11th Jun 2007

Who will be the 2007 WSOP champion? The most exciting event in the universe for Poker Players begins June 1 at the Rio in Las Vegas. The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is not just one big event, as many nonpoker players assume, but a series of tournaments that stretch out over the course of about six weeks, all played at the Rio. There are 54 open events announced for this year’s WSOP, and while all of them are important to poker players and carry an enormous amount of prestige, there are none more prestigious than the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event. The main event, which will start on July 6 and run for about two weeks, is the Holy Grail of poker, the “Big One” that every poker player aspires to win. It’s not just the money—and nowadays, it is an ungodly amount (last year’s first-place prize was $12.5 million)—it’s the prestige and everlasting poker fame and recognition that drives every player’s dreams. Some of the players at the final tabel are invetitably winners from freerolls or tournaments that have been won through online poker tournaments run by the bigger operators

The main event of the World Series of Poker is a spectacle that must be seen in person to appreciate. Witnessing more than 2,000 poker players in a room (the tournament is scheduled over several days to accommodate all the players) filled with more than 200 dealers and spectators packed side-by-side watching the action is a sight to be remembered. Just before play, the sounds of all those nervous, excited poker players toying with their chips amps the excitement level to a fever pitch. It is that exciting. And then there’s the magic. When the WSOP announcer calls out the traditional opening words, “Shuffle up and deal,” the event is on!

“Who will win?” is the big question on everyone’s minds—except the players’. The competitors, amateur and pro alike, are all thinking they’re the one. But in all likelihood, they’re not. The odds are deeply stacked against each player. The more entrants there are, the greater the odds against any one player surviving the nearly two weeks of bad beats, all-ins, do-or-die decisions and fateful cards. Given the ban on Internet gambling in the United States (the Internet poker sites act as feeders to the WSOP), it is expected that the field size of the main event will be smaller than last year’s 8,773 players; but I’m still estimating that more than 5,000 players will participate.

If we assume 5,000 participants—with all else being equal—any player’s chances of winning are 1 in 5,000. These odds are not very promising, but it’s certainly a lot better than your chances in the lottery (one in several million). The WSOP happens to be a lot more fun as well, providing players with hours—and with any luck—days and days worth of fun, challenges and cash prizes (for the top 10 percent, that is). The WSOP is also a lot more expensive than a lottery ticket. A WSOP entry costs $10,000; you’ve got to pay to play.

But all else is not equal. Some players are better than others (a lot better), and bring high levels of skill, plus tremendous experience, to the tournament. But at the same time, as we’ve seen over the last few years in which complete unknowns won the whole enchilada, anyone can win.

So what are the odds of winning? On the surface, an amateur with few skills is going to be a lot worse off than 4,999 to 1 against. Most likely it’ll be at least 50,000 to 1 against. So many critical decisions have to be made that inexperienced or weak players will inevitably make many incorrect choices. A player may get away with one or two bad decisions (though many won’t), but over a day or two of play, most amateurs will be gone (along with many pros, to be fair).

On the other hand, a skilled player will have much better chances of winning than the average player’s 4,999 to 1 odds. His skills, experience and talent may, at least, put him in a position to win. The best players’ chances? Start with this: If there was a tournament of the top 200 players, with all having equal chances of winning, the odds would be 1 in 200. Give the better of the best players credit, and you can drop the odds to 1 in 75 or so. Now add to the mix another 5,000 random players with lesser chances, but for whom there’s still a possibility of winning. So you see, no player by himself, no matter how good, is anywhere near a good bet to win the big one; that is, not without a payoff of hundreds of dollars to every dollar wagered. In other words, every player is a long-shot to win.

Below, I’ve presented my list of the top-20 favorites to win the main event of the WSOP and provided my subjective opinion on how far they’ll go. These 20 form a collection of the greatest tournament players in the world and include a few others who are poised to make some noise this year. Keep in mind that with so many players competing in the main event, predicting the winner is more of a dubious exercise in futility—because it’s improbable that any of the 20 listed will win—but just the same, it’s an entertaining look at the possibilities. I’ve based my predictions on the success players have enjoyed in past tournaments, and on who’s running hot now; plus, I’ve figured in overall skills to come up with the finalists.

There are many other deserving players that didn’t make this list. And you could easily have flopped out many in my top 20 with other worthy choices. If I could include an additional 20 choices, there would still be obvious oversights. So, for many of the other great tournament players, superstars like Barry Greenstein, Scotty Nguyen, John Juanda, Gus Hansen, et al, my apologies. If you get to the final table this year, I’ll make it up to you in next year’s top-20 roundup.

Meanwhile in no particular order, here are the 20 players most likely to win the World Series of Poker in 2007.

