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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.
The World Series of Poker is officially in the rearview mirror, and some big tournaments are coming up in Europe. Yup, it must be August. The poker tournament scene slows down significantly for most of the months of July and August, but with September right around the corner, poker fans will get their fill of action with majors happening on a daily basis overseas. One of the biggest tournaments of August came on its final day, an HK$2 million buy-in event in Macau, China, that featured some of the biggest stars in the game, including the reigning No. 1 player, Phil Ivey. Ivey made his first cash since the WSOP in this event, finishing in eighth. For the second consecutive rankings, all panelists gave Ivey the No. 1 spot.
John Juanda and Sam Trickett fell out of the top 10 earlier this year, but both returned this month at No. 9 and 10, respectively. Both players also joined Ivey at the final table in Macau (Trickett seventh, Juanda in the top five), but considering the rankings were completed before this latest tournament, they earned their way back because of their other recent results. Trickett's ticket back to the top 10 was his second-place finish at the Big One for One drop worth $10 million. The result may not have been what Trickett truly desired, but he made an impact on the viewership as American poker fans were finally able to see a glimpse of what makes an elite pro. Juanda's eighth-place finish at the EPT Barcelona main event, along with his main event cash, was enough to put him back in the top 10. Juanda's tournament record for the past year was lacking results, but over the past few weeks he has begun to pad his stats once again.
Jason Mercier and Michael Mizrachi retained their spots in second and third despite quiet months at the felt. The same cannot be said for the player who makes his debut at No. 4, Marvin Rettenmaier. The German phenom became the first player to win back-to-back World Poker Tour events (WPT Championship and WPT Merit Cyprus Classic) and is currently strong competition for 2012 Player of the Year honors. Rettenmaier's stock continues to rise, and it's no surprise that PartyPoker picked him to endorse the company earlier this year. He has $1.9 million in tournament earnings in 2012.
The final player making his debut this month is Dan Smith. The No. 6-ranked player has won five events in 2012, including his latest title in the Super High Roller event at EPT Barcelona. Smith has two seven-figure cashes this year, and although he didn't win a WSOP bracelet this summer, his five cashes were worth more than $400,000. Throughout his career, Smith has titles on the Heartland Poker Tour, EPT and at the Aussie Millions. He also earned more than $1.4 million through online tournament play.
Falling out of the rankings this month were John Monnette, Eugene Katchalov and Steve O'Dwyer. Out of those three, O'Dwyer's return to the European felt may be just what he needed to get him back in the rankings. He made his first post-WSOP cash at EPT Barcelona, finishing third in the six-max turbo event for $48,028. Bryn Kenney won that event for his live tournament win in 2012.
Other notable victories this month came from Tony Gregg at the WPT Parx, Josh Hale at the WPT's Legends of Poker and Kyle Cartwright at the WSOPC Biloxi. Cartwright's win was his second WSOPC main event title.
September will be filled with plenty of major live events such as WSOP Europe, the Partouche Poker Tour main event and WPT Borgata, but perhaps the most anticipated event for many players is the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP). Many players have relocated just to play in the online tournament series, and records are expected to be broken once again in 2012.
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 August's top 10:
On the bubble
The bubble boy this month was Antonio Esfandiari. After winning the largest prize in the history of the game, Esfandiari cashed in the main event, earning $24,808 for a 501st-place finish. It won't take much for Esfandiari to put him over the top and onto this list, and if he's able to put up a few scores in Europe, expect to see his face above this section next month. Daniel Negreanu also came close to the No. 10 spot this month after cashing in the EPT Barcelona main event. Negreanu cashed in the main event for the second consecutive year, but even with his five total cashes it was far from the WSOP he, and probably everyone on this panel, anticipated. Negreanu has the talent to be in the top five, and a big cash can definitely swing the panel in that direction. "The Original" David Baker had an incredible summer and finished behind Esfandiari in the voting. He won a WSOP bracelet, made five final tables and cashed eight times, including a 56th-place finish in the main event. It's been clear for a while that he can play all varieties and disciplines of the game and he's on pace to earn more than $1 million on the tournament felt for the first time in his career. Current WSOP Player of the Year leader and main event final table member Greg Merson also received substantial consideration after his memorable WSOP. Merson's cash game abilities may exceed his tournament ones, which is a very scary thing to consider given his string of recent success. Others receiving substantial consideration include Ilari Sahamies, Steve O'Dwyer, Marc-Andre Ladoucer, Erik Cajelais, John Monnette, Viktor Blom, Jonathan Duhamel, Phil Galfond, Joseph Cheong, Shaun Buchanan, Justin Bonomo and Kyle Julius.
Welman: It has been a long time since we've had a top 10 with neither Eugene Katchalov and Erik Seidel on the list. While it may take some getting used to, I think the presence of new less established pros such as Marvin Rettenmaier and Dan Smith goes to show you that the panel really is looking at who is succeeding right now and not just listing the biggest names in the game.
I voted for Greg Merson to make this list back in July and I wouldn't be surprised if he makes the ranks this year. However, we always put pressure on the October Nine members to prove they are not flukes, so I don't think we'll see any crack these ranks unless they put on a performance somewhere besides the main event.
Feldman: I have two major thoughts on this month's list. First, I think that Jason Mercier is too high. This year hasn't been his best, and while he's talented enough to take down any game at any time, he's probably more deserving of a No. 4 or 5 spot this month. I mentioned repeatedly about the debacle on this list in which Erik Seidel continued to be in the top 10 despite no positive results after an incredible six-month run on the high roller scene. The situation with Mercier isn't the same. I don't expect Mercier to drop out or down to the bottom half anytime soon. His hot streak has been for the past four years, and we can't overlook that as we make these rankings each month.
The second thought is on Dan Smith. Lance Bradley has championed Smith's case for months, and it's about time the panel caught on. I mean, it only took $3.4 million in earnings this year, five titles, including three in the span of two weeks at the EPT Grand Final, and five WSOP cashes for all of us to jump on the Dan Smith bandwagon. Now that he's officially on everyone's radar, expect a lot more attention to the pro's success in the coming months.
I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how the major events in Europe shape this list over the next month and who will emerge as the top performers from WSOP Europe. Knowing that there are many events to consider when ranking the players at the end of September, I think we'll see a few new names on the top 10 -- and that's really what this list is all about.