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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.
Phil Hellmuth wow. If you watched any of the live WSOP Europe main event final table coverage (which you can watch on demand here), you probably were able to see what makes him an elite no-limit hold 'em player. As all the hole cards were displayed at the end of each contested hand, we were able to see that Hellmuth's style varied greatly depending on the situation and the competitor. He was able to make strong reads and laydowns and in the end, pocketed his 13th WSOP bracelet and jumped to the top of the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year standings. When it came to these rankings, it wasn't if Hellmuth would make the list, but where he'd end up. Some panelists felt that his win earned him the top spot and others felt that when you look at the big picture, Hellmuth still isn't a top-five player. Hellmuth jumped up four spots this month to No. 3 and the highest he's ever been on this list.
It seems that each month there's a different player in Hellmuth's shoes, or, more specifically, whoever is ranked No. 3. The player in that spot will always have two major hurdles to climb and perhaps this month, those hurdles became even higher. Phil Ivey didn't have a strong WSOP Europe coming off a $822,941 score just weeks prior, but does he really need to cash in every event to maintain his spot? The answer is clearly no and unless something dramatically changes the tone of the panel, it will be hard to remove Ivey from No. 1. Hurdle No. 2 is Jason Mercier, and for a couple months this year, it appeared that Mercier was slipping. Not anymore. Mercier capped off an impressive month with an eighth-place finish at the WSOP Europe main event. In addition to his four live cashes, he also dominated WCOOP with four cashes and one victory worth more than a quarter million dollars. Mercier is back on track and that means a major blocker for anyone wishing to jump into the top two of these rankings.
Michael Mizrachi nearly added another bracelet to his résumé at WSOPE, but finished in third in the 5,000 euro pot-limit Omaha event. Despite that run, Mizrachi fell one spot to No. 4. Dan Smith moved up one spot thanks to his deep run at the 2012 Partouche Poker Tour main event; and at No. 6 is the only player to make this list for the very first time, Antonio Esfandiari. There may have been a difference of nearly $18 million in prize money between his first and second bracelet win this year, but money aside, Esfandiari's third career WSOP victory was just another reminder to everyone about his talents. Until Hellmuth's victory, Esfandiari was also leading the WSOP Player of the Year race thanks to his eight cashes (two wins, three final tables). As Esfandiari moved from the bubble to No. 6, Bertrand Grospellier dropped from No. 8 to unranked this month.
Some of the biggest winners this month came from online play and the World Championship of Online Poker. Two players who have appeared in the top 10, Eugene Katchalov and Dan Kelly, won events, as did top pros Darren Elias and George Danzer. On the live felt, Greg Raymer won his second Heartland Poker Tour event of the year in Missouri and Yorane Kerignard (Malta), Benjamin Hamnett (Borgata) and Matt Salsberg (Paris) all earned World Poker Tour titles.
October's poker schedule ends in a big way with the WSOP main event final table, but before then, there's plenty of action to keep an eye on. Coming in December, FTOPS returns. Pre-Black Friday, winners of FTOPS had a strong place on this list and it will be interesting to see how the panel reacts to the high-stakes online game at FTP once again.
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 September's top 10:
On the bubble
The bubble boy this month was John Monnette. The live cash game pro made the money three more times at WSOPE and nearly captured his third bracelet in the shootout event. Monnette's run at the player of the year title may have stalled, but there's plenty more to come from the man Doyle Brunson says is good "at every game." Grospellier's run on the top 10 has ended for now, but with 10 WCOOP cashes and two top-25 cashes at WSOPE, his status will remain uncertain for the near future. Katchalov spent most of the year in the top 10, but even a WCOOP win and a 40th-place finish in the WSOPE main event couldn't get him back. Daniel Negreanu is also on the bubble for a second straight month. Negreanu dedicated himself to the WCOOP grind and earned nine cashes with one final table in the $10,300 8-Game event that Mercier won. He followed those scores up with three cashes in Cannes and now has $1.6 million in tournament earnings in 2012. The last major bubble boy was David Baker, who, like Negreanu, was in this paragraph a month ago. Baker made a deep run in the six-handed WSOP Europe event, finishing 14th. Baker will finish the WSOP Player of the Year race in seventh. Others receiving substantial consideration include Greg Merson, Dan O'Brien, Jonathan Duhamel, Shaun Deeb, Viktor Blom, Phil Galfond, Joseph Cheong and Steve O'Dwyer.
Bradley: Hellmuth does it again. Grabs himself another bracelet and moves himself up the rankings in a big, big way. Blows my mind that there are people, top-ranked players even, who believe the bracelet is the ultimate measuring stick for tournament players and yet they still find a way to discount what Hellmuth did. It's hard to believe that you can look at the overall field in the WSOP Europe main event and not be impressed by what Hellmuth did. I'm not sure we'll ever see the day where he displaces Ivey at No. 1 but he certainly needs to be in the conversation for this list each and every month.
I think Selbst at No. 8 is vastly underrated and I have to wonder what more she could do to be in the conversation with Mercier for No. 2 on this list. Esfandiari has had an amazing year with two bracelets, but I'm not sure he's had the kind of consistency over the past two years or so to warrant a ranking so high. Putting him ahead of both Selbst and Rettenmaier seems to a bit of an overstatement in my opinion.
Feldman: I probably say this most months, but I really like the way the rankings played out this month. I was ready to move Mercier down from second on my list, but his WSOPE and WCOOP performances really made it impossible to drop him. He may not have his million in earnings that he's managed for the past four years, but looking at the big picture, I don't really think there's anyone, besides Ivey, whose game is more well-rounded at the current time. I'm sure that statement can be debated at length.
Hellmuth moving to No. 3 is appropriate and really, it amazes me that after Hellmuth's win people still took to Twitter to talk bad about the man's game. I'm not sure what else he'd need to do in order to sway that portion of the population besides winning big on a televised cash game. In any case, his ranking is deserved in my mind.
Two final, final thoughts. First, Dan Smith is incredible and I think Gary's take on his success is spot on. So many talented players are under the radar as a result of lacking the consistent publicized scores. Smith is out of that shadow for good. Second, on Esfandiari, sixth might be too high as a debut rank, but who can say he doesn't belong? From his cash game chops to tournament dominance year after year, the fact that it took him this long to make the top 10 was surprising.