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Player of the Year race taking shape

6/17/2014
WSOP

As of Tuesday morning, a total of 32 bracelets had been awarded at the 2014 WSOP. It's the unofficial midway point of the Las Vegas events and yet the race for WSOP Player of the Year is really just beginning.

The first three weeks of the WSOP established the race and competitors, but the next three weeks will define it. Among the events still on the schedule are three $5,000 buy-in events, six $10,000 buy-in events, plus the $50,000 Players Championship and the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop. All of those should have a substantial impact on the Player of the Year race as a win in any event with a buy-in higher than $10,000 is worth about 280 points and it's going to take roughly 900 points to win the award.

The WSOP Player of the Year scoring system, which is based on the BLUFF Player of the Year ranking system, rewards strong finishes. A quick look at the top 10 shows eight players who have won bracelets this year, including current leader George Danzer and the three players closest to him: Justin Bonomo, Brock Parker and Brandon Shack-Harris.

The only two players within the top 10 who have yet to grab a bracelet are Richard Ashby and JC Tran. Ashby has three cashes, including a runner-up finish in the $10,000 Omaha high-low event and a fourth-place finish in the $10,000 HORSE event. Tran also has three cashes, bookended by a pair of fourth-place finishes, one in the $25,000 Mixed Max and another in the $10,000 six-handed no-limit hold 'em event that wrapped up late Monday night.

History shows us that the race really begins to get interesting at about this point. This time last year, Daniel Negreanu was leading the race he would eventually win. There's a major difference this year though -- WSOP Asia-Pacific, where Negreanu picked up a huge chunk of points before the Las Vegas events began -- isn't until October. Two years ago, Greg Merson wasn't even in the discussion at this point. He'd go on to win the $10,000 six-max to make him a threat, then win the main event to earn the title.

Danzer is just over halfway to the points goal with 456.20. Last month he finished second in the PokerStars SCOOP Leaderboard (behind Calvin Anderson) and showed he can play any game on the board. Still, if the eventual Player of the Year winner isn't going to come from the current leaders, who could emerge from behind them to grab the title? Let's take a look at some of the players who could make a run.

Whatever Happened To ...

Phil Ivey? Is it really possible that the man most consider the best overall player in the world has only one WSOP cash so far this summer? Surely this will change, and if he gets hot like he did in 2012 when he made five final tables in 12 days, he could easily make a huge push.

Marco Johnson? Considered by most players to be an extremely tough mixed game player, Johnson has yet to cash this year. This after he did so seven times last year, including a win in the $2,500 six-handed limit hold 'em event. Worth noting: His seven cashes last year came in seven different variants.

Don't Sleep On ...

Calvin Anderson - Anderson won his first bracelet on Sunday to creep into the top 20. Just a few weeks ago he won the PokerStars SCOOP Player of the Series title. He's had a few deep runs already, but the confidence he gets from winning one might just propel him to become the first double-bracelet winner of the 2014 WSOP.

John Hennigan - Players who have played a lot against Hennigan speak at length about how tough he is at all games. He's a high-stakes cash game regular who usually plays only the $10,000 buy-in events, but last week he finished runner-up in a $1,500 no-limit hold 'em event. He's also made a couple of Day 2s without cashing, so another strong run isn't out of the question.

Two Big Names

Daniel Negreanu - He's not in the top 20 and hasn't won a bracelet this summer, but you can't keep him out of this conversation. Negreanu currently sits 27th thanks to four cashes, including his runner-up finish in the $10,000 lowball event in the opening week of the Series. He's one win away from leading the race.

Phil Hellmuth - Nobody has accumulated more WSOP Player of the Year points over the past three years than Phil Hellmuth. He finished runner-up for the title in 2011 and 2012, but was nowhere near contention in 2013. He does have three cashes already, including a runner-up finish in the $1,500 razz, and is currently 43rd. Another hot streak like he had in 2011 could put him back near the top.

Even though history shows us the winner probably isn't somebody in the top 10 right now, it's hard to discount any of the players within striking distance. There's no reason to believe that Danzer, Bonomo or Parker couldn't grab a second bracelet or put up a deep run in the main event. Keep in mind that the eventual main event winner is going to walk away with 500 points. A bracelet win and a couple of strong finishes, coupled with a deep main event run late into July or possibly even November, could put somebody else over the top.