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The Nuts: Jason Mercier earns No. 1

    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 comprised of ESPN.com's trio of poker contributors (Gary Wise, Bernard Lee and myself), ESPNdeportes.com poker editor Nahuel Ponce, Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley and managing editor Jessica Welman, PokerNews editor-in-chief Matthew Parvis and tournament reporter Don Peters, Pocketfives' Dan Cypra and Poker Road's Court Harrington.

The toughest question for our panel this month was simple: What should we do with Phil Ivey? One panelist stated being a poker player means you should be actually playing poker. Another offered that he's distanced himself from the game and doesn't deserve our consideration. A third said regardless of whether he's playing right now, he's still the best in the world.
All viewpoints needed to be considered and it was a tough decision whether to rank him. Then, if the ranker felt he should be ranked, where do you put the player who hasn't played? It really was a split vote among the panel with some keeping faith in Ivey while others shunned our once-ranked-No. 1 player.

One thing that much of the panel agreed on was the ascension to Jason Mercier to the No. 1 spot.

Mercier won his second WSOP bracelet in Event 35 and is one of the players in strong contention for the WSOP Player of the Year. He has secured five top-27 finishes through 48 events and is one of the leaders in earnings for the 2011 WSOP. Quite simply, Mercier continues to do it all and prove that he's among the game's best in any variety of poker players can dream up.

In this month's rankings, the panel took into consideration all the action from May and June. The WPT offered two major events and, of course, Erik Seidel won the $100,000 Super High Roller for his fourth title of 2011. Scott Seiver became the WPT Champion with his victory in the $25,000 event, and although he was a stalwart on this list in months past, his win seems to be slightly forgotten as he was one of the players on the rankings bubble. The entire month of June has been spent by players at the 2011 World Series of Poker, which offers a great look at the tournament poker world day in and day out. Ben Lamb's success thus far has earned him a bracelet, over $1 million in earnings and a couple votes on the Nuts list, but not enough support to enter the top 10.

There has been one player that many would think could've made this list pretty consistently since its inception, but Phil Hellmuth is actually making his Nuts debut this month after his two runner-up finishes at the 2011 WSOP. It's often commented that Hellmuth shouldn't be part of this list as he's not a strong enough all-around player, but the truth is that Hellmuth can play well in any game against any competition. With more than 30 non-hold 'em WSOP cashes, Hellmuth has had the proof for years and his latest results simply offer to the critics out there that he's more focused and concentrated than ever.

Three players have dropped off the list this month: Tom Marchese, Vivek Rajkumar and Daniel Cates. Perhaps the only surprise out of those three may be Marchese, who has a final table and a 28th-place finish thus far at the WSOP. Cates continues to struggle on the live tournament felt, and without online poker, it will be very interesting to see what path he takes over the next few months.

Replacing the aforementioned trio is Hellmuth and two very familiar faces to this list: John Juanda and Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier. Juanda was responsible for Hellmuth's first runner-up finish when he won Event 16 and earned his fifth WSOP bracelet. That accomplishment moved him from last ranking's bubble boy to the third-ranked player. Grospellier claimed the third leg of poker's triple crown with his victory in the $10,000 seven-card stud world championship.

Looking ahead, July will offer us the biggest tournament of the year, the WSOP main event. The rest of the tournament circuit doesn't really heat up again until August, but there will be plenty of results to consider for next month's rankings. The big question will still be Ivey and his participation. Will he make a return to the felt and the top of the rankings next month? We all simply have to wait and see.

Here's a look at June's Top 10, and of course, feel free to leave your feedback and reactions in the comments section below. We're sure you have some thoughts on Ivey's sixth-place ranking as well.

The Nuts: Poker's best in June 2011

On the bubble:

The bubble boy this time around was Tom Marchese. For the last year, Marchese has been found on this list off and on. It's very possible that he makes an appearance once again next month, especially if he can add another final table to his 2011 WSOP accomplishments. ... Two players fell right behind Marchese: $25,000 heads-up champion Jake Cody and pot-limit Omaha bracelet winner Sam Stein. It's hard to argue that anyone in the world (well, besides Mercier or Seidel) has been on a run like those two. ... Victor Ramdin continues to fall into the bubble category despite having six cashes at the 2011 WSOP. He is most definitely back on track after a rough 2010, but the problem is that none of those cashes are for significant money. He's been consistent, but Ramdin can't seem to hit the big score. Finally, Ali Eslami turned some heads this month with his three WSOP final tables which follows his recent WSOP Circuit Regional Championship title. ... Others who earned substantial consideration include 2011 WPT Championship winner Scott Seiver, Daniel Cates, Vivek Rajkumar, Galen Hall, Allen Bari, Andy Frankenberger, Ben Lamb and Gus Hansen.

Final thoughts:
Bradley: I'm kind of surprised the way Ivey got treated by the panelists, and perhaps it says that we need to clarify what we're voting on. If Ivey played everything, like Dwan, and didn't cash and was down $270,000 at the end of the Series, I could see a reason for dropping him, but to say he's not a top talent is a mistake.

I'm a big fan of the Hellmuth inclusion. His two runner-up finishes in events we didn't expect him to play means maybe people are overlooking his talents just because of his sometimes overwhelming persona.

Feldman: I'm with Lance on the Ivey issue, but in all honesty, I had a tough time trying to figure out where to put him. Having him in the middle of the pack is actually fine in my eyes, as those that sit above him have just been incredible. They've earned their spots with their results and perhaps Ivey being at the top was holding them back from reaching their rankings potential.

As for the 24-year-old, No. 1-ranked player, nobody deserved this spot more than he did. He's earned more than $6.3 million in his short career and is not only regarded as a solid player in all games, but away from the felt, people genuinely like him and respect him. When all he does is come up big in the biggest events, it's hard to argue that anyone is better than him.

Online metrics are harder to gauge these days, but during this month, I didn't take much of the online action into consideration. If you're one of the best, you're either in Las Vegas playing cash or in Vegas at the WSOP. Either way, you're in the U.S. and there's no big online action here. For those that are abroad, the online competition is probably weaker than ever and I wish you the best of luck.

Our biggest miss was Jake Cody. I think the youngest triple crown winner deserves some respect, and the 22-year-old has proven for the past two years that his fearlessness at the table is what sets him apart.