Top-10 players to watch at WSOPE
By Gary Trask
The World Series of Poker Europe gets underway from London later this week and while the event still doesn't garner the attention that its sister WSOP event in Las Vegas gets each summer, it still manages to draw the biggest names in the game. In fact, according to WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel, the first event of the WSOP Europe already had 300 players signed up as of Monday.
This year there will be four bracelet events overall – including the £10,000 Main Event that begins on Sept. 26 – as well as two other specialty events – a Million-Dollar Freeroll and the inaugural Caesars Cup, which is a Ryder Cup-type team event that will pit European players against North Americans.
So as the third annual WSOP Europe gets set to kickoff and the November Nine in Las Vegas creeps closer and closer, here's a look at 10 players who are worth keeping a eye on in London during the next few weeks.
10. Phil Hellmuth
Anytime there's a WSOP bracelet event at stake and the Poker Brat is in the field, Hellmuth is a player to watch. His continued quest to win bracelet No. 12 becomes more and more heated the longer he goes without winning one. Will this be the event where he finally gets it? Either way, you can bet Phil will manage to entertain.
9. Andy Bloch
Bloch continually leads the list of the best players never to have won a bracelet, and for good reason. So it would be ironic to see him finally win that coveted bracelet at WSOP Europe. It also wouldn't be a complete surprise to see him pull it off if you consider he already has three-career cashes at WSOP Europe, including a final table in the £5,000 Pot Limit Omaha back in 2007 and a 23rd place finish in last year's Main Event.
8. Annette Obrestad
The girl known as 'Annette_15' burst onto the poker scene in 2007 when she not only became the very first WSOP Europe Main Event champion, but at the same time became the youngest bracelet winner in WSOP history at 18 years young as well as the youngest Main Event champ. She also became the first woman to win a WSOP Main Event and pocketed a quick $2 million for her efforts. The Norwegian online sensation has yet to play in a WSOP in Las Vegas since she's not of age yet (she turns 21 on Friday so she will be next year) and she hasn't contended for a WSOP Europe bracelet since her breakthrough victory in 2007. But it will be tough not to keep an eye on her in London considering her history with the event.
7. All November Niners
Because of the final table delay in America's version of the WSOP, WSOP Europe presents a unique challenge. It's not often you can win a bracelet in one country while you're still in competition for a second bracelet in another, but that's what the members of this year's November Nine will be trying to do. As of earlier this week, Phil Ivey, Joe Cada, Antoine Saout and James Akenhead were planning on being in London while Darvin Moon and Jeff Shulman were not expected to make the trip. The status of the other three players was unknown. It's got to be a strange feeling to be playing on a big stage when you're at the same time preparing for the biggest final table of your life. But there is one guy who managed to handle the dilemma perfectly last year. And that lead us to…
6. Ivan Demidov
Speaking of November Niners who play well at WSOP Europe, Demidov became the first player in history to make the final table for both events in the same year last year thanks to his third-place finish at WSOP Europe. The Russian, of course, went on to take second in November to Peter Eastgate in the WSOP. He was surprisingly quiet at this year's WSOP, earning just one cash for $2,808, so it will be worth noting whether or nor he can return to form on a WSOP setting and make some noise this year in London.
5. Vitaly Lunkin
This past summer, Lunkin came to the forefront in Las Vegas when he not only won the special $40,000 No Limit event, but went on to take second in the $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha event and fourth in the prestigious $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event. He added two other cashes to boot, to win more than $2.7 million. It will be interesting to see if Lunkin can take a page out of the book of his fellow countryman Demidov and use his profitable WSOP as a springboard to a big WSOP Europe.
4. Jeffery Lisandro
He only has one WSOP Europe cash in his career (7th in last year's H.O.R.S.E. event), but he is unquestionably the hottest WSOP player in the field. Lisandro had a WSOP that most players can only dream about this summer as he ran away with the Player of the Year race by winning three bracelets and securing six cashes overall. For the time being, Lisandro will have a bull's-eye on his back whenever and wherever he sits down at a poker table.
3. Daniel Negreanu
One of the players that Lisandro outlasted in that 2009 Player of the Year race was Kid Poker, who had a brilliant WSOP. Negreanu had a 2009-best eight cashes this summer. He fizzled out in the Main Event, however, something he blamed on a bad case of the flu that he came down with on Day 1. If Negreanu can get things clicking in London like they were early on for him in Las Vegas this summer, he's a certain threat to win a WSOP Europe bracelet, especially if you consider he cashed in three out of four events last year, including a final table appearance and fifth-place finish in the Main Event.
2. Johnny Juanda
Last year's WSOP Europe Main Event final table was one of the ages. The first day began play at 1:32 p.m. and nearly 22 hours later at 10:32 a.m. the next morning, Juanda became the first U.S. player to win a WSOP bracelet on foreign soil when he was crowned the new champ. The 19 hours and 10 minutes of actual play shattered the previous record – set at the $1,500 Razz championship in 2005 – for the longest event in WSOP history by three hours and 10 minutes. Since that epic victory, Juanda has quietly remained one of the hottest players in the world. One month after his WSOP Europe triumph, he took second at the EPT's European Poker Championships. He then won the $20,000 Poker After Dark event in Las Vegas in March and at this year's WSOP in Vegas he made four final tables. Can Johnny defend his title in London? We will soon find out.
1. Phil Ivey
Much like the "other Phil" on this list up at No. 10, Ivey is a player to watch no matter where he is playing. But this year, the Phil Ivey Story is even more compelling since he had a monster WSOP in Las Vegas and he will be the main focus come November when he tries to win his first Main Event title. In addition to that subplot, Ivey is always considered a favorite in mixed events and took sixth place at last year's WSOP Europe H.O.R.S.E. event. Like it or not, the Phil Ivey Watch will be in full effect in London beginning this week.