It is a topic of discussion that is bandied about in every poker game around the world at one point or another. Internet poker forums have multitudes of threads as to the answer. From the home games in small town America or Europe to the high roller rooms in Las Vegas, the debate rages as to who the best poker player in the world is. It is a question that, to be honest, doesn't have a concrete answer.
If you look at the latest wealth of poker magazines, they seem to have an opinion on who is the best, at least when looking at a one or two year period. In one poker magazine, Californian John Phan is the leader. According to another, it is John Juanda, while a third has Chris "Jesus" Ferguson as the best player of the year. When this is taken into account, it is obvious, due to their differing standards, that the poker magazines provide more fuel for the debate than answers.
Poker players and poker organizations also are getting into the conflict. Phil Hellmuth, for several years, has compiled a list of the Player of the Year that is also used by a magazine (currently Phil's list is headed by Ferguson, with Phil Ivey nipping at his heels). The International Poker Federation looks at Michael Gracz, the WPT and WSOP champion, as the best player in the world. Both the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour crown their respective Players of the Year as well. There are even specific websites set up to rank their own best player in the world.
As you can see, when you take in this abundance of information, it is a mesmerizing and confusing question to consider. For poker to be truly considered a sport instead of a game of cards, it would be excellent if it could be precisely determined just who is the best player in the game. There are a few ways that this could come about.
The first step would be to have a worldwide poker federation. This federation would have branch groups that would be responsible for their own countries, but would be a guiding force, so to speak, in helping to solve this Rubik's Cube puzzle. The federation could set a definitive tournament schedule where points could be earned and could as well set the course for the acceptance of poker as sport instead of chance.
By taking this step, a worldwide poker federation could also be the voice that poker players have consistently needed. While poker players are a notoriously singular bunch, with the proliferation of poker tournaments, differing standards of tournament rules and structures and even the scheduling (perhaps, as the casinos themselves can be pretty singular as well), such a worldwide organization can be a tremendous bridge to taking poker more into the worldwide lexicon.
Look at the other individual sports around the world. Sports such as golf, tennis and even bowling have an international group that recognizes the best in the game through a rankings system. Other team sports, such as soccer, baseball and basketball, have the same setup, with a world organizer that recognizes the best the particular sport has to offer. Poker could do the same thing, and it would help to promote and present the game as what it is, a worldwide sporting contest that is battled at the highest levels.
One thing that would have to be recognized, which some of the rankings that exist don't, is that poker IS a worldwide game. Some magazines and websites limit their qualifying tournaments to those only in the United States. While it is without question the majority of high quality and high profile tournaments are in America, with the European Poker Tour and other tremendous tournaments in Europe, Australia, Canada and the Caribbean, it is truly folly to ignore what the rest of the world is doing when it comes to ranking players. Here again, a worldwide poker organization can be the catalyst to determining what tournaments are worthy of inclusion.
Perhaps we could take a hodgepodge of all the magazine rankings, websites, individual poker groups, poker player and writer opinions and make a Bowl Coalition System-type ranking. Then again, that may just confuse the issue even more! For now, however, we have two options. We can take the magazines and perhaps the best player in the world is listed there. We can look over the other rankings and maybe even accept those. Or perhaps the greatest player in the world isn't among them. It could very well be a person unknown to the television tournament poker viewers of the world, who battles daily in the trenches of a casino in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Paris or Monte Carlo, playing high limit poker with skills greater than any name player around. Perhaps it is an online player, quietly sitting back and making tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars a year inconspicuously. And, just maybe, the debate on the best poker player in the world should just be left as one of those theoretical discussions that should always be a part of the game.
Ed Note: Play with Gus Hansen, 2005 European Champion Tony G, and Erik123 every day at Pokerchamps.