The cards hit the felt at the Rio in Las Vegas on May 27 and for the next seven weeks, players from around the world will aim to make poker history by winning large amounts of cash and shiny gold bracelets. The World Series of Poker is more than the main event that you to see on our ESPN broadcasts. The World Series of Poker is a tournament series that includes nearly 70,000 players competing in 65 events of differing variations of poker and buy-ins. The one that emerges with the most success could potentially be a player like Daniel Negreanu, who won the 2013 WSOP Player of the Year title, or 2012 WSOP main event champion Greg Merson, or the guy who dominates poker headlines like no other, Phil Ivey. The player could also be someone who had great success on the Heartland Poker Tour that the mainstream media has never picked up on, or even someone that you'd be happy to have in your home game. The WSOP allows players from all walks of life to see if they have what it takes, and if we knew for certain who would win every event, part of the magic of the game would be taken away.
Nine years ago, I had the crazy idea of attempting a fantasy poker draft as a column for ESPN.com. The seven owners drafted eight players each, and the concept worked. As the WSOP continued to boom, fantasy poker has taken on a life of its own with more of the poker population participating one way or another. There's a massive game on Facebook and even a private $25,000 buy-in league. Our draft is simply for bragging rights. Last year, Kevin Mathers took down the win by making a strategic add drop midway through the series. Mathers picked up Matthew Ashton the day before the $50,000 Poker Player's Championship and well, he won it. Mathers' draft last year included both David Bakers, Justin Bonomo, Dan Shak, Brock Parker, David Sands, Steve Billirakis and Konstantin Puchkov. He dropped Shak for Ashton.
This year we're keeping the scoring system the same (at the bottom of this post), but we expanded owners and number of players drafted with hopes of capturing more of the successes on the felt. The owners this year include professional poker players Negreanu, Eric Baldwin, Josh Brikis, Matt Glantz, Jason Somerville, and Eric Crain, and poker media contributors Lance Bradley, Kevin Mathers, Chad Holloway, Chops Preiss and myself. After the completion of the draft, many of us discussed a number of truly talented players still available, and that's where another adjustment comes in. Each team can now exchange two players throughout the WSOP, and if timing is everything, I expect most of them to come the day before the $1 million buy-in One Drop since the small field in that event can directly impact the results of this year's competition. Double points are awarded in all $10,000 and up events, and with the schedule emphasizing those world championships once again, the focus of each team should've been on the players who compete in all of them.
Some of us got that concept right, while others did not. We'll let you decide which. The teams are below, along with some analysis. We know your favorite player might not have even been drafted and we know we probably also missed value along the way. Post your thoughts in the comments below. Not only will you get your voice out there, but you could convince one of us to take a risk on the players you mention.
Good luck to all the players and fantasy owners over the next seven weeks!
My thoughts: For the third year in a row, Negreanu was selected as the first pick overall. During this week's interview on the Poker Edge, Negreanu said his focus would be on the non no-limit hold 'em events. Baldwin knows that Kid Poker will be involved in those smaller-field events day in and day out and in most of them, has a strong advantage. Just like Ivey. Just like Mercier. Just like Seiver. See where I'm going with this? These are the players you'll find grinding WSOP action each day and most of them are obvious picks to start the draft.
Best value: Negreanu - Baker. It's hard to isolate any of these guys as a good value considering their potential, but I'm going to give Negreanu's pick the nod here. Baker could've been the third overall pick in the draft and nobody would've blinked an eye. Over the past three years, Baker has made eight WSOP final tables, most of which came in the $10,000 events and has made the top 20 in the WSOP Player of the Year race in the last two. Last year Negreanu selected Paul Volpe with his first round pick.
Biggest stretch: Chops - McDonald. "Timex" is one of the best players in the world, and not including him in this round would've been a mistake. However, the question that surrounds McDonald is his volume. If he plays a full-ish schedule, this pick is a brilliant one. If he plays just a few, Chops can't risk a first-round pick on him and that's why I believe the rest of the owners passed on him up to this point. The other question mark for McDonald is his focus on no-limit hold 'em tournaments. While that is beneficial and the bonuses for making the final table of one of those large field events are significant, getting through the masses is a challenge.
My thoughts: No complaints here. From top to bottom, these 11 players should produce strong results all summer. It's hard to look at this list and believe that 11 players already went ahead of them.
Best value: Baldwin - Seidel. Similar to how I felt a year ago, the second round was filled with great value all around. Selbst at No. 20 is a steal for Bradley, as is "Angry John" Monnette at 21. However, the reason I ultimately gave Baldwin the edge is that fact that he got an eight-time bracelet winner who is still on top of his game this late. Seidel has typically been a first-rounder and has even added another $1.5 million to his bankroll since last December.
Biggest stretch: Somerville - Chidwick. It's hard to call this one a bad pick by any stretch of the imagination, but if you look at the players who went after Chidwick, you'll see that Somerville reached a little too early. Just like any other fantasy drafts, you need to know where someone would pick him up, and I don't believe he was on many draft boards until the late third or fourth round. "Stevie444" is a legend online and already has $2.5 million in live earnings. He plays all games and owns 24 career WSOP cashes. Again, this isn't a miss of a pick, it's just forcing the issue.