  1. The Unknown Internet Player Every year an unknown player wins it all; and this year, expect things to be no different. There are just too many players in the main event and too many do-or-die situations over a full week’s worth of poker to give the pros a chance. And look at the mismatch. There are perhaps 100–200 name players versus thousands of no-names. While the Unlawful Gaming Act will cut into the mass of players making the yearly exodus to the biggest event in poker, there should still be well over 5,000 players duking it out for poker’s most coveted title. If we assume, for argument’s sake, 5,000 competitors, that’s 4,800 unknowns versus 200 knowns. Advantage: unknowns, by a landslide. In a Nutshell: The Unknown Player is a huge favorite. It’s not going out on a limb to say that he’s going all the way. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 10 to 1 favorite. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: The Unknown Player will have a great year, winning bracelet after bracelet, and will end up with more titles than the known players.

ROLAND DE WOLFE Roland D Wolfe is the 2006 European Player of the Year and holds the distinction of being the only player to win both a WPT poker title and an EPT title as well. Add to that a fantastic third place finish in the 2005 WPT poker championships and you have a star who’ll be coming to the big one confident and in top form. Like all top players, he’s very aggressive, knows how to pick his spots and is a force to be reckoned with. Can he parlay an impressive and enviable 2006 into a dream? We’ll see… In a Nutshell: Like so many other top players, the dream can end quickly. Roland who is Full Tilt a sponsored player his last chips will go in the middle, and he’ll watch, disbelievingly, as his opponent rakes them in. One day in, and it will be good-bye time. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 400 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: The man is hot and players are starting to take notice. But that won’t help him this year. Roland goes for the dream but wakes up too early. Better luck next year.

PHIL HELMUTH The “Brat” is short on personality and shorter on class, but ultimately one of the very best no-limit hold’em tournament players in the world. And given the controversy he creates, he’s good for the game—I’ll give him that much. His 10 World Series rings, including his 1986 main event championship, always puts Helmuth right in the mix for any discussion in a serious no-limit hold’em event. He’s talented, experienced and has the wherewithal to go all the way. In a Nutshell: Big credentials, big mouth, big ego, but big disappointment. Phil’s a great player, but this year will showcase (once again), how great a loser he is as well. One day and gone. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 250 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: He wants that 11th bracelet bad—as bad as Chan and Brunson—and the competition between all of them will be lively. But he won’t get it this year.

DANIEL NEGREANU Chatty, affable, and the perfect ambassador for the game, “Kid Poker” has a long list of accomplishments. Negreanu, three-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, two-time WPT champion, 2004 Player of the Year, and Super System 2 contributor, has to be on anyone’s list of favorites to go all the way. He has won more than 40 tournaments worldwide and amassed over $9 million in career tournament earnings. Until the recent dramatic surge in WSOP prize money, he was the all-time money winner in poker tournament history. And you can add to his impressive credentials, Player-of-the-Year awards in both the WPT and WSOP. Clearly, he is one of the greatest tournament players in the world. In a Nutshell: I like Negreanu chances, I just don’t like that he’s got one shot to get through a massive field. He’s brilliant, he’s got the experience, and everyone knows he’s a great player. But he doesn’t get out of day two. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 250 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: I think Daniel’s going to bag a bracelet and get close one or two times more. Unfortunately that bracelet, as prestigious as it is, won’t be the big one.

T.J. CLOUTIER You could make a convincing case that Clouiter is the greatest tournament poker player in history. He’s reached the final table at the World Series of Poker four times, twice coming in second (1985 and 1990). To put this in perspective, many great players on this list haven’t even made it to the final table once. Not a strong enough argument? How about this? He has 60 major tournament titles (and counting) and appeared at 39 final tables at the World Series of Poker—both achievements top those of any other player in the history of poker. He’s also got four WSOP bracelets, and won the Player-of-the-Year award in 1998 and 2002. In other words, the guy is a machine. In a Nutshell: He wants the big one bad, more than anything else. He’s got all the credentials and all the skills. But luck isn’t with him. Day one was a brief flutter; day two is the knife in the heart. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 250 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: T.J, makes a push for one more hurrah—at least this year. If he gets chips, he’s the favorite in any tournament. He’ll get that shot, but won’t prevail at his one final table. Favorites don’t always win.

DAVID “CHIP” REESE Doyle Brunson calls him the greatest cash-game poker player today; but Doyle also says he’s unlucky in tournaments, three gold bracelets notwithstanding. Well, in 2006 Chip’s tournament luck held in the most prestigious WSOP event among the pros—the $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. tournament. The title in this first-ever WSOP event was so highly coveted among pros because the rotating games of hold’em, Omaha 8-or-better, razz, seven-card stud high, and seven-card stud 8-or-better, tested a player’s overall poker skills. Also, the field comprised a who’s who of the greatest poker players in the world. The last player standing was not only one of the nicest guys around, but the best: Chip Reese. In a Nutshell: The 2006 H.O.R.S.E. event felt so good. However, Chip is gone before midnight and heads back to the Big Game where he wins $200,000 within 45 minutes. It’s just another day in the life of a legendary poker player. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 500 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: Chip will go deep again in H.O.R.S.E., but not repeat. Nor will he get any other bracelets this year. He’s as good as they get, but 2007 is not his number.

