Riding HORSE to the finish

Barry Greenstein, who's been a busy boy in Washington, D.C., this week, summed up the change in field caliber on last week's episode of the World Series of Poker $50,000 HORSE event. HORSE used to be the sole domain of the "Big Game" for whom Greenstein was the sole standing member when the field was reduced to eight. Now, Barry told the cameras, "the field has closed the gap."

After last year's stellar final table caught the attention of the poker world, everyone wanted to get through that door. Young guns formerly loyal to Texas hold 'em started spreading their wings a little. Good news on the short term for the vultures in the biggest cash games, but bad news in the long haul for those relying on the inequities of others in the lesser-played games.

Since Tuesday night will feature the final table of the $50,000 HORSE, here's a little review of the cast of characters who'll be sitting at the table. After last year's roster, people will question the strength of this group, but it's a strong collection of players of whom it can be said that there was only one real surprise. I'll let you guess which one.

Seat 1 - Kenny Tran - $2,445,000

You need to remember this tournament was actually played prior to the main event, which is why you haven't heard Lon and Norm talking about his amazing double performance this year. The cocky, confident cash game monster from California would eventually go on to finish 16th in the main event. That's two big finishes in the two biggest events of the year.

Kenny's appearances throughout these broadcasts have left the online world divided on their opinion of him. Some feel his proclamations of greatness are bad form, leaving a bitter taste in their collective mouth. Others feel that although Tran's made some great calls on tape, that he might be described the same way Greenstein describes Stu Ungar, "There are stories about great calls Stuey made, but I haven't heard any about great laydowns." Regardless, there's little doubt Tran had a remarkable WSOP.

Seat 2 - David Singer - $1,330,000

As will be mentioned pretty much every time the camera hits him, Singer was the lone player to make both the 2006 and 2007 HORSE final tables. That alone has to make him one of the best mixed-game players in the world. Throw in a final table at the 2003 main event and his $1 million win this past Wednesday at the Caesar's Palace Poker Classic and you've got a remarkable resume.

Singer goes unappreciated because, frankly, he's a very quiet guy at the table. The lack of drama makes him difficult to get good TV out of him, but he had a personal drama this year that made him a more sentimental character. His father ill, David missed the first three weeks of WSOP before flying back from dad's bedside. Considering the other things on his mind, it's pretty amazing that David was standing when the dust cleared for this final table.

Seat 3 - Bruno Fitoussi - $895,000

With this final table, Bruno Fitoussi became France's all-time money leader at WSOP, surpassing Pascal Perrault. The thing is, Fitoussi more than most doesn't care about the money so much as the competition. When he was jousting with Phil Hellmuth on Day 3 of the HORSE event, he offered to play Hellmuth heads-up for so much that even Phil had to back down. When you have Fitoussi money, numbers don't matter.

One thing that is often forgotten about Fitoussi, who first came into the American public's eye with a 15th place finish in the 2003 WSOP, is that he won one of poker's most important tournaments, historically speaking. It was Fitoussi who defeated Amarillo Slim in the final of the first ever World Heads-Up poker championship, which has the distinction of being the first tournament ever filmed with hole-card cameras.

Seat 4 - John Hanson - $1,995,000

An immensely successful New York stock broker, Hanson's performance was one for the history books; it made him the first true amateur in the event's history to make the final table. He'd only managed one cash in one WSOP event prior to this, so his appearance at the final table was more than a little surprising.

Hanson, who's been known to sit in the big game on his visits to Vegas, may eventually be looked back upon as the renewing of the cycle. Remember, there was a time when the main event was all pros, or at least guys who could be if they wanted. Eventually, Hal Fowler became the first amateur to win the event back in 1979. Hanson is a better player than Fowler was, but his status may eventually give inspiration to others.

Seat 5 - Freddy Deeb - $3,500,000

You can't help but love Freddy. There's the cigars, that shiny pate, the height factor, the shirt, the colorful language, the American dream story line and above all else, the respect with which he treats every fan he meets. Deeb stands out from the crowd in ways that would make him a star of the game with half his resume.

Freddy is amongst the few players who have won both a bracelet and a WPT title. Despite that, he's primarily a cash game player who only dabbles in tournaments for the exposure. He's a player of all games for whom game selection has been a major factor in staying out of the "Big Game" and as a result, was probably a co-favorite with Amnon Filippi heading into this final table.

Seat 6 - Thor Hansen - $40,000

Yeah, that's not a typo. With the blinds $25,000-$50,000, Thor enters this final table with less than a big blind to play with. I won't spoil the surprise though.

Hansen doesn't fit the traditional superstar mold and as a result you may not know him. Thing is, per capita, there's no region of the world that's produced more high-caliber players than Scandinavia, and it's Hansen who's revered there as the godfather of their game. You have to trust me when I tell you his making it this far was a very big deal in that part of the world.

Seat 7 - Amnon Filippi - $4,015,000

Not a bad showing for a cash-game player. Filippi had limited success in live tournament play, but he and JC Tran have been known to exchange pieces (percentages of each other's action), and that kind of faith from that kind of player says a lot about the respect his game gets. This showing wasn't entirely unprecedented with a couple of WPT final tables on his resume.

I was surprised when I saw that he'd entered the tournament. Heck, he even called me on that as he was marching towards the final table. Good read, Amnon. Obviously, to have this kind of lead against this kind of field, the deck has to hit you in the face repeatedly, but the New York native can play, and he gets bonus marks from we media types when he volunteers his time to help with coverage after getting knocked out of the events he attends. There are guys who make final tables that you're indifferent to. This is a guy I was glad to see get there.

Seat 8 - Barry Greenstein - $750,000

Barry Greenstein was the lone member of the "Big Game" left standing heading to the final table, but it was a wobbly stance. Unfortunately for him, his stack was far larger midway through day four than it was at the end of it, and he entered final table play with just 15 big bets.

Greenstein is one of the game's most accomplished players, but more than that he's become one of the true ambassadors of the game. From his well-documented donations to Children Inc. to his presence in Washington this week as a part of the Poker Players Alliance's lobbying efforts, Greenstein has become emblematic of the good in competitive poker. Give me a better reason to cheer a guy on.

Enjoy the show.

Gary Wise covered the WSOP for worldseriesofpoker.com. You can hear him on his podcast, Wise Hand Poker, Wednesday nights at 8 ET at www.roundersradio.com.