The Player of the Year race has seen the same leader for the last few months, but that doesn't mean that there hasn't been quite a bit of action on the leader board! John Phan continues to guide the field as we enter the last three months of the season, but he cannot feel comfortable with the list of names that are arranging behind him to take their shots at the crown.
Phan, of Long Beach, CA, has run into a slump as of late. He missed a tremendous opportunity to put a stranglehold on the POY race when he was unable to make the final table at the World Series of Poker Circuit's stop in Las Vegas. He barely missed out on a cash in that event, as well as any type of points payout, when he placed tenth in the 107-player field. Surprisingly, the aggressive Phan has now missed out on the final table for two consecutive months now.
Three other members of the Top Five have been no-shows among the final tables at the multitude of events in September as well. Ted Forrest, Michael Gracz (third) and Erick Lindgren (fourth) have been quiet for several months now, although Forrest did make some points during the U. S. Poker Championships at the Trump Taj in Atlantic City. Ted's second place finish in the $300 Seven Card Hi/Lo tournament added some points to his total, but he still finds himself 764 points behind Phan in second place.
The first new face to make an appearance on the POY list is that of veteran player Freddy Deeb. Deeb has quietly made final tables throughout the year, including two during the run of the World Series this year. Up to now, however, Freddy had been shut out of the Winner's Circle in 2005. By taking down the championship at the UltimateBet.com Aruba Poker Classic and the $1 million payday along with it, Deeb has rectified that situation and drives into the fifth place slot on the list. Deeb has to be considered a threat, as he always seems to find himself in position to make big moves in major tournaments. By getting his first victory of the year out of the way, Freddy can now concentrate on making some noise in the POY race.
The remainder of the Top Ten has some faces that have been in the list before, but now are coming on strong and making their respective moves for the crown. Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi and Phil Ivey maintain their status in sixth and seventh place, respectively, but their edge over eighth place Mark Seif has shrunk. Seif, the only double bracelet winner at this year's World Series, took the $2,500 Seven Card Stud Championship at the U. S. Poker Championships and, with the win, narrowed the gap between the three players to 169 points.
There are new players in the final two slots, but they are no strangers to the pinnacle of professional success. Tony Ma bypassed the U. S. Poker Championships and chose instead to stay at home and play at the California State Poker Championship. It was a good move for the El Monte, CA, resident. Ma was able to outlast the other 213 combatants to capture the California state championship. He also took away over $350,000 from the $1 million prize pool for his efforts and places himself in the hunt for the POY award in ninth place.
Another familiar and dangerous name has now made his move back into the Top Ten. 2000 World Champion Chris "Jesus" Ferguson was the champion of the World Series Circuit stop in Las Vegas and has now been able to work his way into the tenth place slot. This was Ferguson's second WSOP Circuit win (he won the Harrah's Rincon stop at the beginning of the year) and, in addition to his success at the World Series this year, clearly is on a roll and a threat to the top of the list. He currently sits only ten points from Ma and 1,512 from Phan.
These are the ten men who seem to have the best shot at taking the title this year, although it would be risky not to consider anyone who is within a couple thousand points of the lead. Players such as Amir Vahedi, Minh Nguyen, Antonio Esfandiari and David "The Dragon" Pham (who had a run at the end of last year to nearly capture the 2004 POY title) are within that 2000-point window and, with prestigious titles still on the line in 2005, it is possible that the battle for the Player of the Year race is far from over!
Ed note: Work on becoming the Player of the Year for 2006 at Ultimate Bet