Who do you think is going to be the 2005 World Series of Poker Champion... a big time name like Daniel Negreanu or an unknown like Chris Moneymaker? I had a recent discussion with my brother about who has the best shot to win it all this year. We went through the list of our favorite pros and evaluated each of their chances. We soon discovered that even the best players in the world have a tough task ahead of them in July. Not only do they have to beat out over 6,000 other players, but they also have to play near-flawless poker for over a week straight, while catching sustained waves of luck and good fortune. Players from all over the world and from various walks of life will converge on Las Vegas in July with their eyes focused on a prize pool worth over $60 million. In such a gigantic field, anybody can win. Although there is a vast difference in the skill level between the worst players in the tournament and the pre-eminent professionals in the world, the odds that the fishy guy in your home game winning the big one over Phil Ivey is a lot better than you think. Anything can happen in the first day of the World Series of Poker and this year the expected field is so big that there will be three Day Ones.
I separate players into two types of categories: online players and brick and mortar players. Then there's a third category, a rare hybrid group who play online and live in equal amounts of time. Those players have a better edge. Last year, plenty of pros griped about the looseness and unconventional style of play from the online qualifiers. That told me right away that they don't play online much where there are hordes of players who will play any two cards. Greg Raymer is a good example of a hybrid player. He qualified online and had extensive experience against the super loose style of play on the internet. He also regularly played at Foxwoods Casino, near his hometown in Connecticut. Although he was not considered a professional when he entered last year's event, Raymer was not a stranger to tournament poker either. He made the final table at the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods a few years earlier.
Most of the online qualifiers had to grind their way through several levels of satellites with thousands of other players in order to win their seat. They are used to playing in large multi-table tournaments with 2,000 plus players. Seasoned professional tournament players, on the other hand, gain an advantage due to the spread out blind structure of the World Series of Poker. The pace of the game slows down in the first few days and the pros show intense discipline. They wait until the online action junkies lose their patience and make a crucial error for all their chips.
Former WSoP Champions
There hasn't been a repeat champion since 1988. Alas, history is against Greg Raymer (2004) winning again in July. In the year after they won their titles, Chris Moneymaker (2003) and Robert Varkonyi (2002) were both bounced on the first day of the tournament. They are long shots again this year.
Doyle Brunson (1976 & 1977) had an impressive run in last year's event and he's always a dangerous player in any tournament he enters. Along with Johnny Chan (1987 & 1988), they are both seeking out their third world championship and another bracelet to add to their collection. That's always an added incentive for Chan and Brunson.
Chris "Jesus" Ferguson (2000) is playing very well this year and is seeking his second world championship. He won a WSoP Circuit event, came in 2nd at the National Heads Up Championship, and placed 10th at the Belllagio's Five Star World Poker Classic. He also started up his own online poker site and plays there frequently.
Dan Harrington (1995) has written a new book about No Limit tournaments. He definitely knows his stuff and made the final table in the last two years. He's 4th on the WSoP career money list and a clear favorite again this year.
Phil Hellmuth (1989) is looking to make poker history. He will achieve a milestone with the next WSoP event he wins, which will make him the player with the most career bracelets. He's currently tied with Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson who have nine each.
Carlos Mortensen (2001) won a World Poker Tour event this season and became the only player aside from Doyle Brunson to win a WSoP Championship and a WPT title. He cannot be overlooked along with other past champs: Scotty Nguyen (1998), Huck Seed (1996), and Tom McEvoy (1983).
Other Notable Professionals
T.J. Cloutier is the best tournament player never to win a WSoP title. He came close several times and is currently 6th on the WSoP career money list. Will this be T.J.'s year? Or will one of the younger players like Daniel Negreanu or Phil Ivey get their shot? Negreanu was last year's Player of the Year and made three final tables on the WPT this season. Phil Ivey has four WSoP bracelets and made the final table at the last WPT event at the Bellagio. You also have to look out for Tuan Le who is one of the hottest players around. Tuan Le won two titles on the current season of the WPT and earned over $4 million in prize money.
Marcel Luske from the Netherlands is one of my favorite pros to watch. He's been considered one of Europe's top players for the last few years. He's been playing all over the world in 2005 and made the final table at events in Australia and Denmark. He has a legitimate chance to win multiple bracelets at the WSoP this year. His fellow countryman, Rob Hollnik, is also someone to watch out for. Hollnik won the Grand Final Event on the European Poker Tour in Monaco and recently made the final table at a WPT event. You also can't forget about Gus Hansen (Denmark), David 'Devilfish' Ulliot (England), and Martin de Knijff (Sweden). I feel sorry for anyone playing at their table, especially if they get a hold of a lot of chips early.
Annie Duke, Kathy Leibert, and Jen Harman are the top three female career money winners. They all regularly play in some of the highest cash games in Las Vegas. They each have a good shot this year, but I especially like Jen Harman's chances. Last year she was sick for most of the World Series. Jen's healthy now and looking to become the first woman to win a world championship.
Of course there are dozens of other professionals whom I didn't mention who could get hot. Chip Reese, Humberto Brenes, Howard Lederer, Erick Lindgren, John Juanda, and Erik Seidel could each inflict serious damage to other players in the tournament.
As I said earlier, it boils down to this: will a pro or an unknown win?
If you think a pro will pull out the victory, then you can make a strong argument for why twenty or thirty different players could win. If an unknown player (from online or someone who won a satellite in Vegas) takes home the 2005 World Series of Poker championship, then everyone will be quick to say that the winner was incredibly lucky to survive the largest field in history and against some of the best players of all time.
I think an unknown player is going to win this year because the "nobodies" definitely outnumber all the professionals. So, I'm going to pick my brother to win. Derek is currently plugging away online trying to win a seat. If you ask my brother who he likes, he'd quickly pick John Juanda. The professional player who I think could win it all this year is... Daniel Negreanu.
In two and half months, we get to find out if it's Derek or Daniel.