It has all come down to this. Three tournaments, millions of dollars and the prestigious Player of the Year championship all up for grabs. One of the many questions is who will the Player of the Year be! There has been some shuffling among the men that are vying for the POY championship, being led by John Phan. The California pro has been at the top of the list for more than half of the year, but his lead has shrank to its smallest point as we enter into the final month of the season. After having led this long, it would be potentially devastating to a player's mentality to be caught at this point. Phan, however, has proven that he is a player that will definitely be one to watch in 2006, even if he is passed for the title.
The story of the second half of 2005 is veteran professional Men "The Master" Nguyen. Since July, "The Master" has garnered points in ten events and in November alone he won a preliminary event at the World Series of Poker Circuit stop at Bally's in Las Vegas and made three other point scoring positions. With this late season surge, Nguyen has chopped down Phan's once-dominant lead to a mere 352 points. By continuing this drive in December and earning another tournament victory at some point, "The Master" could pass Phan and capture the POY championship with ease. It would truly be a "masterful" performance by one of the venerable names in the game of poker.
Although he was passed by "The Master" and now finds himself in third place, Michael Gracz is not ready to be counted out! The Raleigh, NC, resident is ready for battle in December and has already earned some points in the race at one of the early tournaments at the Bellagio's Five Diamond World Poker Classic. With those points, he pulls himself to 580 points back of Phan and only 228 behind Nguyen. Gracz cannot be counted out as he makes his charge at the top of the mountain.
Another player who made some points in the same Five Diamond preliminary tournament that Gracz did is the fourth place contestant Tony Ma. The California State Poker Champion finished in second in that event and pulled within a tournament championship from passing the leaders. Ma also has been rolling in the last half of the year with his victory in September at the Commerce Casino and has to be watched as a potential spoiler for those men in front of him!
With all of the action at the head of the class, many players who were in that rarified air now find themselves dropping down the list. Ted Forrest, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi and Gavin Smith have all been pushed down but are still in striking distance in fifth through seventh place. Max Pescatori has continued his excellent play in the second half of the season as well and, with three final table finishes in November, climbed up to the eight slot on the list. After his early season success and a tough run in the latter going of 2005, Erick Lindgren is sitting in ninth place and UltimateBet Aruba Poker Classic champion Freddy Deeb takes the tenth slot.
With the three major tournaments in December, the WSOP Circuit stop in Atlantic City at the Showboat, the Trump Classic at the Trump Taj Mahal in the same city and the Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio in Las Vegas (potentially the greatest prize of the three), there is the potential that someone who is as far back as 2,000 points to make their charge to the top of the list. Such players as Chip Jett and Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari all are back in that group, but such players as World Series double bracelet winner Mark Seif, Amir Vahedi, Phil Ivey (coming off of a great stay in Monaco, where he took down $1.6 million but no POY points!) and WSOP POY Allen Cunningham are even closer to the top but not in the Top Ten. With the number of preliminary tournaments that lead up to the Championship Event (and the major points of those particular tournaments) of all three, it is entirely possible that this list may shuffle again before we know who the Player of the Year is come December 19th!
Ed note: Start your work for 2006 Player of the Year today at Poker Heaven