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Thursday, May 24, 2012
ESPN's seventh annual fantasy poker draft


Predicting consistent poker success is a daunting task, especially during the seven-week-long World Series of Poker. Sometimes players we've barely considered go on hot streaks and become players of the year (ahem, Ben Lamb in 2011) and most times, the players we know all too well get burned out and put up disappointing results for weeks at a time … or don't show up at all (ahem, Phil Ivey). So why, for the seventh consecutive year, did a group of 10 players and writers gather on a conference call to attempt to do the nearly impossible and create dominant fantasy lineups? It's all about bragging rights and the ability to combine two things we all love, fantasy and poker, to make the next few months even more entertaining.

In 2011, Dennis Phillips emerged victorious thanks to a dominating team that included Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth and Bertrand Grospellier. In 2012, Phillips did not participate and that means the rest of us actually have a chance this year. We were all pleased with the lack of a defending champion in this year's draft, and on Wednesday, the rules were set and the trash talking had begun.

The seventh annual ESPN.com fantasy poker draft features 10 teams and includes a new manager this year, Josh Brikis. Brikis has more than $1.4 million in career earnings and numerous appearances on ESPN's WSOP broadcasts. Brikis, along with Bernard Lee, made a WSOP final table in 2011. His expertise in fantasy poker has yet to be determined, but as he often does at the table, he talks a big game.

The rest of the owners have all participated in the past. This year's owners included professional poker players Daniel Negreanu, Dwyte Pilgrim, Eric Baldwin, Brikis and Bernard Lee; Gary Wise and myself from ESPN.com; Bluff editor-in-chief Lance Bradley; Chops from WickedChopsPoker; and PokerNews contributor and 2010 fantasy poker champion Chad Holloway. It's a group of people who follow the game's every step and it's no surprise that when the draft is done, we all feel like we have enough players left to go a few more rounds.

The teams are below, along with some analysis. We'll update the standings in future blogs, but feel free to weigh in the comments section and tell us who we got right and which players we've omitted. We know we're not going to make all the right picks, but that's part of the fun of it.

Best of luck to all the teams and all the players at the WSOP. Each team can make one add/drop as the WSOP progresses.

My thoughts: The first round showed a little bit more of the experience among this group than in the past. Knowing that the big buy-in and mixed-game players are the most valuable, the group collectively grabbed the best of the best who will be at the felt day in and day out. Negreanu may have acted a bit surprised going No. 1 overall, but I can't imagine that many would have any issue with Kid Poker at the top of the pack given his dedication to capturing WSOP gold.

Best value: Holloway -- Mercier. Mercier could've gone first overall. He could've gone second overall. The fact that Chad picked him up at third is a win for his team no matter what. This isn't saying that Negreanu or Ivey aren't going to produce, but for the past three years in Vegas, Mercier has two bracelets and 14 cashes, five of which have come in the double-points earning $10,000 buy-in events. If Holloway wins this competition, there's nothing left to say but "#whenwillitend."

Biggest stretch: Baldwin -- Billirakis. Not one player in this round should really be considered a stretch, but given that this is the format of the article, I'll go with Billirakis. At the fourth-overall pick, the two-time WSOP bracelet winner may have been a little overvalued. I said "may." He has one bracelet win, three final tables and eight WSOP cashes over the past two years. Excelling in all mixed games, he'll have more opportunities to go deep given the smaller field sizes and if he wasn't selected at No. 4, I couldn't imagine him dropping further than the early part of the second round.

My thoughts: The young, mixed-game talent continued to get swept up in this round. Led by newly endorsed Team PartyPoker Rettenmaier, this group will collectively play a ton this summer and those are the guys you want to take early on. ElkY, Alaei, Clements, Bonomo and Seiver are always ones to watch in the high buy-in events and the ever consistent Victor Ramdin just knows how to navigate through deep WSOP fields. He may not have the biggest scores, but he's often in the money in Vegas.

