With a third of the 2007 tournament season out of the way, there are definitely players that have made their moves in the early going. The just completed WPT Championship, and the associated Five Star World Poker Classic preliminary tournaments that preceded it in April, have had a significant impact on the rankings in the Poker Player of the Year race and could be of importance as the remainder of the year plays out.
Still reigning at the top of the mountain is J. C. Tran, who seized the POY in February. Tran continued his early season assault on the poker world by expanding his lead during the events held at the Bellagio. J. C. was able to take down one of the $3000 buy-in events, which expanded his lead over his closest competitor to almost 1500 points. The always dangerous professional from Sacramento seems to be on the top of his game this early in the year and, with continued success, will be difficult to knock off the #1 perch.
While he was able to hold onto his second place spot in the 2007 POY race, James Van Alstyne was unable to add any points to his record for the year. With four cashes during the run of the Five Star, however, he was able to push his 2007 earnings up over the $600K mark. The consistent Van Alstyne could have an impact on the remainder of the 2007 race; he will play in virtually any tournament, regardless of size or importance, and could chip away at Tran's lead if J. C. hits a cold streak at any point.
A surprise player enters into the Top Ten in third place this month. Paul Lee, the third place finisher in the WPT Championship, also had two other final table finishes during the Five Star events which included one victory. With the three final tables in April, Lee expanded his bankroll by over $1.25 million and now should be viewed as potentially a major player in the POY race. Prior to the Five Star, Paul had primarily played in the multitude of tournaments in the Southern California area; with the immaculate run of success Paul enjoyed in April, he now has the ability to step into more major tournaments and be a definite "sleeper" for the remainder of the POY race.
Flush from his victory (and the nearly $4 million paycheck that came with it) in the WPT Championship, Carlos "El Matador" Mortensen enters into the Top Ten this month in the fourth place slot. Mortensen's success in the WPT Championship was not a surprise; during the EPT Grand Final held earlier in the month of April, Carlos finished a very respectable eleventh, serving notice that his game was in prime shape for such a victory at the WPT Championship. Always considered one of the most dangerous players in the game, Mortensen will have plenty of opportunities to reach even higher on the POY leader board. With the WSOP around the corner and the plethora of European events that he will play in, Carlos is primed for a charge that could net him the POY honors.
Quietly entering into the Top Ten this month is another player who had great success at the Bellagio. While he didn't win an event, Ted Lawson did have two final table finishes which, along with his runner up finish in March's Wynn Classic Championship Event, gives him the fifth place position. Lawson is a well known face on the tournament poker scene and, if he can continue his success of the past couple of months, could continue his quiet assault on the POY list.
EPT Grand Final champion Gavin Griffin falls to sixth this month, while the runner up of the WPT Championship, veteran tournament player Kirk Morrison, enters into the Top Ten in the seventh slot. Morrison nearly had two WPT final tables, as he finished ninth at the Foxwoods World Poker Challenge in March. Signaling his return to the tournament world (Kirk is a WSOP bracelet holder from 1998 in Seven Card Stud), Morrison is on a roll and might be a player to watch.
Marc Karam and Juan Carlos Alvarado hold down the eighth and ninth place slots in the POY race, while David "The Dragon" Pham is joined in tenth by the only player to win two events during the Five Star, Jared Hamby. Hamby earned over $500K for his two victories and is perhaps the first newcomer this year that has made a significant impact. These players have a huge obstacle to overcome, however; they are over 2300 points behind J. C. Tran on the leader board.
There are formidable opponents in the Second Ten that bear mentioning as well. Bill Edler (eleventh), Ted Forrest (twelfth), J. J. Liu (eighteenth) and David "The DevilFish" Ulliott (nineteenth) are some of the best the tournament poker world has to offer and, with success in the upcoming WSOP, would enter into the Top Ten with a definite shot at taking down the crown.
Even with the completion of the fifth season of the WPT, May will not be a slow month. With two WSOP Circuit events in Las Vegas and New Orleans, the start of the sixth season of the WPT at the Mirage Poker Showdown and the Mandalay Bay Poker Championship in Las Vegas and several smaller events both in the United States and worldwide (including the former WPT stop at the Aviation Club in Paris), everyone seems to be only gearing up for the World Series, which begins June 1st. The potential for the Poker Player of the Year list to change significantly is there as the poker world gets ready to hit another gear within the next two to three months.