As the Player of the Year race moves into its final two months of 2006, there seems to be only one question that remains to be answered (and it's the question that has been posed since Day One of the race this year): can anyone stop Michael Mizrachi from running away with the title?
If "The Grinder" has his way, the answer to that question will be a definitive "no". Mizrachi, whose early season success in World Poker Tour events in January and February launched him into the lead almost from the start, has continued to be a dominant force at the tables for the entirety of 2006. In October, he added a strong performance at the Bellagio's Festa al Lago WPT tournament (13th place) to a tremendous string of cashes and championships from the rest of the year and is also off to a good start at the Foxwoods World Poker Finals, where he added another cash on Halloween. It will be very difficult for someone to catch Michael, as he not only has a dominant lead but it also looks as though he will be playing many tournaments to keep people from catching him.
One of the players who isn't quite ready to concede the POY title to Mizrachi is second place Shannon Shorr. He also was able to cash at the Festa al Lago tournaments and has actually cut "The Grinder's" lead to less than 1,500 points for the first time in several months. Shorr has not been the only person who has been rising up to become a threat, but so far he is the only one who has been able to cut into Mizrachi's lead in consecutive months.
Poker professional Nam Le solidified his third place position with a final table finish at a preliminary tournament at the Festa al Lago and was the only member of the Top Ten who reached the points positions during the WPT North American Poker Championships in Canada. Le currently sits 251 points back of Shorr for the second place spot and continues to drive up the Top Ten list. Since his victory at the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star tournament in March, Nam has cashed in fourteen tournaments and made the final table at seven of those events.
John Hoang was able to bypass Phil Hellmuth for the fourth place position on the POY list with a simply stunning October performance. During the month, the Fountain Valley, CA resident cashed in five events and made the final table in three of those tournaments. Hoang has racked up fourteen final tables in 2006 (far and away the leader in that category) and positions himself to be a considerable threat during the end of season tournaments that populate the remainder of 2006.
Hellmuth continues to stay in the Top Ten in fifth place after his play at this year's World Series of Poker, but another mover in the POY race is David Daneshgar. Daneshgar followed up his EPT Barcelona performance by cashing twice at the Festa al Lago (a final table preliminary tournament and a strong 21st place finish in the $10000 WPT event) and has moved past World Series wunderkind Jeff Madsen for sixth place on the POY list (up from seventh last month). Daneshgar seems to be getting hot in the last quarter of 2006 and, with more performances like September and October, we could be seeing him make a run at the upper echelons of the POY race.
Madsen continues to hold on to seventh place as there is a newcomer who gets into the Top Ten after the October tournaments. Parkland, FL's Alex Jacob enters the Top Ten in eighth place and demonstrates that, once you get a big win, excellent performances tend to follow. After taking the title at the U. S. Poker Championship in Atlantic City, he moved on to Las Vegas and cashed during the WPT Festa al Lago event as well. These top notch tournament performances shouldn't come as a shock, however; he made two final tables at the WSOP this year and racked up four cashes during the time at the Rio as well. If it wasn't for the stunning summertime moves from Madsen, Jacob could well be the man that everyone would talking about for Rookie of the Year.
Rounding out the Top Ten are professionals Allen Cunningham (ninth) and Erick Lindgren (tenth) while the Second Ten presents some new names and dangerous players. WPT 2006 Legends of Poker champion Joe Pelton has pulled an almost identical feat to Mizrachi's early 2006 performance by finishing in third place during the Festa al Lago and is in the eleventh place slot. This should put him in the early lead for WPT Season Five Player of the Year honors as that tour's season continues into 2007. David Williams, J. C. Tran, Joe Sebok and Can Kim Hua also are lurking in the Second Ten and looking to move to the top of the POY list.
Over the next two months, there are several tournaments that will have a sizeable impact on the POY race. The World Poker Finals are currently going on at Foxwoods in Connecticut, which will be followed by the Five Diamond World Poker Classic in December. There is one more World Series of Poker Circuit event on the schedule as well as the Trump Classic in Atlantic City and other smaller events that could swing the standings one way or the other. While Mizrachi seems to have the POY sewn up at this point, strong performances from any of the Top Ten could make for significant changes before the Player of the Year race is decided.
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