JOHNNY CHAN His main event run from 1987–1989 is the greatest short-term dominance ever shown in World Series of Poker play. The first two years of this run brought Chan back-to-back World Championships, and the third year, saw him come in second, just one card off the mark. This amazing run will never be equaled. But don’t measure Chan on just that. He’s one of the great cash-game players and his ten WSOP bracelets ties him for most ever with Brunson and Helmuth, his most recent win coming just last year. The “Orient Express” has been on the big poker stage and the big screen, appearing in the movie Rounders, starring Matt Damon and Ed Norton. In a Nutshell: He had his day in the sun and can still take home the bracelet, as we saw in 2005. It’s just that 2007 won’t be his year. Out in one day, then back to the Big Game. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 250 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: The bracelet competition between Chan, Helmuth and Brunson is great fun. He gets one final table; but despite the eye of the tiger, he doesn’t catch his prey.

CHRIS FERGUSON It is common knowledge among poker pros that the man nicknamed “Jesus” can do four things extremely well: 1) Split a banana from ten feet by whipping a playing card through the air. 2) Dress unerringly in his signature black getup and black cowboy hat. 3) Ballroom dance like a fiend. 4) Play world-class poker. The 2000 World Champion of Poker is a heady player bringing five WSOP gold bracelets and 25 final table appearances—enormous credentials—to the event. In a Nutshell: This year, warning track power only. Feels good day one, feels good day two, but day three is a disaster. It happens, dance it off. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 300 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: He starred in some clever commercials in 2006, but that was then. In 2007 his star at the table fades and walks away disappointed. He’s a great player, but sometimes that’s not enough.

PHIL IVEY Many pros consider Ivey as either the most dangerous player in poker today, or the best. He plays regularly in the Big Game—the highest stakes game in the world at the Bellagio—against the elite of poker: Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Barry Greenstein, and company. He’s also participated in the largest-stakes poker game in the world against billionaire Andy Beal, and is considered a poker prodigy by just about everyone. Phil Ivey already has five WSOP bracelets, six final table appearances at the WPT, and millions of dollars in poker winnings he plays for Full Tilt Poker Team Odds of Winning the Main Event: 250 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: It’s very hard to bet against Ivey. He’s the complete poker player; and for many, the most feared. He’s got the charm, but in 2007 the charm doesn’t have him. He remains stuck at five bracelets, but only for this year.

ALLEN CUNNINGHAM Another Full Tilt player, he’s not well known among the general public, but among the professionals, everyone respects this very accomplished world-class player. He has over $8 million in tournament earnings, a dozen first place finishes and four WSOP bracelets. A 2006 final table finish (4th) in the main event further cemented Cunningham reputation as a player to be watched. He’s got the goods to get there. And his near-victory in 2006 will make him that much more determined in 2007. In a Nutshell: Oh, so close in 2006. And it will be oh, so close in 2007. I’ll go out on a limb here: top 50 finish. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 300 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: Tremendous talent and running hot are a strong combination. His taste of the ultimate prize in 2006 makes him want more. And he’ll get it. Add another bracelet to his collection.

JEFF MADSEN Jeff’s 2006 WSOP performance was simply unreal. Barely legal, just some months over the age of 21, Madsen tore through the events in remarkable fashion. He is another one of the Full Tilt team! One WSOP gold bracelet would’ve made even the greatest players happy, but Madsen, the youngest ever bracelet winner, didn’t stop there. He won a second WSOP gold bracelet. With the gigantic fields competing in all the 2006 WSOP, where thousand-plus fields were commonplace, this was an unbelievable performance. And he didn’t stop there! He made another final table and then another. He made four final tables, including two golds, in one of the greatest WSOP performances ever. He’s a player to watch. In a Nutshell: Young, willing and able. I say he’s able, I know he’s willing and I think he’ll get close. He lands in the top 100, which is a great finish, before he fades. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 400 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: Madsen’s eye-popping 2006 WSOP augers for more success. If he sticks to his game, you’ve got to like his chances. I do. Add another bracelet.

TOM MCEVOY McEvoy doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s the author of more than 10 poker books, some co-authored with tournament great T. J. Cloutier and fellow world champion Brad Daugherty. These are books that have inspired world champions. In fact, he wrote the first book on tournament play back in 1985—that’s almost two decades before the poker boom. He’s also the holder of four WSOP gold bracelets, including the main event in 1983. Add to that a PPT win in 2005, making him the first ever with titles in the WSOP and PPT, and you have a player that knows how to get it done. As to the naysayers, few can match McEvoy’s impressive list of WSOP and PPT bracelets. In a Nutshell: Four gold bracelets, a main event championship, a PPT bracelet and some good old-fashioned luck will go a long way. But this year, not long enough. Out on day two. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 500 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: McEvoy hits a final table, but is stranded there at four bracelets, his fifth eluding him. Big field, tough luck, long wait ‘til next year.

