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Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Nuts: Negreanu returns with APAC win


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 composed of ESPN.com's poker contributors (Bernard Lee and myself), ESPNDeportes.com poker editor Nahuel Ponce, Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley, senior writer Tim Fiorvanti and information manager Kevin Mathers, WSOP.com managing editor Jessica Welman, PokerNews editor-in-chief Donnie Peters, World Poker Tour's Eric Ramsey and Pocketfives' Dan Cypra.

From Melbourne to Florida to the virtual felt, April offered the pros plenty of opportunities for big money left and right and three new faces are part of the top 10 in this month's rankings.

The April highlight for many has been the debut of the WSOP Asia Pacific (APAC) and the additional five bracelets up for grabs in 2013. When the jewelry is up for grabs, the biggest names in the world are sure to attend and the Crown Casino played host to one of the most talked about events of the year. Phil Ivey's reign at No. 1 was in question after months of mediocre online results and a disappointing live tournament run. Doubt had settled into the minds of the panel and it was clear that it was time for the world's best player to make something -- anything -- happen. Ivey came through with a win in the mixed game event at APAC, albeit over a small field of only 81. Feel that his win isn't impressive enough? Take a look at the names that entered that event. Forget the buy-in and prize pool, to beat that field is a great accomplishment and, with his ninth WSOP bracelet, Ivey retained the top spot.

At the final table of Ivey's victory was Daniel Negreanu, whose quest for a fifth bracelet was halted with a fourth-place finish. Just a few days later, Negreanu was over the disappointment as he rebounded to defeat the strong field of 405 in the APAC main event. The victory resonated with the panel as Negreanu, who hasn't been ranked since last May, returns at No. 3. Negreanu spoke on the latest Poker Edge about his plans for the summer and, as the current leader in the WSOP Player of the Year race, he is poised to be as active as ever in Las Vegas.

Jim Collopy, Bryan Piccioli and Aaron Lim earned the three other bracelets from Melbourne and out of that group, Lim's efforts resonated most with the panelists, earning him a spot on the bubble. The Australian has been on an absolute tear as of late with three six-figure scores over the past two months. APAC's non-bracelet High Roller 50,000 Australian Dollar (US$51,000) buy-in event attracted 44 entries and featured a final table filled with star power. Philipp Gruissem defeated Joseph Cheong heads-up for the win and the US$863,386 pay day, but it was Cheong who kept the momentum for the rest of the month, ultimately leading him to his debut on this list at No. 10. Cheong left APAC for Manila and captured the Manila Millions title for $1.3 million, enough to move him over the $8 million mark in tournament earnings for his career.

Marvin Rettenmaier held strong at No. 2 with his ninth-place finish in the pot-limit Omaha event while last month's No. 3, Sam Trickett, dropped to sixth. Besides Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth was the biggest mover this month as he jumped from eighth to fourth with only one cash at APAC. Unlike Dan Shak, who fell out of the rankings after just one month and a fifth-place finish in the pot-limit Omaha event at APAC, Paul Volpe stayed in fifth place with two strong efforts on the WPT and a deep run in an EPT Berlin side event.

The star of the WPT this season, Matt Salsberg, makes his debut this month at No. 7. Salsberg has three final tables, one win and six top-13 finishes during Season XI and has officially transitioned from being considered a celebrity on the felt (for his work on Showtime's "Weeds") to simply another player on a course to poker stardom. Tied with Salsberg at No. 7 is Scott Seiver, who made two final tables at EPT Berlin (third and eighth). Seiver has nine cashes so far in 2013, with his smallest result a $15,110 score.

Some of the other big winners in April include WSOP Circuit champions Kevin Saul (Foxwoods), John Bowman (Cherokee) and Blair Hinkle (Council Bluffs), last year's October Niner Jeremy Ausmus who won the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza II for $121,853, WPT champions Kevin Eyster, Chanracy Khun and Michael Linster, and Daniel-Gai Pidun who defeated a field of 912 players at EPT Berlin. Eyster also recently won $333,680 and his third FTOPS title win a win in the $2,100 High Roller event. He defeated Sami "LarsLuzak" Kelopuro heads-up.