Best value: Bradley -- Kelly. From crushing online poker as "djk123" to winning his first WSOP bracelet in 2010, everything Dan Kelly has attempted in the poker world has been greeted with success. Earlier this year, Kelly finished third at the WPT's L.A. Poker Classic and made two final tables in huge-buy in events at the Aussie Millions. The bankroll is there and Kelly is poised to come through for Bradley's team.

Biggest stretch: Feldman -- Hellmuth. I was really torn with this pick. For those that are wondering how choosing the all-time leading WSOP bracelet holder, the man who had three runner-up finishes in 2011 and was the impetus for Phillips' team winning last year could've given me some troubles, hear me out. Not many expected Hellmuth to do what he did last year … at all. Not many ever thought that he could compete on that level again. By taking him here, I'm banking on the fact that Hellmuth still has more left in the tank. Nobody wants a bracelet more than him. No, not even you. If motivation is the true key to his game, I think I made the right decision. We'll see.

My thoughts: If you put these 10 players at a table in Vegas, spectators would think it would be one of the most talented lineups around. From "BoostedJ" to triple crown winner Cody, the collective third round has more than $15 million in WSOP tournament winnings and all but three of them (Lamb, Mizrachi and Cody) are looking for their first bracelet.

Best value: Pilgrim -- Deeb. Shaun Deeb offered poker players everywhere a clinic during the recently completed Spring Championship of Online Poker. After earning two previous WCOOP bracelets (2008, 2010), Deeb won an astounding four SCOOP events in May, giving him a record-setting five for his career. He has earned more than $3 million from online play, had six WSOP cashes in 2011 and is only missing one thing form his glowing résumé -- a bracelet. Pilgrim made a great all-around pick here in the third round.

Biggest stretch: Brikis -- Racener. Racener may have been the one pick during this round that I felt could slip a bit further in the draft. The 2010 WSOP main event runner-up made two final tables in 2011 and will definitely play in a ton of events, but when players like Matt Glantz and Alexander Kostritsyn are taken right behind him, it appears that Brikis could've waited for another round before making Racener his choice. That said, Racener is 14th on the WSOP all-time money list and has the mindset to play his best every day.

My thoughts: The owners made some interesting decisions during this round. A few players who had primarily had only no-limit hold 'em success were taken in Trickett, Somerville and Moorman and given the huge field sizes of those events, those players have strong tendencies to be booms or busts. That said, those three will also be at the tables a ton and have the ability to cash in big against the weaker no-limit hold 'em competition. On the up side of the round, Baker, Mizzi, Schulman, Lisandro and Chiu usually play everything. That leaves us Galfond, who I'll discuss below.

Best value: Negreanu -- Mizzi. $4.4 million in career live tournament earnings stemming from six straight years of six figures in tournament success has separated Mizzi from the rest of the poker world since 2007. Negreanu found great value here due to his propensity to be at the felt at all times, all summer. He has 19 lifetime WSOP cashes including five from and a 95th-place finish in the main event.

Biggest stretch: Lee -- Galfond. The question and debate about Galfond is simply how much he'll play at the WSOP this summer. Given that doubt and his tendency to spend his time at the cash games and away from tournament trail, this was a risky pick here. All that said, it might end up being the best pick of the round. There's little doubt from anyone that Galfond, who won his first bracelet in 2008, can be a dominating factor at the WSOP. The question is how much he'll play.

My thoughts: There are some great picks in this round and it shows which owners got creative in their tactics by looking for the true diamonds at this point of the draft that could've been considered earlier on. Rast, the only double bracelet winner from 2011, might be a real steal at 48 and there might not be a hotter player on the planet than Steve O'Dywer.

Best value: Wise -- Duhamel. While you may think Wise took Duhamel based on the fact that he's running over the felt in 2012, you also need to consider that Duhamel will be playing the $1 million buy-in event and that can provide him with points that many of the other players drafted won't even be considered for.

