The World Series of Poker — it’s where real faces are put to screen names. When Steve Billirakis took down his first WSOP bracelet back in 2007, hardly anyone had heard that name, despite his online moniker “MrSmokey1” being well known. Last year online legends such as Jeff “yellowsub86” Williams, James “mig.com” Mackey and Tom “durrrr” Dwan all landed at WSOP final tables, but which online pros will rise to the top of this year’s crop? Here are a few tournament stars we’ll be keeping an eye on come May 28th — the top ten online poker players to watch at the 2009 WSOP.
10. Aditya “Intervention” Agarwal
Aditya Agarwal has been absolutely killing online no-limit hold’em MTTs in 2009. In the last four months he has won three tournaments outright and his final-table finishes number in the dozens. At the end of January he took down the notoriously tough PokerStars Sunday $200 Rebuy for over $48,000 and won the Stars Daily $100 Rebuy less than a month later, good for another $30,000. In mid-March he captured the Stars $109 NLHE (1R/1A) for $25,000 and in this month alone he’s added another $105,000 to his bankroll with runner-up finishes in the Full Tilt $1K Monday and the Stars Sunday $200 Rebuy, a seventh-place finish in the Full Tilt $200,000 Guarantee, and a sixth-place finish in the Stars Daily $100 Rebuy. Hailing from Calcutta, India and now living in Philadelphia, this will be Agarwal’s third WSOP, having made a deep runs in the ’07 and ’08 Main Events. If momentum is any indicator, Agarwal is a good bet to make a NLHE final table this year.
9. Alex “Assassinato” Fitzgerald
Alex Fitzgerald is a quiet, surprisingly together young man who has spent the better part of the last couple of years traveling the international tournament circuit while grinding out online cash games and MTTs on the side. Fitzgerald made a huge run on PokerStars in late ’08, placing third in the Sunday $200 Rebuy, second in the Daily $100 Rebuy, and winning the Nightly Hundred Grand for a total haul of over $75,000. Fitzgerald has also had some impressive results in live events, cashing twice on the Latin American Poker Tour and finishing 13th at the 2007 APPT Manila. His largest-ever score, however, came only last week when he made the final table at EPT San Remo. Fitzgerald finished seventh in the EPT’s largest-ever field of 1,178, good for a $223,948 payday. He recently moved from rainy Seattle to the sandy shores of Malta, but if he can tear himself away from the beach and his laptop, there’s a whole lot of dead money waiting for him in Las Vegas this summer.
8. Alex “AJKHoosier” Kamberis
Alex Kamberis had a huge 2008 online, rising to the top of nearly every online player-ranking system on the net. In the second half of ’08, Kamberis took second place in the Full Tilt $1 Million Guaranteed for $134,895, won the Absolute Poker $150,000 Guarantee for $37,500, and made a third-place finish in the WCOOP Main Event on PokerStars, a five-way chop at the final table netting him $782,542. Having won the PokerStars $100 and $200 Rebuys several times as well as the Wednesday Hundred Fifty Grand, Kamberis has over $2,000,000 in lifetime online tournament earnings. Currently in the midst of an online downswing, Kamberis hopes he’s getting his “run-bad” out in time for the WSOP, where he plans to add many more cashes to the one he earned in ’08 for his 34th-place finish in the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Event.
7. Adam “AJunglen7” Junglen
Adam Junglen is simply due for a huge live result. Though 2009 will be his rookie year at the WSOP, Junglen has been on the road for the last several years racking up impressive results on the EPT and at last fall’s WSOP-Europe, where he made the final table of the £1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event as the chip leader, but suffered several beats to exit in sixth place. In fact, Junglen has fallen to the sixth-place curse three times in major events, also finishing in that spot at EPT Barcelona and at last fall’s Caesars Palace Classic. Already having transitioned successfully to live play, Junglen is now expanding his roster of games and wading into the shark-infested waters of pot-limit Omaha, having made the final table of the $1,500 PLO event at the L.A. Poker Classic earlier this year alongside Robert Williamson III and Jason Mercier. Calm, focused and extremely level-headed, Junglen will need to call on all his patience when he takes a seat amongst the masses in the Amazon Room one month from now, but if there’s anyone with the drive to pull himself through, it’s Junglen.
6. Steve “gboro780” Gross
Steve Gross is having a year for the ages online. Though most recognize him as an MTT grinder who puts in a Shaun Deeb-like amount of volume, Gross finally broke out in 2009 and took down two major online events and finished second in two more. In February, Gross won FTOPS XI Event #10, $322 NLHE, for $275,601 (his largest-ever online score) and just this week won UltimateBet’s Sunday major, the $200,000 Guaranteed, for $44,660. Earlier this month, Gross came tantalizingly close to a SCOOP title on PokerStars, finishing second in Event #11-High, $3,150 Six-Handed Mixed Hold’em for $128,000, and back in January, he just missed taking down the Full Tilt $1 Million Guaranteed, with his runner-up finish earning him $126,506. At last year’s WSOP Gross logged three cashes, all in NLHE events, his best result coming in the $1,000 NLHE w/ Rebuys event where he finished ninth. With a wealth of experience and a ballooning bankroll, this New Jersey native is armed with plenty of the ammunition necessary for a successful series.
