Fans of televised poker and even casual observers like it when familiar faces reach these final tables and take ’em down. Chris Ferguson’s appearance at the final table of Event No. 2, the first $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event, turned the Milwaukee’s Best Light “No Limit Lounge” into a sold-out rock concert, with a throng of admirers lining up to catch a glimpse of the long-haired superstar.
Serious poker players like it, too, when these guys do well, as it tends to reinforce the notion that in poker skill is rewarded -- that while it certainly involves gambling, poker isn’t strictly speaking a chance-based endeavor.
While I wouldn’t necessarily dub it the “year of the pro” just yet, I’d agree that among the winners we’re seeing a significant percentage of players who’ve proven themselves previously. A quick overview of the bracelet winners thus far shows them falling into three distinct categories: the superstars, the proven pros, and the newcomers.
The Superstars (5)
The most notable among those pros who have won bracelets thus far are Nenad Medic, David Singer, Erick Lindgren, Mike Matusow, and Daniel Negreanu. Of all the winners, these five are by far the most recognizable thanks to their appearances on the tube, as well the most accomplished in terms of their previous tourney triumphs.
Nenad Medic, Event No. 1 winner, had won one WPT championship and had already earned over $2.8 million in tourney winnings before the series began. David Singer, a consistently-successful player whose list of achievements includes final tabling the 2003 Main Event and the first two $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. events, won Event No. 3. He’s now closing in on $4 million in career tourney earnings.
Erick Lindgren took the bracelet in Event No. 4, adding to his long list of prior successes, as well as to the $6 million he’d previously earned in poker tourneys. Mike Matusow, winner of Event No. 18, had won a couple of WSOP bracelets before, had made a couple of Main Event final tables, and had also racked up about $6 million in tourney earnings over the previous decade.
And when Daniel Negreanu won Event No. 20, he became one of the very few $10 million men in tournament poker.
The Proven Pros (10)
Beyond those guys, most of those who have taken down events this year have had some relevant experience -- and success -- prior to this summer’s series. Having covered a few final tables thus far, I’ve noticed that just about everyone who makes it that deep in a WSOP event has not come out of “nowhere” to do so. Most have enjoyed previous tourney successes, including at the WSOP.
Event No. 9 winner Rep Porter had cashed in nine previous WSOP events (including one this year), and Event No. 5 winner Michael Banducci had cashed in seven WSOP events over the past two years. Event No. 10 winner Farzad Rouhani had six previous WSOP cashes, including a near-miss second place finish in 2006. Event No. 6 winner Thang Luu had also nearly won a bracelet before, coming second in last year’s $2,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Split event.
Three other bracelet winners -- Matt Keikoan (Event No. 7), Vanessa Selbst (Event No. 19), and Scott Seiver (Event No. 21) -- had each had five previous WSOP cashes. Event No. 11 winner Philip Tom had cashed in four WSOP events, and Ladies Event winner (Event No. 15) Svetlana Gromenkova had cashed in three, two of which were open events. And Jens Voertmann, who took down Event No. 22 last night (the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event), had a few cashes in European tourneys as well as a cash at a previous WSOP Main Event.
The Newcomers (7)
The other seven bracelet winners all made their first significant cash when they won their 2008 WSOP bracelets. Grant Hinkle (Event No. 2), Jimmy Shultz (Event No. 12), Eric Brooks (Event No. 14), and Andrew Brown (Event No. 16) have no other cash listed over at Hendon Mob. And Anthony Rivera (Event No. 8), Duncan Bell (Event No. 13), and Jason Young (Event No. 17) have just one or two small cashes each, the only one of note being Bell’s small cash at the 2005 WSOP Main Event.
Chances are good, frankly, that even these guys who hadn’t made the limelight before had been toiling for some time to get there. No one just jumps into one of these events without some prior knowledge and experience and takes it down. Anytime we get down to the last three or four tables in these suckers, almost everyone left has had some sort of experience at the WSOP or at other major tourneys.
So we’ll wait on the “year of the pro” stuff for now, but it’s possible we may end up calling it that before it’s all over. Looking at today’s final tables, we have one with a couple of “proven pros” and another with some “superstars”:
Event No. 23, the $2,000 No-Limit Hold’em event, doesn’t have any huge names but there are at least a couple with proven track records there. Dustin Dirksen took a second at a WSOP event last year, and Chris Bjorin has won over $3 million lifetime, including having made a deep run in the event I last covered, Event No. 19 ($1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha).
And Event No. 24, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot Limit Omaha event, features Minh Ly, Allen Cunningham, and Max Pescatori. If any of these three take it down -- in particular Cunningham -- the “year of the pro” talk will surely flare up once again. With good reason.
Tonight I’ll be covering Day 1 of Event No. 28, the $5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha with Re-Buys event. I’ll certainly be checking in from time to time on Day 2 of the Razz event (Event No. 26), though, where one “newcomer,” known to some of us as “F-Train” is among the 104 left. Would love to see him make it to tomorrow.
Follow it all over on PokerNews, natch.