WPT Champions Challenge Hits Sweet 16; Can Anyone Stop Negreanu?
Much like the NCAA basketball championship, the World Poker Tour's Champion's Challenge — a bracket-style contest pitting past winners against each other in a series of fan votes — has reached the Sweet 16.
At the conclusion of the first two rounds, things have progressed fairly predictably in most cases. One player has emerged as the clear favorite after winning his first two matches in whitewash fashion: Daniel Negreanu. The only two-time WPT champ to be seeded first in his section of the bracket, Negreanu showed why as he smoked Joe Pelton with 96 percent of the vote and Gavin Smith with 92 percent. The little-known Pelton (one title, two final tables, $1.9 million won) was always going to be a walkover, but Smith, a longtime star of televised poker, could have been expected to fare a little better. The people spoke, though, and Smith was nowhere near toppling "Kid Poker."
Negreanu can finish out his run through the Clubs region with victories over No. 4 Jonathan Little and the winner of Hoyt Corkins/Doyle Brunson, the latter in the midst of a "Cinderella" run as a No. 11 seed after easily topping No. 6 Kevin Eyster and No. 3 Darren Elias.
In the Diamonds region, No. 1 Anthony Zinno faces No. 4 Mohsin Charania, while No. 2 JC Tran faces No. 3 Barry Greenstein. Zinno looked a little shaky in the second round, getting only 59 percent of the vote against No. 8 seed Ted Forrest, who actually has more winnings than Zinno with $2.6 million to $2.3 million despite the former's three titles.
The Hearts region saw the first No. 1 seed fall as Carlos Mortensen and his glowing WPT résumé (three titles, six final tables, $6.7 million won) flamed out against No. 8 Erik Seidel (one title, five final tables, $2.3 million won). Seidel garnered 58 percent of the vote. He has a tough road ahead against No. 4 Marvin Rettenmaier and then likely No. 7 Phil Ivey. Like Brunson, Ivey has a WPT résumé (one title, nine final tables, $3.3 million won) that doesn't match his accomplishments in other tours, but he has easily advanced on the strength of his popularity and now faces No. 3 Michael Mizrachi.
Finally, the Spades region has its own popular but low-seeded player making noise as No. 11 Phil Laak (one title, five final tables, $586,750 won) crushed No. 6 Matt Giannetti and then got 56 percent of the vote to get by No. 3 Freddy Deeb. "The Unabomber" now faces good friend No. 2 Antonio Esfandiari, while the top half of the bracket features No. 1 Gus Hansen coming off of two very easy wins to face No. 4 Alan Goehring.
Voting for the Sweet 16 continues through the afternoon on March 25. Head over to WPT.com to get your vote in now.