DOYLE BRUNSON What can you say? He’s the man. Doyle Brunson is the “Babe Ruth of Poker,” the greatest poker player in the history of the game, and a living legend who still plays in the highest limit poker games in the world. Doyle even has his own poker room, aptly named Doyles Room . The two-time World Series of Poker champion (1976 and 1977) and celebrated author of Super System put a topper on an incredible 50-plus-year career in August 2004. He managed a win against, at the time, the largest field ever to play a WPT (667 players) making him the first player to win both a WSOP and WPT title. A stunning 2006 WSOP victory gave him a total of ten WSOP gold bracelets—tied for most ever—certifying Doyle as a continuing threat on the biggest stage in the game. In a Nutshell: Doyle goes deep into the top 100, thrilling poker fans everywhere. But after visions of Benny’s Bullpen, he gets taken down by bad cards and then a bad beat. Doyle told me: the closer you get, the more it hurts. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 300 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: Tied with Helmuth and Chan for 10 bracelets, Doyle’s competitive spirit allows no rest. He gets to two final tables but no further. But no worries either, his opponents fall short as well. Battle moves to 2008.

CARLOS MORTENSEN The 2000 World Champion is one of the toughest players around today. He’s an incredibly competitive, aggressive opponent, and a monster once he gets chips in his stack. The best strategy to use against Mortensen is to remove his chips; until then he’s always a major threat that can explode and exploit at any time. When Carlos won a WPT in 2005, he became only the second person (Doyle Brunson was the other) with a WSOP main event and WPT championship. He had a very good 2006 WSOP with an awe-inspiring three final tables. More than $4 million in tournament earnings and two gold bracelets are pretty good by anyone’s standards. This Spaniard can play. In a Nutshell: He’s very aggressive, relentless, and will find a way to push the pressure valve. He’ll march over some inexperienced players, build a stack and steamroll opponents. Eventually, he’ll run out of coal, but not before he powers into the top 50. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 300 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: Carlos is going to get himself a bracelet, and get real close two more times. Building on the tremendous momentum established in 2006, this will be a very big year for him at the WSOP.

DAN HARRINGTON The 1996 World Champion of Poker encored his championship feat with one perhaps even more impressive: final table appearance in both the 2003 and 2004 events, against fields of 831 and 2,576 players respectively. Not that Dan, a great analytical mind, all-around gamesman (he’s a top chess and backgammon player as well) and one of the great tournament poker players today, needed this feat to get respect, but it showed just how dangerous he is in the big event. In a Nutshell: He ran great in 2003 and again in 2004. Dan’s a great player, careful and methodical, but doesn’t quite get there. Out on day two. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 250 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: He’s got all the attributes to get himself a bracelet, but luck and circumstance are fickle things. He runs a schneid, and must wait until 2008 to set things right.

MEN NGUYEN The Vietnamese-born player just keeps racking up the victories. He has six WSOP bracelets, two WPT bracelets, more than 45 overall major tournament victories and countless final table appearances. Like many others on this list, “The Master” is still hankering for the big one to cement his legacy. Meanwhile, he collects Player-of-the-Year awards like he owns them: four in all (1997, 2001, 2003, 2005). His remarkable consistency and high finishes show that Men knows how to get there. In a Nutshell: He’s got all the credentials in the world, but they’re not going to seem like enough in 2007 when he flames out in round one. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 300 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: One final table, lots of spirited play, but no gold this year. Better luck in 2008.

JOE HACHEM As is the vogue, the 2005 WSOP main event champion was an unknown until he came away with $7.5 million, everlasting poker fame and the most coveted bracelet in poker. And like Raymer, he proved he was no fluke. Hachem has continued winning. Since his huge victory, he’s appeared at six more final tables, including two more in the 2006 WSOP, and has won a WPT title (worth $2,182,075) in the Doyle Brunson North American Classic. Hachem, who is sponsored by Pokerstars is the real thing. In a Nutshell: He’s got the skills, he’s got the bracelet, and he’s got a chance. Four days of play is a very good run, but it’s not enough days. He goes down in flames, but gets a cash finish, just not the huge cash he was hoping to see. Odds of Winning the Main Event: 400 to 1 against. Predictions on Winning a Bracelet: Hachem is determined to show that he’s no one-hit wonder at the WSOP. The reigning world champion will impress, intimidate, and ultimately fall short. It’ll be one final table, two near misses and a long year to wait for redemption.

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