The Nuts is a monthly feature that takes a look at the best poker players in the world. This feature aims to produce a list of the best players at the moment. Our panel of 10 is composed of ESPN.com's poker contributors (Bernard Lee and myself); ESPNdeportes.com poker editor Nahuel Ponce; Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley, senior writer Tim Fiorvanti and information manager Kevin Mathers; WSOP.com managing editor Jessica Welman; PokerNews editor-in-chief Donnie Peters; World Poker Tour's Eric Ramsey; and PocketFives' Dan Cypra.
The August rankings are always unique. For the majority of the year, the poker tournament circuit is busy with stops nearly every weekend. However, during the weeks after the World Series of Poker, tournament organizers offer a brief respite in the schedule. There are very few must-attend events on the calendar as the poker world, for lack of a better word, recovers from seven weeks in Vegas. After all, the WSOP can create superstars, but it also can cripple bankrolls and end careers.
The heavy influence of the WSOP on the panelists resulted in three Nuts debuts this month. David "Bakes" Baker has been successful for years, but the Michigan native shined even brighter this year and makes his Nuts debut at No. 3. Although he didn't win, his nine cashes and four final tables were one of the most talked about stories this summer. Bakes sits behind No. 1 Phil Ivey, who managed only one cash this Series, and Daniel Negreanu, who had an impressive effort with six cashes and is currently in second in the WSOP player of the year race.
The second debut belongs to Mike Watson (sixth), and his success extends far beyond the walls of the Rio. Watson did cash eight times during the 2013 WSOP, but his run really began this past December. Since that time, he's made eight final tables, cashed for more than $1.4 million on the live felt and continued to add to his poker success online, where he's collected more than $2 million.
One of the best parts of the WSOP is the discovery of new stars, and this year, the standout was Matthew Ashton. Ashton makes his Nuts debut in seventh thanks to his four final tables and victory in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. He is the current leader in the WSOP player of the year race, but unless the stud-focused Brit changes his approach, he'll have a hard time moving up this list in the future.
Scott Seiver moved up two spots to No. 5 after his WSOP effort, but Phil Hellmuth, Vanessa Selbst and Sam Trickett fell to the bottom of the rankings as a result of their struggles in Vegas.
The circuit hits full speed in a hurry as the next month includes a $10 million guarantee in the Seminole Hard Rock main event, the 2013 World Championship of Online Poker, the debut of the Alpha8 series, WPT Legends, EPT Barcelona and the start of the 2013-14 WSOP Circuit season. With so much in store over the next month, we can expect September's rankings to look substantially different.
Did we leave out your favorite player? Who should be ranked higher? Who should be completely off the list? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below. Here's a look at August's top 10:
On the bubble
Where should we start? Dan Kelly was this month's bubble boy after a WSOP to remember. The online phenom-turned-bracelet winner cashed eight times in Vegas, including a fifth-place finish in the Millionaire Maker. Had Kelly won that event, there's little doubt he would have been in the top 10 this month. Jason Mercier remains on the minds of the voters after six cashes at the WSOP, but for the first time in his career, he failed to make a final table. Max Steinberg might have scared away some panelists after his jack-high hand on a recent WSOP broadcast, but everyone will get to see a lot more of him this summer. Steinberg had two runner-up finishes in bracelet events this Series and was the chip leader of the main event for a few levels. He has three six-figure cashes over the past year. Joseph Cheong, Philipp Gruissem, Antonio Esfandiari, Paul Volpe, $111,111 High Roller champion Anthony Gregg, double-bracelet winner Tom Schneider, Viktor Blom, Phil Galfond, Jeremy Ausmus and main event chip leader JC Tran also received consideration this month.
Bradley: The list seems to reflect some of the WSOP magic. Prior to June, the name Matt Ashton would have drawn blank stares from most people in the poker world, but he put on a show at the 2013 WSOP to boost his profile and his lifetime earnings. Given that he seems to be a stud specialist, he'll be hard pressed to find any more big scores the rest of the year. That also doesn't help his chances of becoming the 2013 WSOP player of the year.
Phil Ivey seems to have the top spot on lockdown still. I am curious as to what it will take to unseat him again. The first player to do it, Jason Mercier, is not on this list, and you have to wonder whether the amount of Open Face Chinese that he's been playing the past nine months has had an effect on his tournament play.
Feldman: There are 10 really strong players on the list this month, but I'm stuck wondering who will survive the cut in September. Baker is one of the true talents of the game, but it took four quick final tables to finally break into the heads of the panelists. That said, No. 3 is surprising for a debut, but when you perform on the game's biggest stage, it's deserved.
I've been in the "Rank SirWatts" camp for months, and I'm glad to see he finally made it. Seiver should have been higher. There really isn't anything he hasn't accomplished in the game, and it might be his outward modesty that brings down his overall awareness.
I do think the bottom of this list could have been better. Hellmuth, Selbst and Trickett just haven't performed recently, and it might be time for the panelists to re-evaluate. So many players who fell to the bubble -- such as Joseph Cheong, Dan Kelly, Paul Volpe, Philipp Gruissem and Viktor Blom -- could have been better fits for those spots.