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 March's top 10:

On the bubble

Talk about a big bubble. The panel had a tough time determining the final few spots and as result, this month's bubble is filled with some of 2013's best. Antonio Esfandiari bubbled the WSOP APAC main event final table as well as these rankings. The game's all-time earnings leader (thanks to One Drop), has $353,901 in earnings so far this year. … Dan Shak's tenure in the top 10 lasted only one month and even with his APAC final table, he fell out of favor with the panel. Shak, still considered an amateur, also took some time away from the felt over the past month. "Too much work and beautiful weather equals don't want to be indoors," said Shak on Twitter. He'll be playing a pretty full WSOP schedule, where he cashed seven times in 2012. … Michael Mizrachi hasn't cashed in a tournament since February and his win at WSOP Africa, but his record over the past nine years is enough to constantly keep him in this conversation. With the WSOP ahead, Mizrachi's name is sure to reappear on many ballots next month. #&133; Jason Mercier found the winner's circle in the first week of May in the 2,000 euro Chinese Poker side-event at the EPT Grand Final. Will it be enough to push him out of this group next month? It seems unlikely, but possible. … Not only did David Sands finished second in the WPT Seminole High Roller and 20th in the WPT Jacksonville main event, but he also got married. He continues to sit on the bubble despite $1.5 million in earnings this year and will have his eyes on earning a SCOOP title in a few weeks. … Viktor Blom's $2 million upswing over the past 30 days has helped his cause, but the true cash game specialist hasn't entered the top 10 yet. His swings are substantial and that may continually limit his potential. … Alexander Kostritsyn, Phil Galfond and Tom Dwan also received support after their strong online cash game efforts so far this year. … Tobias Reinkemeier, Aaron Lim, EPT Berlin Highroller champion Griffin Benger, Mike Watson, Dan Smith, Gruissem and Jonathan Duhamel also received consideration this month.

Final thoughts

Bradley:Nobody has had a more mercurial relationship with The Nuts than Daniel Negreanu. He's been as high as No. 2 and some months he's been nowhere near the voting, never mind the top 10. That said, his performance at WSOP APAC has once again put the poker world's spotlight squarely on him. It's interesting to me that the WSOP APAC and WSOP Europe main event champions, Negreanu and Hellmuth, are both on this list but reigning WSOP main event champ Greg Merson, who also won the $10,000 six-max event last summer, isn't on the list - those are two of the toughest no-limit hold 'em events to win.

Feldman: This month was tough on me as a member of the panel. There have been so many outstanding efforts as of late that giving everyone the credit that they deserve is a challenge. The one player that sparks the most debate in my mind is Vanessa Selbst and there is zero doubt that she's among the top 10 in the world. That said, she's been quiet for a few months and watching players like Shak, Lim, Mizrachi, Esfandiari, Mike Watson and basically anyone else mentioned above on the bubble miss is frustrating. At what point do we say, hey, it's been three months with no scores, time to move on? I guess it's a good debate and considering this list is entirely subjective, the exercise is pretty much that.

Salsberg's debut at No. 7 is pretty debatable and I'm struggling to figure out how Joseph Cheong, who has been quietly crushing the tournament arena for years now, falls behind the WPT wiz. Additionally, if we think about the necessity of being a well-rounded player, Salsberg hasn't proved it yet. I do believe he's excelling as a tournament player, but I would've preferred to see him come in at 10, rather than tied with one of the game's annually dominant players in Scott Seiver and ahead of Selbst and Cheong.

The next set of rankings is sure to be an interesting one. May's schedule includes the WPT Championship and High Roller, the start of the WSOP, the EPT Grand Final, the Circuit National Championship and the Spring Championship of Online Poker. Plus, now we get to see the true potential of Nevada's online poker market. It's going to be a very busy month for the industry and for the top 10, it's time to produce.