Thursday, June 18, 2009

The BJ Report: A Look Back at the First 31 Events

By BJ Nemeth
Las Vegas, NV

Since my last update here at the Tao of Poker, another 12 events have been completed, and the big stories just keep on coming. Here are the top seven:

1. Phil Ivey Wins His Sixth -- No, Make that Seventh -- WSOP Bracelet

Phil Ivey is the best poker player in the world. Period.

In the poker media, we're used to saying things like "arguably the best player" or "one of the best players," but I've decided to stop using qualifiers when it comes to Ivey after watching him this Series. There are a lot of young online guys who might have the potential to be as great as Ivey, but check back in 10 years to see if they can match the results of Mr. I-Don't-Want-To-Talk-To-The-Media.

Ivey had a disappointing WSOP last year after betting big on himself to win his sixth bracelet. He increased the bets on himself this year, which turned out to be a good investment. Ivey told PokerNews that he scooped all his bets after winning the second bracelet. (At least one player bought out of the bet.) The amount of money he won in side action is still up for debate, and I've heard reliable numbers ranging from $6 million to $12 million. (Remember that Ivey wasn't betting at even odds, so he didn't have to risk that much himself.) Regardless of the real number, it's clear that Ivey is the big winner of this WSOP, both in terms of dollars, prestige, and legendary status.

The entire story of Ivey winning his second bracelet of the WSOP is too long to include here, and they say a picture is worth a thousand words -- so here comes my commercial interruption. I got some kick-ass photos of Ivey, with captions that take you through the ups and downs of his day. Here's the link.

FYI, there are rumors that Ivey wants to bet that he'll win three bracelets in two years, starting in 2010. But it may be tough to find people willing to bet against him.

Speaking of three bracelets, Ivey still has more than 20 events left this year to win his eighth, which would tie Erik Seidel on the all-time list. When was the last time a player won more than two bracelets in a single WSOP? In 2002, when a young pro became a star by winning three events. His name was Phil Ivey.

2. James Van Alstyne's Quinella in H.O.R.S.E.

James Van Alstyne got heads-up in Event #21 ($3,000 H.O.R.S.E.) but finished second behind Zac Fellows. No problem. Van Alstyne made another final table last night in Event #31 ($1,500 H.O.R.S.E.), and he improved his finish by one spot to win the bracelet.

Combined with his final table in Event #12 ($10,000 World Championship Mixed Event), Van Alstyne has proven himself to be a hell of a mixed-games player, and this often-overlooked pro is suddenly in the race for WSOP Player of the Year.

There is only one mixed-games event left on the schedule, and it's the Big One -- Event #49 ($50,000 World Championship H.O.R.S.E.). Will Van Alstyne pony up the cash for the event (he could parlay his earlier winnings), and if so, will he make his fourth final table?

(For those who aren't familiar with the term "quinella," it's the bet where you pick the 1st- and 2nd-place finishers in a horse race.)

3. Steve Sung, Ville Wahlbeck, and Pete Vilandos Barely Miss the Multi-Bracelet Club

Both Brock Parker and Phil Ivey have won multiple bracelets this year, and we came as close as possible to having a third (and a fourth) in that category.

With three players left in Event #23 ($10,000 World Championship No-Limit Deuce to Seven Draw), two of them had already won bracelets this year -- Steve Sung and Ville Wahlbeck. Ultimately, neither was able to overcome young pro Nick Schulman, but they came as close as you can without winning wrist jewelry.

Pete "The Greek" Vilandos finished as the runner-up to Steve Sung in Event #4 ($1,000 "Stimulus Special" No-Limit Hold'em), before coming back to win his second career bracelet in Event #24 ($1,500 No-Limit Hold'em). If just a few cards fall differently, we could have four multiple bracelet winners, something that hasn't happened since the 2003 WSOP (when a record six players -- yes, six -- won multiple bracelets in just 36 events).

4. Ville Wahlbeck is a World Championship Cashing Machine

Speaking of Ville Wahlbeck, he is kicking ass in another category -- $10,000 buy-in events.

Wahlbeck cashed in the first four $10,000 events, each labeled as a "World Championship." Not only that, but he final tabled three of them, finishing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. As $10K events, these are nothing like the $1,500 donkaments that award bracelets once or twice a week -- these $10K events have relatively small but stacked fields with nothing but pros in each seat.

Wahlbeck skipped Event #29 ($10,000 World Championship Heads-Up No-Limit Hold'em), so an argument could be made that his streak was unbroken. But Wahlbeck did enter Event #33 ($10,000 World Championship Limit Hold'em), and even though he made it past the dinner break on Day 2, he failed to reach the money.

For the record, Wahlbeck isn't hell-bent on playing as many events as possible -- he has only entered five or six events so far. It's an amazing achievement that ranks as one of the most impressive in recent WSOP history.

5. Where Are the Women?

Statistically, we should expect one female bracelet winner per year with 50+ events. (Not counting the ladies' event, of course.) To this point, only three women have even reached a final table, finishing 8th, 5th, and 3rd. The women will have to step up their collective game if one of them wants to claim an open bracelet in 2009.

Actually, it appears they might be on the verge of doing just that. Blogger Lana "LJ" Maier just missed the final table in Event #31 ($1,500 H.O.R.S.E), finishing 10th, and both Jennifer Harman and Maria Ho are still alive with 12 players left in Event #33 ($10,000 World Championship Limit Hold'em).