5. Chris “Moorman1” Moorman
The UK’s Chris Moorman, also a blogger on PokerNews’ new online page, has been enjoying a phenomenal 2009 when it comes to his online results. Moorman won the Absolute Poker $150,000 Guarantee, the Full Tilt $65,000 and $90,000 Guarantees, and has taken down the PokerStars $100 Rebuy three times since Thanksgiving. He also had a successful run in the SCOOP tournaments on PokerStars this month, finishing eighth in the $3,150 Short-handed Mixed Hold’em event for $22,800 and eighth in the two-day $10,300 buy-in Main Event for $112,950. Moorman has played live events since 2007, with a lot of near-misses separating him from a big finish. He came close at the ’09 PokerStars Carribean Adventure, but ultimately busted in 16th place. He’ll be chasing down his first live final table at this summer’s WSOP and is a good pick to get there.
4. Amit “amak316” Makhija
Amit Makhija came out from behind his computer screen at the 2008 WSOP where he made perhaps the most stacked final table of the series. Makhija finished fifth in the $10,000 World Championship Pot-Limit Hold’em event at a final table that included Kathy Liebert, Mike Sexton, Patrik Antonius, Andy Bloch, Chris Bell, Phil Laak, Mike Sowers, and eventual winner Nenad Medic. After the series (where he logged two more cashes), this online grinder began to focus more on live events and found instant success, finishing second at the WPT Legends of Poker at L.A.’s Bicycle Casino for a $563,320 score. In November, Makhija made nearly an equally massive score online, winning the FTOPS $5,200 High Roller event for $550,000. Makhija went on to do major damage at Bellagio at December’s Doyle Brunson Five Diamond Classic, where he cashed four times and made two final tables, adding over $100,000 to the till. Armed with far more live experience than he had last year, Makhija will definitely be one to watch in ’09.
3. Shaun “shaundeeb” Deeb
No one plays more volume than Shaun Deeb and few have seen as many NLHE tournament hands as he has. However, Deeb’s live results have yet to catch up with the phenomenal success he’s enjoyed online. This year he’s already won the PokerStars Super Tuesday, the Stars $100 Rebuy, the Absolute Poker $150,000 Guaranteed AND $100,000 Deep Stack, the Full Tilt $85,000 Guaranteed, the Stars Nightly Hundred Grand, the Stars Sunday $100K, and… do we really need to go on? Though Deeb made three deep runs in no-limit events in 2007 he was left with a giant donut hole in ’08 despite playing a full schedule of events. Look out for Deeb in all the hold’em events this year — even limit! His skills are certainly sharp in that arena after making his way through an elite field to notch a runner-up finish to Terrence Chan in the $5,200 SCOOP 6-max LHE event.
2. Yevgeniy “bballer88” Timoshenko
Okay, we’ll admit we were doing the cut-and-paste thing when it came to spelling “Yevgeniy Timoshenko” the first time we encountered this young talent at the 2008 Aussie Millions. However, it wasn’t until later that year that this Ukraine-born, Washington-state-bred poker phenom really took off, winning APT Macau, finishing second in a €2,000 side event at the EPT Barcelona, and taking third place in the £1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event at WSOP-Europe. Now, Timoshenko is a World Poker Tour champion, beating out a field of poker’s elite to win the $25,000 buy-in WPT Championship and over $2.1 million. Those winnings will no doubt be back in play at this summer’s WSOP, where the 21-year-old hopes to pick up his first bracelet. Timoshenko is also a successful high-stakes online cash game player, regularly sitting in at the $100/200 level and above. If he can tear himself away from the side games, Timoshenko will be a serious threat in any event he plays.
1. Isaac “westmenloAA” Baron
If we had to bet on one player to emerge as the 2009 WSOP “Rookie of the Year”, we’d put our money on Isaac Baron. Baron turned 21 only days after last year’s Main Event commenced and is practically frothing at the mouth to get in on this summer’s action. Along with some stunning online results in 2009 including a SCOOP win in Event #1-Medium, $55 6-max NLHE with Rebuys for $97,806, Baron has racked up some enviable live finishes, his best coming at the 2008 EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo where he placed fourth for a $932,000 haul. Baron has won the PokerStars Sunday Million, the Full Tilt $750,000 Guaranteed, an FTOPS VIII event, the Full Tilt Sunday Mulligan, the Stars Super Tuesday and the Stars Daily $100 rebuy (at least four times) adding up to online tournament winnings in excess of $2 million. Need we say more?
Nicole Gordon's "Poker Top 10" lists appear weekly here at PokerNews. Dreaming about joining the high-stakes online action? There's no better place to start than opening an account today at Full Tilt Poker.