My thoughts: Call this the round of the young stars of the game. Most of these players honed their no-limit games pre-Black Friday and have since transitioned to the live felt without losing a step. Volpe, coming off an incredible run in SCOOP, dropped from a first-round pick in 2013 to a third-rounder in 2014 and that might have been a big moment in this draft for Crain. Glantz taking himself at pick 26 means that he's planning on being very busy at the WSOP this year. If that's the case, he probably should've been a second rounder.
Best value: Mathers - Rast. "I have never felt more absolutely certain about my play and ready to perform going in to a WSOP in my life. #beastmode #RIPopponents" - Rast on Twitter. I love this pick at the end of the third knowing that he's full of confidence and will be playing a 20-event schedule which will include One Drop and all the other big buy-ins. Rast is also making a few bracelet bets, and that added motivation may get him on the felt even more often than we expect.
Biggest stretch: Bradley - Alaei. If we know one thing about this pick is that's he'll probably already have one bracelet added to his tally in the $10,000 pot-limit Omaha event, an event that Alaei has won that event twice in the past four years. The question that surrounds Alaei is his dedication to tournament play. Everyone knows Alaei's ability, but we don't know his schedule.
My thoughts: This round was filled with talent and let down. On first glance the John Juanda pick should stand out to everyone as the ultimate steal. I had my doubts on taking Juanda when Negreanu passed over him in the third and I found out why. According to his Twitter account, Juanda won't be around the WSOP too much this year. He may be one of the most prolific talents in the game with over $16 million in tournament earnings, but with a 10-event maximum, he isn't worth a fourth-round pick. Then came the Grospellier news a day after our draft. His passport was stolen in Toronto and he's unlikely to make it to the WSOP until right before the main event.
Best value: Negreanu - Chiu. I'm not sure when the rest of us will ever learn, but year-in and year-out, David Chiu is a staple at the WSOP that thrives on nonstop action. Chiu won his fifth bracelet last year and what adds to his value is his tendency to play anything and everything. Since 2011, Chiu has 14 cashes coming in 11 different poker variations.
Biggest stretch: Unfortunately Juanda and Grospellier are the stretches in this round for the reasons above. It's hard to draft any player this early if you know you're only going to get a few events out of them. Knowing their situations now, both could easily be a final-round pick or a pick-up whenever they return to the WSOP this year.
My thoughts: For the third year in a row, Negreanu was selected as the first pick overall. During his interview on the Poker Edge, Negreanu said his focus would be on the non no-limit hold 'em events. Baldwin knows that Kid Poker will be involved in those smaller-field events day in and day out and in most of them, has a strong advantage. Just like Ivey. Just like Mercier. Just like Seiver. See where I'm going with this? These are the players you'll find grinding WSOP action each day and most of them are obvious picks to start the draft.
Best value: Feldman - Greenstein. Since last Series, Greenstein hasn't found too much success at the live felt with a max cash came for only $12,309. That said, this is a WSOP draft and Greenstein knows how to excel in Vegas. Over the past three years, Greenstein has 18 cashes which include three final tables. His last bracelet win came in 2008 and the former first-round pick is sure to help my team at this spot.
Biggest stretch: Mathers - Schemion. See what I wrote for Mike McDonald above. Schemion, hands down the best 21-year-old in the game, is coming to the WSOP for the first time. He's said he wants to live the Vegas life during this Series and with no guarantee as to how much he's playing, it's hard to take him here. If he somehow does play a full schedule, this is the steal of the draft.
My thoughts: Schneider at pick 66 is coming off a double-bracelet effort. Ashton is looking to move just one spot higher in the Player of the Year rankings this year. Watson has rolled over the poker world for the past 15 months. Lind is a cashing machine. Many of these players are capable of consistent production all summer and in Round 6 each owner was able to find a player with nearly-guaranteed value and major upside.
Best value: Bradley - Watson. Watson finished 11th in the 2013 WSOP Player of the Year race with to a 10-cash, three final table effort. His run didn't stop there and most recently had a 12-cash run in the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker which placed him in the top-20 of everyone in the world. You aren't going to find anyone who will be able to poke a hole in this pick; Bradley will be very happy with this steal.
Biggest stretch: Chops - Ho. If you look at the majority of the other players selected in this round, you're going to see those who will play in big buy-in mixed events much more often than Maria. If this pick is going to be a beneficial one for Chops, Ho needs to make the final table of a big no-limit event. There is big upside here, but a relatively small floor.
My thoughts: I think many of us started to reach here in very big ways. We have a couple of high-stakes cash game players who prefer to spend their time away from the WSOP with all the fish in town. A not-really-broke Twitter star, one family man and a number of guys that we all just forget about when we're not focused on the WSOP. If you look at the next two rounds, you'll see a few more "back-to-basics" picks.
