Wednesday, January 07, 2009

On Player of the Year Awards

On Player of the Year AwardsSome of you may have heard or read about how John “the Razor” Phan was named Card Player’s “Player of the Year” for 2008. Phan also finished atop the 2008 POY list over at Bluff Magazine, thanks to his having earned over $2 million in prize money this year.

In addition to making several final tables, Phan won a couple of bracelets at the WSOP in 2008. I had the chance to cover the final table for one of them, Event No. 40, the $2,500 Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw event. I wrote a couple of posts here about that final table.

One was back in late June, just after it took place. In that one, “2008 WSOP, Day 27: Cheers,” I wrote a bit about Phan’s ordering 10 cups of Corona once they had gotten down to three-handed. The other post, “Thriving vs. Surviving: John Phan & David Sklansky at the 2008 WSOP, Event No. 40 Final Table,” was written back in August after I’d returned, and there I contrast Phan’s aggressive style at that final table to the decidedly more conservative one employed by Sklansky (who’d finish sixth). Check ’em out, especially if you happen to be a Phan fan.

A few weeks ago I listened to Scott Huff talk about player of the year awards on Big Poker Sundays (the 12/18/08 episode). There Huff talked some about Phan and how his manner at the tables -- lots of deliberation, lots of confrontational table talk -- rubs some players the wrong way. Huff was more interested, though, in discussing POY awards and their value, generally speaking.

Huff suggested Card Player was the “gold standard” when it comes to player of the year awards, since “they have the most . . . scientific system for figuring this out,” although he admits “it is still flawed.” I’m not sure how “scientific” it is, but Card Player does certainly employ a fairly complicated rubric to assign points for its player of the year. And it is probably safe to say CP’s POY award is probably the one of which the majority of poker players and fans are most aware.

For last year’s award, Card Player only counted single events with at least $250,000 in the prize pool, or events that were played as part of series in which the overall prize pool for the entire series was $750,000. At least 60 entrants had to be playing in a given event for it to be counted, and the buy-in had to be at least $300.

That meant all of the big ones were in there -- the WSOP, the WSOPE, the EPT, the APPT, the Aussie Millions, and so forth. There were also many smaller events included, too, although when it comes to assigning points CP gives more for higher buy-in events and for events with more players. There was also even a provision in there to include online events in which the prize pool exceeded $5 million. Off the top of my head, I know the Main Event of PokerStars’ World Championship of Online Poker (played in September) had a prize pool of over $10 million, so it must have been included. There may have been one or two other online tourneys with big enough prize pools in there somewhere as well.

If you’re curious, you can sort through the entire Card Player 2008 Scoring Criteria by clicking here.

The system over at Bluff is similar insofar as players get points according to three main criteria: their finish, the amount of the buy-in, and the number of entrants. However, unlike Card Player, Bluff limits the number of tournaments it considers to just the big series: WSOP, WSOPE, WSOP Circuit events, WPT, Wynn Classic Tournaments, EPT, APPT, Aussie Millions, and the Monte Carlo Millions. Here’s the Bluff system, if yr interested.

I should add that both magazines include non-hold’em events in their rankings, too. That meant Phan’s Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw bracelet win did help him, although the majority of his cashes and deep runs came in NLHE tourneys.

Big Poker SundaysGetting back to Huff’s commentary, the Big Poker Sundays host went on to make a couple of other, broader observations about POY awards. I thought both points were fairly provocative, and since I am curious to know what others think about them, I thought I would share Huff’s points here.

The first observation has to do with the “flawed” system currently used to determine POY. In response, Huff suggests an alternative method. “I would like to see it polled much like college football (minus the BCS),” says Huff. “I would like to see a poll of the people that are working in poker as journalists who follow and cover the tournament circuit. You know, people like B.J. Nemeth. People like Gary Wise . . . . Even people like Dr. Pauly. People who are around this all of the time, voting on who they think is deserving of the player of the year. And then also have the players vote on their peers.”

Huff goes on to say he doesn’t know how such a system would be weighted, but he thinks this polling method for determining the best player of the year would be preferable to the “scientific” method of assigning points currently used.

Such a poll would be quite interesting, I think. However, as much as I respect folks like Nemeth, Wise, and the good doctor, I think even they would tell you their own votes for player of the year would be of limited value. I know for a fact that Nemeth has spent a lot of time thinking about different ways of determining POY -- in fact, last summer he shared some of his thoughts on this very subject with me. While I won’t go into any of the details of Nemeth’s ideas here (which are terrific, by the way), I will say none of them give any weight at all to his own opinion or “vote” on who the player of the year should be.

Dunno about Wise or Dr. Pauly, but I would guess they, too, would be suitably humble about their own abilities to say who is the best player they’ve covered this year.

Huff’s other observation was to point out the relative value of POY awards. He thinks they are important, and thus improving the system for determining player of the year “would give even more legitimacy to an award that I think is necessary when we’re trying to still promote poker as a sport, and trying to get people to watch it.”

Huff is on to something here, I think. He maintains “the more statistics that we have, the more accessible those statistics are, the more sense that they make, and also being able to tell people out there in the general public who are watching poker as entertainment, to be able to tell them this person is definitively the ‘best player in the world for this year’ as far as tournaments are concerned, is an important thing.” Huff acknowledges that some would disagree with his view, but believes that “as a fan of poker” such awards do, in his opinion, serve an important purpose.

He’s probably right that POY awards do have the ability to excite the interest of casual poker fans -- i.e., those who watch poker on television much as they would any other sport, and are therefore interested in following certain players and learning how they rate against one another.

Even so, I don’t think a poll of journalists and/or players is going to be the way to make such an award more “legitimate” or give it a more prominent status than the relatively modest one it currently enjoys, even among the most ardent poker fans.

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Blogger Kevin Mathers said...

Great article Shamus. I agree that having the "poker media" help determine the POY seems a bit silly, as it would certainly take favoritism into account when voting. The 2009 CP POY standings may have a more international appearance, as the new criteria was released today, all international tournaments with a $1k+ buyin would also count if they meet the other POY criteria. Also, they lowered the maximum multiplier for the # of entrants from 7 to 6 if the field is over 2,000 entrants.

1/09/2009 8:55 PM  

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