The Nuts: Merson debuts at No. 5

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 me), ESPNDeportes.com poker editor Nahuel Ponce, Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley and senior writer Tim Fiorvanti, WSOP.com managing editor Jessica Welman, PokerNews editor-in-chief Elaine Chaivarlis and tournament reporter Don Peters, and Pocketfives' Dan Cypra.

    What can we really take away from the past month in the poker industry? We saw Michael Mizrachi win another title. We saw the best player in the world, Phil Ivey, launch his own training site. We saw Vanessa Selbst prove that not only can she win at the felt, but she can be a great coach as well. While each of those accomplishments merit discussion and weight when it comes to these rankings, most importantly over the past month, we saw the emergence of Greg Merson as the new world champion. For 19 hours, Merson's skills were on display and for not being a seasoned tournament player, Merson battled and played nearly flawless poker to take the biggest bracelet of all. The 2012 double-bracelet winner and WSOP Player of the year makes his debut in these rankings at No. 5.

    Ivey's presence and launch of his site was the biggest news out of his corner over the past month. Despite no positive results on the tournament felt, Ivey maintained the top spot. Phil Hellmuth moved up one spot to No. 2, the highest ranking he's ever attained. After his recent seven-figure score in Europe, Hellmuth has been an active participant on the cash game tables and as discussed on a recent Poker Edge podcast, he's been more than holding his own. The only player in the top four to have found the winner's circle over the past month was Michael Mizrachi, who captured a $2,200 main event title in Florida. Even with that win, Mizrachi remained at No. 4, barely ahead of the aforementioned Merson.

    The bottom half of the rankings is highlighted by the man poised to win the Bluff Player of the Year award, Dan Smith. In addition to his recent Sunday Million victory, Smith just missed two more final tables in October. The only player to fall out of the rankings this month was Sam Trickett and, as explained in the bubble section below, he might not return to the top 10 anytime soon.

    Many of the game's biggest winners from October and early November aren't those represented below. For the second month in a row and the third time in 2012, 2004 WSOP main event champion Greg Raymer found the winner's circle on the Heartland Poker Tour. The World Poker Tour added two more members to their Champions Club as Noah Schwartz won his first WPT title at WPT BestBet in Jacksonville and Dominik Nitsche won the WPT's South African event. A former WPT event, the Bellagio's Festa Al Lago main event, was won by Hyon Kim, who outlasted a final table that included Matthew Waxman, David Sands, Prahlad Friedman, Nick Schulman and Tim West. The WSOP Circuit, whose final tables this season can now be seen live on ESPN3, held its biggest annual event at Horseshoe Hammond, where Joshua Williams outlasted a field of 1,523 entries to win $385,909. John Crncic won the Circuit's first Canadian stop for $286,382.

    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 November's top 10:

    On the bubble

    November's bubble boy Sam Trickett shared some interesting thoughts on Twitter that may reflect on his future rankings. He said he missed playing soccer professionally and he wanted to pursue it, but getting back into playing shape would take up a good portion of his time over the next few months. He's one of the most determined and creative cash game players in the world and how he proceeds from here will be very interesting. In any case, he falls on the bubble and unless he stays with poker completely, it's unlikely he moves back into the top 10. ... Sharing the bubble with Trickett was Joseph Cheong. From Macau to San Remo to WSOPE to the U.S., Cheong has been tearing up the tournament scene to the tune of $1.1 million in 2012. Cheong still doesn't have the major win yet, but just like this place in the top 10, it's bound to happen soon. ... Dominik Nitsche is an EPT title away from winning poker's triple crown this year. He won the WPT Johannesburg main event for $206,153 in October and just missed two more final tables at the Asia Championship of Poker earlier this month. Oh, and he's 21. There's a strong chance we'll be seeing a lot of him on these rankings for years to come. ... Chris Moorman was a stalwart in the top five a few months ago, but his stock has fallen slightly after a quiet few months on the live felt. That changed earlier this month as he finished second at the UKIPT's Online Championship and that finish gave him a little boost here, but couldn't get him out of the bubble paragraph. ... Others receiving substantial consideration include David Baker, Daniel Negreanu, Michael McDonald, John Monnette, Jesse Sylvia, Jonathan Duhamel, Noah Schwartz and Eugene Katchalov.

    Final thoughts

    Bradley: The first set of rankings after the WSOP main event wraps up is always an interesting one. This year, though, we have Merson, who won WSOP Player of the Year title as well as two of the toughest bracelets to win, debuting at No. 5. Seems fair right now but the challenge for Merson will be finding a way to stay ranked that high while he plays cash games and avoids most of the tournament circuit.

    I'm somewhat surprised that Hellmuth is so high, if only because he's a bit of an enigma on this list. He does extremely well at the WSOP, but hasn't found success at WPT or EPT events yet and seems to be a welcome addition to most high stakes cash games.

    Feldman: There is no greater challenge than ranking the WSOP main event champion immediately after his victory. Merson's story is a little bit different than other champions over the past few years. He has previous WSOP success with his other bracelet and Player of the Year honor, a history of online success in the highest cash games around and an overwhelming amount of respect from his peers. I think fifth was an interesting spot for him, but as Lance said, it will be tough to maintain if his successes on the felt aren't well-touted in the coming weeks and months.

    The rest of the list remained pretty consistent from last month and I'm content with that. Perhaps the only real disappointment in my mind is Dan Smith not moving up higher. In fact, him dropping a spot made no sense whatsoever. I know that we made room for Merson, but it's tough to see Smith, the one playing perhaps better than anyone else, falling as a result.

    How Hellmuth and Mercier fare in the next few months will be the basis for what I believe will be a major shakeup of this list in 2013. Both of them are going to start to fall in the "what have you done for me lately" category and I think as we look at the top spots, that's something that must be weighed heavily. In complete contradiction to what I just wrote, Ivey owns the top spot and it would take something significant for that to change in the next few months.