Another World Series of Poker is right around the corner, and the poker world will soon descend upon Las Vegas for the most prestigious tournament series in poker.
While there are countless great tournaments available in the city throughout the summer, for the most part, the eyes of poker fans everywhere will be on the WSOP.
Specifically, they'll be trained on big names the likes of which they've followed for years. It's no secret that stars like Phil Hellmuth, Jason Mercier, Daniel Negreanu, Fedor Holz, Erik Seidel and Phil Ivey — when he chooses to grace the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino with his presence — dominate the coverage.
While those players will surely get plenty of press throughout the summer, PokerNews is also looking to highlight some of the less obvious names who might make a splash at the WSOP. In that vein, we'll be using this series to showcase a few players from different parts of the world who poker fans should keep an eye on when it's time to battle for bracelets.
Whether it be an abundance of talent, simply running good, or a combination of both, these regulars from the North American tournament circuit have all put up nice results in the past nine months, so don't be surprised if you see them holding up bracelets this year.
Will Berry (pictured above) has been breaking out since the beginning of 2016, which he entered with around $200,000 in live cashes.
The Oklahoman made the final table of 2016 WSOP Circuit Choctaw Main Event, finishing fourth for $136,812 and ended with north of $200,000 in cashes on the year. He's already surpassed that in 2017, chiefly because he made the final table of the first WSOP Circuit Tulsa Hard Rock Main Event, closing the deal with his first Circuit ring and a career-best $180,806 score. That came after a ninth-place finish in Choctaw this year.
Many of Berry's other top scores have also come in Oklahoma, including a win for $25,522 at RunGood Downstream in 2015 and a chop for $16,143 in the Hard Rock Poker Open $675 Main Event.
Dominance in his home state established, Berry looks ready to conquer some bigger and better tournaments, and what better place to start than the WSOP?
Berry is a no-limit specialist and he sent along a summer schedule to PokerNews that's centered around events from $888 to $3,000, plus the $10,000 WSOP Main Event. His tricky, measured style is right out of the modern meta-game, and Berry said he's especially excited to put it to the test in the Main Event, where he got a taste of success last year with a 526th-place finish for $22,648.
His schedule doesn't include anything after or during the Main because, "I plan to be in it for a long time."
No list of this kind would be complete without Josh Reichard, who has been at the top of his game on his trusty WSOP Circuit schedule this year.
Reichard has absolutely crushed it on the Circuit this season, piling up 327.5 points on the Circuit Leaderboard to race far out ahead of the pack. The gap between Reichard and second place, Circuit legend Charles "Woody" Moore, is 100 points — the same as the gap between Moore and the player in 41st.
Now, the Circuit certainly rewards volume, but this isn't just a case of Reichard firing away and piling up min-cash after min-cash. He added three more rings to his collection to get to seven for his career, most recently topping a field of 646 in the big reentry at WSOP Circuit Horseshoe Council Bluffs for $39,731.
He also got fourth at Mid-States Poker Tour Meskwaki in November for $25,633.
The Wisconsin native has begun to branch into some bigger events, firing on the California Swing of the World Poker Tour this year. There, he booked his first WPT cash at WPT Rolling Thunder.
Reichard plays primarily no-limit hold'em, although he did mention he was disappointed the $3,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low event is off the schedule at this year's WSOP. He doesn't have a set schedule but said he expects to be in all of the big no-limit events and may mix in a PLO event or two.
With a fairly solid but under-the-radar run of about $300,000 in live cashes to his name, Johanssy Joseph was not a name many poker players could likely have identified as a rising star. That might be changing after he exploded for $680,000 in cashes in 2016 with a high volume that saw him rank in the top 20 worldwide for most cashes.
Joseph was part of a chop in the 2,332-entry Planet Hollywood $1,650 Goliath Main Event last summer, banking a career-best $239,382. He followed that up with a win at Poker Night in America Choctaw $1,100 Main Event for $210,737.
Joseph also booked two scores over $40,000 with a fourth place at WSOP Circuit Foxwoods Main Event and a win in a $400 side event at Borgata Poker Open in September.
Like Berry, Joseph's schedule will be strictly no-limit hold'em events around Las Vegas.
"I plan on playing most tournaments $1,500 or less, because that's where I've had the most success in the past," he said.
He's targeting The Colossus, Millionaire Maker, Monster Stack and the Crazy Eights at the Rio in addition to hoping to repeat his success at Planet Hollywood.
At over $1.6 million in live tournament cashes, Alex Rocha is the most accomplished player on this list by a decent margin. With almost $700,000 of that coming in 2016, he appears to be really hitting his stride as the WSOP approaches.
Rocha headed a four-way chop of the Venetian DeepStack Extravaganza $3,500 $1 Million Guarantee last September for a career-high $173,861. In March, he finished top-three in both a $570 event at Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown and WSOP Circuit Atlantic City for about $180,000 total.
He's clearly at the top of his game and he's looking to follow up a big summer of 2016 at the Rio. There, he ranked 12th overall with 10 cashes, which totaled just under $88,000. The deepest run was 11th place in $1,000 WSOP.com Online No-Limit Hold'em, and Rocha is looking to better that in 2017.
PokerNews spoke with Rocha at Seminole Hard Rock while he was sweating a friend in the $25K High Roller, and he confirmed he has another jam-packed schedule planned. He said he's been working on his mixed games, which will give him even more chances to make his presence felt this summer.
Volume cashes can keep a player afloat, but it's the wins that really count. Rocha showed he has no problem closing the deal the past few months, so that's the next step he hopes to take in the 2017 WSOP.
Known by some in the poker world as "JJ," Jim Juvancic has the most diverse list of accomplishments of the five players featured here.
Whereas the first four players here have results primarily in no-limit hold'em, Juvancic said his favorite game is Omaha hi-low. He has won WSOP Circuit rings in H.O.R.S.E. — besting Reichard heads up — and PLO, and also has wins in stud and PLO8 at other series. The diversity of games available at the WSOP is right up his alley.
"That's why the WSOP is so great," he said. "There's always another tourney around the corner, and it isn't always hold'em. I love hold'em, but it can be a bit monotonous at times, so staying fresh by playing a variety of games is a good way not to get burned out."
In recent months, Juvancic has displayed his hold'em chops with final table finishes at WSOP Circuit Cherokee Main Event, two WSOP Circuit Potawatomi events, MSPT Potawatomi and €1,100 Eureka Main Event at EPT Prague.
Juvancic, who hails from the Chicago suburb of Westchester, Illinois, isn't going into the WSOP with a set schedule, as he feels selecting days off for mental health is important. But, it's safe to stay he'll be a regular in the various mixed events at the Rio throughout the summer. He has his eye on one in particular, arguably the most prestigious tournament of all.
"Playing in the $50K Poker Players Championship has always been a bucket-list type goal of mine," he said. "I never sell pieces of action, but might make an exception this year and consider playing in it if I feel like my game is sharp enough."
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