency throughout the year as he has made at least one final table each month, taking down three championships in preliminary events at the L. A. Poker Classic, the WSOP Circuit stop at Lake Tahoe and the Ultimate Poker Challenge. These victories, along with his consistent finishes, has allowed him to amass a comfortable, but not insurmountable, lead of 862 points over the rest of the field. August, however, hasn't been kind to him and he will not add any points for the month.
It is a theme that is repeated as you look down through many of the players that are in the Top Twenty. In fact, only two players have made significant moves through the month of August. Of the other men in the top five, Michael Gracz, Ted Forrest, Erick Lindgren and Phil Ivey (second through fifth, respectively), none have made a charge at Phan and, in fact, haven't scored points towards the race since July.
While these men may be sitting back to make their charge in the latter stages of the year, it is plainly evident that the world of tournament poker is a vicious one. With the plentitude of tournaments and the sizes of the fields, it is an obvious demonstration of the difficulty of earning points for this prestigious award. In fact, of the major tournaments played in the month of August, none were taken by "name" players.
The action is a little faster as you look down the list. While Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi (sixth) and Amir Vahedi (seventh) continue to hold their positions, three new players enter into the Top Ten because of their play at the Legends of Poker in Los Angeles and the start of the 2006 World Series of Poker Circuit in Tunica, MS. WSOP double bracelet winner Mark Seif showed that he is on a roll at this time by capturing points in Tunica, which pushed him up into the eighth spot on the list. The Legends of Poker tournament has been helpful to both David "The Dragon" Pham and Minh "PokerHost" Nguyen. They both have made final tables and have pushed their way up the list into ninth and tenth places, respectively.
Minh Nguyen has been the most visible face at the final table this year. While he has not captured an elusive title, an amazing eleven times he has been in the running for a victory and, by virtue of these finishes, has been able to earn his way into the Top Ten. Nguyen has to be considered a threat to those higher up on the list simply because of his consistency at the tables through the entire year, not by just having one victory.
Looking down into the list from eleven to twenty, there are some dangerous players that are lurking. Antonio Esfandiari was pushed out of the Top Ten this month to eleventh, but is still lurking to capture the Player of the Year title. Beneath him sit Harry Demetriou, Farzad Bonyadi, John Gale, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Scotty Nguyen (who has quietly had a fantastic 2005), among others who, when presented with the right circumstances, can thrust themselves into the race with a big victory in one of the tournaments yet to come this year.
Don't think that there aren't plenty of points opportunities yet to come. Over the next four months, there are approximately a dozen big buy-in tournaments and nearly as many smaller tournaments that will have a serious effect on the Player of the Year points race. Phan, who has dominated the board since April, cannot be comfortable and sit back. We should see, over the next couple of months, who is serious about making a run and who will be in the best position to capture the Player of the Year award.
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