The Nuts is a recurring 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.
We have a new No. 1 player in the world, and no, it isn't WSOP Champion Ryan Riess. The World Series of Poker main event final table turned a lot of heads and while many fans and players gained some new respect for the game's most notable finalists, especially Amir Lehavot, zero of the November Nine have found their way onto this list.
The standout performer since the last rankings has been the standout performer for pretty much the entire year and his career. Daniel Negreanu is the new No. 1 player and really, with his recent efforts in the felt, the only surprise is that it didn't happen sooner. Negreanu capped off a tremendous WSOP season with a 25th-place finish in the main event and a victory in the High Roller. His sixth bracelet victory was his second piece of jewelry this year and along with all those cashes came $3.2 million, his second-best winnings total since 1997.
Negreanu's jump over Phil Ivey was only a matter of time. Ivey hasn't put in the effort on the tournament felt to even sniff a big score and the panel couldn't deny Negreanu's quest any longer. Ivey has played a bit online, but with no tremendous earnings, it's tough to give him the nod. Ivey has $17 million in live tournament earnings, but only a couple hundred thousand in 2013. There's little doubt that when he decides to jump feet first into the action, he'll contend for the top spot once again.
The latest installment of the Party Poker Premier League concluded last week with Sorel Mizzi holding the top spot over the elite field. Mizzi earned $400,000 for the title and quietly put together a 2013 campaign that included $3.8 million in tournament winnings, most of which came from the GuangDong Asia Millions HK$1M buy-in event. In the Premier League, Mizzi battled past ESPN's No. 3, Vanessa Selbst (12th), and No. 4. Scott Seiver (fourth). Seiver's run over the past few months include back-to-back cashes in the Alpha8 series and a sixth-place finish in the WSOP Europe High Roller.
Marvin Rettenmaier's run on the World Poker Tour continued over the past month with two deep runs (10th in Paris, fourth in St. Maarten). Derrick Rosenbarger's managed to avoid Rettenmaier's success on his run to the title at WPT Montreal, but those instances come few and far between for one of the most consistent no-limit hold 'em tournament players in the world.
Consistency means a different thing to Philipp Gruissem, a player that panelist Eric Ramsey says is "impossible to ignore." Plain and simple, Gruissem owns the high roller scene around the world. The German superstar has won three high roller events in 2013, including back-to-back Alpha8 titles. In the two WSOP high rollers, Gruissem finished first and third and at PCA, he finished fifth. Gruissem, with his $4.6 million in earnings this year, makes his debut at No. 6. For those that are wondering, his quest at an Aplha8 three-peat will take place in South Africa in February.
Mike Watson, No. 7, added another WSOP final table to his resume at WSOPE and continued to coast throughout a year that made him stand out from the masses and at No. 8, Phil Hellmuth captured his 100th career WSOP cash, continually keeping him part of this conversation.
The name Niklas Heinecker probably isn't one that rings a bell, but he's immersed himself in the conversation of best online cash game players around very quickly. Heinecker has more than $9 million in earnings in 2013, with a pretty even split between live and online action. His recent successes have come against online legend Victor Blom in the high stakes games on Full Tilt. The final spot belongs to Noah Schwartz who captured his first bracelet at WSOP Europe and has been a stalwart among the tournament scene for years. Schwartz also received plenty of air time during this year's WSOP broadcast when he finished 52nd.
Players have a few more majors to attend in 2013 including the WPT's Five Diamond in Vegas and the Prague Poker Festival. They're all chasing Negreanu, but really, the race is over. Congrats on an incredible 2013 Daniel and your new No. 1 ranking.
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 December's top 10:
On the bubble
The bubble boy this month was Ole Schemion who pocketed another two five-figure scores over the last two months. The German 20-year-old had his second consecutive year of at least $1.3 million in tournament winnings and continues to thrive online as well. WSOP champion Ryan Riess did receive some consideration, but he was far from the top of the list in anyone's rankings. He may have beaten the biggest field of the year, but he'll need to do more than just that to say he's the best in the world right now. Many of the players on this list have found great success in high roller events and Jeff Rossiter is another name that panelists were considering to add to the collection. Rossiter's recent fourth-place finish in the ACOP Macau was his latest six-figure score in a career that's included many. Jason Mercier was back into rankings consideration after his WSOP Europe final table as well, but it seemed like too little, too late for the former No. 1. David Benefield, Jason Koon, Tobias Reinkemeier, Steve O'Dwyer, Justin Bonomo, David Peters, David Baker, Martin Finger and Chris Moorman also received consideration this month.
Bradley: In the four years we’ve been putting The Nuts together, this is by far the one I agree with the most. Sure, I’d move a few people up or down a spot or two, but there’s only one egregious inclusion and that’s Phil Hellmuth. I say that because he hasn’t really been on top of his game since January when he finished runner-up in the NBC Heads-Up event. The only real omission for me is that of David Peters – he’s probably the least hyped tournament killer on the planet but yet he’s fourth in BLUFF Player of the Year race
Feldman: Negreanu finally gets his due. Is there much more to say than that? The challenge with removing Ivey is that if he's able to put something together ... anything ... he probably jumps back into No. 1 since he'd be "back." For now, and probably as long as he's able to continue to put up numbers, Negreanu will hold onto that spot. He's a focused and determined player when there's something he wants and his motivation this past year is pretty clear. He wanted to be the first player to win the WSOP Player of the Year award twice. He wanted to be Player of the Year. His chances to win both seemed slim entering October, but he proved once again that he thrives under pressure.
There were a number of players I was unsure about this month and I think the omission of Steve O'Dwyer tops my list. Heinecker's surge is simply incredible, but when playing at those stakes, the downswing is inevitable. We may have published this at a time when he's at his peak, but that's something to keep an eye on. Regardless, $9 million in a year is insane.
As for Hellmuth, yeah, he probably shouldn't have made the list, but you can't argue with his results and 100 cashes is a pretty incredible effort. Many thought years ago that the game passed him by, but he's still here and still cashing.
Finally, for Ryan Riess: You won and said you're the best. Now it's time to prove it and if you do, a spot on this list is waiting.