Best value: Brikis - Smith. In 2008 Dan Smith won a $1,500 buy-in on the Heartland Poker Tour. In January 2014, he bought into multiple $25,000 events. This was another huge error for the rest of the owners leading up to this point. Smith, the defending 2013 WPT Five Diamond champion and constant participant in the game's highest buy-in events, will be among the game's elite until he retires. His insatiable quest for action will keep him at the Rio where he'll hope to win his first bracelet.
Biggest stretch: Crain - Jean-Robert Bellande. This may have been the only pick throughout the draft that generated some true surprise from everyone else. Bellande has admitted he's been on quite a run recently and apparently has put some money aside so that the "BrokeLivingJRB" moniker can be retired. If this pick is made in the final round, nobody bats an eye, but Bellande in this spot is debatable. That said, having a horse in One Drop is important and if Bellande is able to cash in, Crain will look like a genius.
My thoughts: The challenge that exists for almost all of these players is gauging participation. With Lunkin and Schemelev, we never really know how much they're planning on being around. When they do play, both are top tier talents and worthy of a pick higher than this round. The five old-schoolers, Bloch, Elezra, Matros, Porter and Ramdin, are pillars of consistency and I'd expect at least two deep runs and a final table from each of them. The final four players that I haven't mentioned each have very high upside.
Best value: Brikis - Duhamel. This may be my favorite pick in the draft. The 2010 WSOP main event champion remains one of the game's strongest players and ambassadors. He wants that second bracelet and nearly got there in one of the biggest events of the year in 2013, the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. Looking at the group that surrounds him, I'd be truly surprised if he doesn't lead this round in total points when the WSOP concludes.
Biggest stretch: Mathers - Porter. This one was a hard one. Rep's cat-like nine lives effort during the 2013 main event will forever be engrained in my brain, and it's even surprising to me that I'd put a guy who had seven top-23 WSOP finishes last year in this category. Maybe Mathers could've waited one more round to get him, maybe not.
My thoughts: As you're probably noticing nine rounds in, it's getting a little bit harder for me to draw a clear rationale why one round was better or worse than the next. I think four drafters really hit the nail on the head in this round: Bradley, Somerville, Mathers and Crain. As for the rest of us, there was a clear reason for each and every pick, something that we don't often see in a draft like this. I went with Rettenmaier and am perfectly content with waiting on him to make his one big no-limit hold 'em run.
Best value: Somerville - Bjorin. 2013 was most likely a major aberration for one of the game's all-time greats and leader on Sweden's all-time money list. He is a master of all stud variations and has made a final table at the WSOP in six of the past seven years.
Biggest stretch: Baldwin - Gregg. The stretch portion of this isn't based on talent, it's based on volume. Gregg had to be selected since he's playing in One Drop and as I've already mentioned a few times, anyone playing in that event had increased value this year. Whoever took Gregg knew two things: 1) He's fully capable of a run in any of the big buy-in events and 2) You probably won't see him splashing around in any game with a field greater than 200 players. Can a five-event Series become a worthwhile pick? Absolutely.
My thoughts: I love the final round. Not only because my list of draftable players is quickly getting thin, but other owners go to a place that they are simply forced to go: drafting themselves. Baldwin, Brikis and Crain each took a risk on their own prospects and each of them know that they simply don't play a full-enough schedule to merit an earlier-round pick. The final round is also known for when Negreanu throws out a name that most of us have to Google. Wasserson is a mixed-gamer and if Kid Poker is vouching for him at this point, he's probably someone to keep an eye on. I went with the hot hand in WPT Player of the Year Mukul Pahuja who, after talking to him on the Poker Edge, I felt has it all together. He's had a strong 11 months in no-limit events and while I know he won't get me nearly anything on the mixed-game front, I felt he was worth the risk at this point.
Best value: Holloway - Friedman. You might know him for crying on television, but most of us know him as a strong mixed-game bracelet winner. Friedman had two final tables and five cashes in the 2013 WSOP, then went on to capture a Heartland Poker Tour main event title and make the final table of the L.A. Poker Classic. With field sizes expected to trend downward in the non-NLHE events, Friedman's value skyrockets and is a great pick in this round.
Biggest stretch: Glantz - Bohlman. I can't critique Bohlman's game selection as he plays everything. Maybe Glantz just knows something about his plans that I don't. Bohlman isn't expected to spend the entire summer at the tournament felt and that alone makes him a risk to take, even this late in the draft.
Here's the scoring system:
1 point for making the money
2 points for making the top 50
5 points for making the top 20
10 points for making the final table (up to a tournament with a field size of 100 players), then one additional point for each 100 players after that
1 additional point for ninth
2 additional points for eighth
4 additional points for seventh
6 additional points for sixth
10 additional points for fifth
15 additional points for fourth
20 additional points for third
30 additional points for second
40 additional points for first
Double points will be awarded for all events with buy-ins of $10,000 or more. For every event that a player makes the money in, additional points will be awarded based on the field size. One point will be awarded for every 100 players in the field. For example, if there are 300 players and a player makes the money, three additional points will be assigned.
Points are only awarded for in the money finishes. The final table is defined as top nine in hold 'em, eight in mixed, seven in lowball, six during short-handed events (with the exception being the four-handed event), eight in heads-up (5-8th will be awarded fifth, etc.).