Biggest stretch: Holloway -- Gross. I don't think you can discount any pick from this round, but I'm going to go with Gross, as ridiculous as it might sound. How could I put "gboro" in this category? Well, compared to the rest of the group, he hasn't been putting in his time at the felt. Now, that might mean that he's more refreshed and ready to play, but that also could work against him.

My thoughts: Bracelet winners Kelly, Soulier, Lunkin, Kravchenko and Bari highlight a sixth round filled with talent. Almost all of these players are good for a four-five cash effort with final tables mixed in, but the real question might be my pick of Blom. How will the cash game legend known as "Isildur1" fare in his WSOP debut? If he plays as well as he did during SCOOP, I'll be extremely happy.

Best value: Brikis -- Bari. He's the best player in the world. Just ask him. After capturing his first bracelet in 2011, Bari cashed three more times, giving him a total of 14 over the past four years. Bari has all the experience in the world, discusses the game daily with other top minds and can say the right things to get players off their games. It's a winning combination that could pay dividends for Brikis' team this summer.

Biggest stretch: Lee -- Marchese. Everyone expected the 2010 CardPlayer Player of the Year to break out at the WSOP a year ago, but three cashes didn't quite match the hype. Can he do it this year? Marchese is a proven winner with $2.5 million in tournament earnings, but if his head gets out of it early on in the Series, it might lead to a repeat of 2011.

My thoughts: Whatever round Allen Kessler is selected is a good round. The owners focused on consistent performers in this round and nobody shouts consistency more than Kessler who has 23 lifetime WSOP cashes. He hasn't been able to capture the big one, but he'll get his fantasy owners a lot of points by making it into the money, which he did nine times in 2010.

Best value: Baldwin -- Kassela. How quick Kassela fell out of the hearts of these owners after his two-bracelet run in 2010. Kassela established himself as a mixed-game beast to the tournament world during his six-cash WSOP two years ago, but Vegas regulars already knew what type of results he could produce. Baldwin is sold on the 2010 output again and considering he's put in some time at the felt with him in the past, that's a solid recommendation.

Biggest stretch: Chops -- Lindgren. The biggest challenge in ranking Lindgren this year was to understand how much he's going to be playing this summer. The fact that Negreanu, one of his good friends, didn't take him early in the draft, may be a signal that "E-Dog" might not be around the Rio as much this year and in the past. That negativity put aside, Lindgren's ability might not be exceeded by any of the other players selected during this round and if he does put in the time, Chops made a great pick.

My thoughts: This was an impressive final round by the group. A few of these guys, like Smith and Dempsey, really just fly under the radar while putting up great numbers. Brikis and Pilgrim obviously had to take themselves for the confidence aspect of owning themselves. Hastings and Arieh are smart plays and Mortensen leads all in chip stacking design ability. Unfortunately, that does not count as a fantasy poker category. I still like my choice.

Best value: Lee -- Cunningham. Norman Chad is probably yelling somewhere that it took this long for Allen Cunningham to make his appearance in the draft order. He's Allen Cunningham! The five-time WSOP bracelet winner had a rough going over the past two years with only three cashes, but he's cashed twice already in May and still one of the most brilliant minds in the game.

Biggest stretch: Pilgrim -- Pilgrim, Brikis -- Brikis. No, you can't hate the fact that both of them went with the home team with their final picks, but you can argue that from a fantasy perspective, neither of these guys are going to be playing every $10,000 event during the WSOP. I know they're both ready to prove me wrong and for the fun of the competition, I'd love to see it happen.

There you go. Ten teams and 80 players down and so many more talented individuals not selected. It will interesting to see who the add/drops will be and what player not drafted will prove us all wrong. I'm sure the 2012 edition of Ben Lamb is just waiting to laugh at all of us as they make their way to final table after final table.

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
then:
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, 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 shorthanded events (with the exception being the four-handed event), eight in heads-up (5-8th will be awarded fifth, etc.).