UPDATE at 2:15 pm: The women will need better luck next time; In the $10,000 Limit Hold'em event, Jen Harman busted 12th, and Maria Ho finished 11th. Still only three final tables for the fairer sex.

6. "Lingreanu" vs. "Greensandro"

PokerRoad Radio interim host Joe Stapleton coined these combined names on an episode of "The Poker Beat," representing the two teams in one of the more interesting prop bets of the WSOP -- which pair will accumulate more POY points? The current standings:
Greenstein/Lisandro: 185 pts
Negreanu/Lindgren: 175 pts
Negreanu has cooled off from his early hot streak, and hasn't cashed since Event #18. Meanwhile, last year's WSOP Player of the Year Erick Lindgren needs to step it up -- he has only earned 20 points so far. But it's still anybody's race, and all four of these guys are capable of winning any event they enter.

For the sake of the fans (and the media), I hope this race stays close until the end. If they are separated by 5 or 10 points when the Main Event starts, that'll add an interesting level of drama to reaching the money in the biggest event of the year. If there is more than 10 points between the two teams, the race would effectively be over -- to earn more than 5 points in the Main Event, you need to reach the final three tables. Even for players of this caliber, that's next to impossible.

7. Hockey Day at the WSOP

The National Hockey League (NHL) will be invading the WSOP today (Wednesday). The NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, is half-brother to our own WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. (They have the same mother.) Expect Bettman to be side-by-side with Pollack for today's "Shuffle up and deal" announcement, and there may be a special appearance by the one and only Stanley Cup, possibly at the bracelet ceremony. (Pollack has already compared the two awards on Twitter, calling the WSOP bracelet "The Stanley Cup of Poker.")

There will also be a charity tournament involving NHL players on ESPN's main stage, which was refurbished on Tuesday to replicate a hockey rink, complete with a goal, hockey-style boards in front of the fans, and the felt on the table looks like hockey ice. There will be plenty of photos around the web (including my own Photo Blog), and it looks much cooler than it sounds.

Why ice hockey in the middle of the summer? Aside from Pollack's family connection, the NHL Awards Ceremony will be held at the Palms Casino (right across the street from the Rio) on Thursday.

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STATS FROM THE 2009 WSOP (Through Event #31):

Players w/ 2 Bracelets: Brock Parker, Phil Ivey

Players w/ 3 Final Tables:
Ville Wahlbeck - 1st, 2nd, 3rd
James Van Alstyne - 1st, 2nd, 6th
John Juanda - 4th, 5th, 9th

Players w/ 2 Final Tables:
Brock Parker - 1st, 1st
Phil Ivey - 1st, 1st
Pete "The Greek" Vilandos - 1st, 2nd
Steve Sung - 1st, 3rd
Rami Boukai - 1st, 6th
Scott Clements - 2nd, 3rd
Daniel Negreanu - 2nd, 4th
John Monnette - 2nd, 5th
Jim Geary - 3rd, 7th
Mitch Schock - 3rd, 8th
Thomas Koral - 7th, 7th

5 Cashes: (5 Players) Brock Parker, David Baker, Fabrice Soulier, Tony Cousineau, Darryll Fish

4 Cashes: (16 Players) Ville Wahlbeck, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Roland De Wolfe, Jason Mercier, Jesse Rios, Mitch Schock, Clark Hamagami, Neil Channing, John Racener, David Fox, Motoyuki Mabuchi, Mats Gavatin, Howard Boyd, Barry Greenstein, Robert Mason

3 Cashes: 68 Players

2 Cashes: 329 Players

Most Money Earned:
1. Vitaly Lunkin - $1,907,661
2. Isaac Haxton - $1,171,871
3. Pete "The Greek" Vilandos - $1,080,538
4. Steve Sung - $883,380
5. Ville Wahlbeck - $849,785
6. Brock Parker - $802,514
7. Greg Raymer - $774,927
8. Brian Lemke - $710,645
9. Travis Johnson - $666,853
10. Mike Eise - $639,331

Women at Open Final Tables (3):
Ming "Joy" Reslock - 3rd place, Event #3 ($1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo Split)
Like Gerasimova - 5th place, Event #15 ($5,000 No-Limit Hold'em)
Annie Duke - 8th place, Event #18 ($10,000 World Championship Omaha Hi-Lo)

WSOP Player of the Year Points:
1. Ville Wahlbeck - 255 pts
2. Phil Ivey - 225 pts
Tie-3. Brock Parker - 220 pts
Tie-3. James Van Alstyne - 220 pts
5. Pete Vilandos - 175 pts
6. Steve Sung - 160 pts
7. Daniel Negreanu - 155 pts
Tie-8. Jeffrey Lisandro - 150 pts
Tie-8. Rami Boukai - 150 pts
10. Jason Mercier - 147 pts

You can find stats in some of these categories updated daily at the WSOP's official site.
Finally, another pitch for my WSOP Photo Blog at Poker Road. It takes a long time to shoot, sort, process, upload, and caption the best possible photos to tell the story of each day of the World Series. But it only takes five minutes to check them out each day, and it's much more enjoyable than reading the standard text recaps you can find at the mainstream sites. Here's the link to the main page with one image from each day; click the photos to see the rest from that day.

BJ Nemeth is originally from Atlanta, GA. He's the lead tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour. He's also a key contributor over at Poker Road. Check out his WSOP photos.

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