The 2015 World Series of Poker is right around the corner, and in a long-standing PokerNews tradition, we will offer a look at some rookies we believe could make a splash in their first trip to Las Vegas.
Every year, the PokerNews team puts together a list of first-time WSOP players to keep an eye on during the summer. They are usually an eclectic mix of live and online players, with U.S. players tossed in among others from around the world. All have found success, but none have tested their skills on poker's biggest stage.
Among the rookies we've featured in the past were Annette Obrestad, Viktor "Isildur1" Blom, Dan "Jungleman" Cates, Dominik Nitsche, Mickey Petersen, Mike McDonald, and Ole Schemion. All of these players are now big names in the poker world, and we're confident one or two from this year's crop will attain a similar status. In fact, some might already have.
Without further adieu, here's a look at six rookies we believe have a good chance at putting up some big results at the 2015 WSOP.
Fedor "CrownUpGuy" Holz
The young German pro has been around the European poker scene for a few years now, but now that he's finally 21, he'll be looking for his first American cash. He's got some momentum to do it, too, as he's coming off a successful trip to Monaco, which is where he notched two big scores at the European Poker Tour Grand Final.
The first was a seventh-place finish in the €100,000 Super High Roller for €337,500, and then four days later he took fourth in the €50,000 Super High Roller for €329,800. Prior to those scores, Holz's biggest cash was €60,290 for finishing ninth in the EPT11 Malta Main Event. Holz also won €43,750 for taking down EPT11 Barcelona Event #4 €2,150 No-Limit Hold'em 8-Max.
While all of those are extremely impressive, Holz's biggest accomplishment came online in Sept. 2014 when he won the 2014 World Championship of Online Poker Main Event for $1.3 million.
"I try to set myself goals that I want to achieve which are tough," Holz previously told PokerNews. "Goals that get me to my limits and then I try to exceed them. I became very competitive and I have very high standards for myself. I want to reach $5 million in tournament cashes by my 22nd birthday and establish myself as one of the best online multi-table tournament players worldwide."
Holz is well on his way, but first he needs to make it through his first WSOP.
Live Tournament Winnings: $1,190,039
Biggest Live Cash: 7th in EPT11 Grand Final €100K Super High Roller for €337,500
GPI Rank: #88 (Highest in Past: #77)
Born Nov. 7, 1993, Charlie Carrel is eligible to play the WSOP for the first time, and while at the EPT11 Grand Final, he confirmed that he would indeed be in attendance with plans to play the $111,111 One Drop High Roller.
Not a bad idea considering he just proved his high-roller chops at the EPT11 Grand Final when he topped a field of 215 entrants to win the €25,000 High Roller for €1.114 million. It was Carrel's first €25,000 event, and while it was his biggest success, it's not his only one.
Back in November, Carrel made himself known by topping a field of 212 entries to win the 2014 Grosvenor UK Poker Tour Grand Final for £108,625, and back in March he finished fifth in the EPT Malta €10,000 High Roller for €183,800.
Carrel is the epitome of a traveling poker pro. He'd been living out of a suitcase for more than six months before breaking through in Monte Carlo, and he supports himself with a close group of friends that includes fellow pro Ben Heath. He's young, has a solid support system, and momentum is on his side. There's a lot to like about Carrel heading into the summer, so watch out for him.
Live Tournament Winnings: $1,646,648
Biggest Live Cash: Won EPT11 Grand Final €25K High Roller for €1,114,000
GPI Rank: #198 (Highest in Past: #198)
It may seem strange to feature a WSOP bracelet winner on this list, but that's just what we're doing with Spain's Adrian Mateos. That's because Mateos has never played the WSOP in Vegas. His win came back in 2013 when he topped a field of 375 players to win the WSOP Europe Main Event for €1 million.
If your recall, the then 19-year-old Mateos, who now resides in London, defeated a stacked final table in that event — one that included Shannon Shorr (8th), Benny Spindler (6th), Ravi Raghavan (5th), Dominik Nitsche (3rd), and Fabrice Soulier (2nd).
