After eleven months of battle ranging around the world, the Poker Player of the Year race comes down to three tournaments during the month of December. The three tournaments (the Bellagio's Five Diamond World Poker Classic in Las Vegas, the Trump Classic in Atlantic City (both have preliminary events going at this time) and the WSOP Circuit event in Atlantic City (which starts December 9th) are the only ones that will generate the fields (and the points) that one of the contenders for the crown can take down for the POY title. With that said, it could be close to impossible for someone to capture the title other than Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi.
Mizrachi, who has held the 2006 POY lead seemingly since the beginning of the year, has dominated the field on his march to December. He picked up some points during the preliminary events of the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods and seems to be in the driver's seat when it comes down to the race. If everything stays status quo at this point, only five players out of the Top Ten would have a shot at knocking Michael from the top slot (and then they would have to win the Five Diamond, not an easy feat). Mizrachi is at the Five Diamond, preparing to play in the $15,000 Buy In WPT main event and making sure he doesn't have to step into any of the preliminary tournaments to keep his lead.
Second place Shannon Shorr is one of the players attempting to make Mizrachi sweat the month of December. He has earned cash in the $1,500 No Limit event, but no points went with that finish. The Bellagio has been good to Shorr, though, as he is the champion of the Bellagio Cup II and looks to add another prestigious Bellagio championship to his record for 2006. If Shorr can do that, he is close enough to pass "The Grinder" and take the POY championship as well.
Nam Le, a good friend of Mizrachi's, is putting on some early heat on Michael as well. The Huntington Beach, CA resident made up some points on the Top Ten with a points earning finish at the Bicycle Casino's Turkey Shoot/Ho-Ho Hold'Em tournament and has cashed as well at the Five Diamond (in the $2000 No-Limit event won by David "The DevilFish" Ulliot). If he continues to earn points, it may bring Mizrachi off the bench to fight to retain the POY title.
Entering into the Top Ten this month and placing his name in the ring for POY honors is J. C. Tran. Tran picked up valuable points when he won the $3000 event at the World Poker Finals in Foxwoods and, by picking up those points, has made a statement that he is a player to be watched during the next few weeks. Tran is one of the consistent forces on the tournament poker world and seems to be finding his groove at the right time of the year to possibly steal the thunder of those that are in the Top Ten and take the title.
John Hoang is in position to take a shot at the title in fifth place and it is arguable to find a person who has had a better year. He has made fourteen final tables in 2006 and in a variety of disciplines of poker. While some may look at his record of playing in smaller tournaments and feel that he isn't qualified to take the POY, he has been a consistently strong player in ANY tournament he has played in. With thoughts of possibly winning the POY, Hoang has stepped up and is playing in larger tournaments lately and, with a good streak in December, could capture the title.
The remainder of the Top Ten, Phil Hellmuth (sixth), David Daneshgar (seventh), Jeff Madsen (eighth), Alex Jacob (ninth) and Top Ten newcomer Roland De Wolfe (tenth), do not have a mathematical chance of catching Mizrachi…UNLESS they play in the preliminary events of the Five Diamond and win, then finish at the final table of the WPT event, or win the Trump Classic. All of these gentlemen must be commended for their excellent seasons and, perhaps, they could make the rest of the month interesting.
For now, though, it does appear that the Player of the Year title is Michael Mizrachi's to lose. It isn't uncommon, though, for the POY champion to literally be determined during the last tournaments of December. We'll be sure to keep an eye on the action at the three big tournaments during the month and, just before Christmas, we should know who the 2006 Player of the Year is.
Ed note: Grind it out with the Grinder at Absolute Poker