It was obviously a life-changing experience, but things got even better earlier this month when Mateos, now 20, captured his second major title — the EPT11 Grand Final Main Event. The win not only gave him two legs of poker's Triple Crown, but also a hefty €1.082 million payday (technically the biggest of his career, but with current exchange rates less than he won for his WSOP Europe victory). Mateos also earned the distinction of becoming the first Spaniard to win an EPT Main Event title.
All that said, Mateos, born July 1, 1994, won't turn 21 until the tail end of the WSOP. That means he'll have a short period of time to make an impact, but we wouldn't count him out.
Live Tournament Winnings: $3,456,081
Biggest Live Cash: Won 2013 WSOP Europe Main Event for $1,351,661
GPI Rank: #27 (Highest in Past: #27)
Ryan Van Sanford
Late last year, the World Poker Tour bestbet Bounty Scramble featured 40 players with $2,500 bounties on their heads and a $1 million guarantee. The tournament attracted 461 entrants, which more than doubled the guarantee, and after four days of play, Ryan Van Sanford emerged victorious to capture the $421,068 first-place prize.
Prior to the win, Van Sanford, a professional poker player from Colorado living in Florida, had just $120,734 in tournament winnings. Interestingly, Van Sanford added his name to the WPT Champions' Cup just three days after turning 21.
Since then, Van Sanford has been traveling about adding to his poker résumé. Among his results are sixth in the Colorado Poker Championship for $10,450, 25th in the Mid-States Poker Tour Jacksonville for $2,495, and third in the WSOP Circuit Baltimore Event #8 $580 No-Limit Hold'em for $8,744.
"I'll be there all summer and I plan to play most no-limit events except for a few of the ones I feel are toughest," Van Sanford told PokerNews when asked about his plans for the summer.
Live Tournament Winnings: $573,940
Biggest Live Cash: Won 2014 WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble for $421,668
GPI Rank: #331 (Highest in Past: #162)
Last year, Wisconsin's Ben Wiora decided to take tournament poker more seriously. He picked up a copy of Jonathan Little's Secrets of Tournament Poker and almost immediately found success when he finished runner-up in the WSOP Circuit Horseshoe Hammond Event #4: $580 Pot-Limit Omaha for $12,848. It was a small taste of success, but one that paled in comparison to what he experienced a few months later.
In late February, the MPST held the first-ever Wisconsin State Poker Championship at Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells, and wouldn't you know it, Wiora took it down for $114,512.
The six-figure score was nearly 10 times Wiora's previous largest, so of course it was life-changing money for the local boy, who was the subject of the PokerNews feature piece Big Cheese: Ben Wiora Goes from Low-Stakes Grinder to Wisconsin State Poker Champion.
Wiora told PokerNews he would be visiting Vegas for the first time from May 28 to June 8. It's far from a full schedule, but look for him to take a shot in some of the small buy-in no-limit hold'em events.
Live Tournament Winnings: $131,174
Biggest Live Cash: Won MSPT Wisconsin State Poker Championship for $114,512
GPI Rank: #5,652 (Highest in Past: #5,095)
Not a lot is known about Belarus' Mikita Badziakouski, but he made his presence known at the EPT11 Grand Final when he jumped into numerous high roller events. It's not everyday a new face jumps into the shark tank of poker pros usually found in high rollers, but Badziakouski wasn't afraid.
Badziakouski's first live cash came back in 2012 when he finished 29th in the Russian Poker Tour Grand Final Main Event for €1,500. Since then, his only other live cash came earlier this month when he placed 28th in the EPT11 Grand Final €25,000 High Roller for €46,400.
Badziakouski has a lot to prove in the live realm, but what better place to do it than at the WSOP? The only question is, will he be able to survive the grind? As the PokerStars Blog pointed out, Badziakouski is prone to fall asleep at the table.
Live Tournament Winnings: $53,676
Biggest Live Cash: 28th in EPT11 Grand Final €25K High Roller for €46,400
GPI Rank: #130,338 (Highest in Past: #60,098)
Did we miss anyone? Let us know which rookies you'll be watching when the 2015 World Series of Poker kicks off later this month.