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Casino City Poker Player of the Year

29 Dec 2006

The biggest year in poker history introduced us to several new exciting faces, while many of poker's longtime-elite players staged a revival of sorts. No one person dominated poker in 2006, ensuring a lively debate as to which players belong in the coveted top-ten.

This year's Casino City 2006 Top Ten list represents both – a little bit of the new and a good amount of the old. And while the race for the top ten was very close, the Casino City editorial staff feels confident that their picks represent the very best of 2006.

And the Casino City 2006 Poker Player of the Year is…

Joseph Hachem -
$2.5 million, WPT title, 3 Final Tables

Ever heard of this guy? The whispers following his victorious march through the 2005 WSOP Main Event included the phrase "is he a one-hit wonder?" Similar sentiments followed Greg Raymer after his 2004 WSOP Main Event victory, but like his predecessor, Hachem proved he's one of the best players in the world with several stunning performances in 2006.

Hachem's most impressive feat was his December World Poker Tour victory in the Doyle Brunson North American Poker Classic Main Event. He bested 583 of poker's elite and won $2.18 million – an achievement that is nearly unbelievable when considering it was Hachem's only WPT event of the year.

Then there was the WSOP. Hachem not only carried himself as a champion and a great poker ambassador, he also defended his title on the felt. With all eyes glued on the 2005 champ, Hachem charmed crowds and cashed in four events, made two final tables, and finished 238th in the biggest poker tournament ever held – the 2006 WSOP Main Event. In his other three cashes, he finished no worse than 15th, proving his mixed-game prowess by finishing 4th in a Pot-Limit Omaha Event and 2nd in a shorthanded No-Limit Hold'em event. His second place finish in short-handed event was nearly another bracelet for the man from Melbourne – only a series of bad-beats kept him from his second title.

Tournament poker is hard enough, but when all the eyes in the room are on you, the game gets that much more difficult. But the pressure doesn't seem to bother Hachem – and that's probably the trait that allowed him to overcome the odds and become Casino City's 2006 Poker Player of the Year.

2.) Michael Mizrachi –
$2.3 million, WPT Title, 11 final table appearances

Had Hachem not won the North American Poker Classic, Mizrachi would have been a unanimous pick for player of the year. His year was astounding, marred only by a lackluster (by his standards) performance at the WSOP. In one week, Mizrachi finished second to Scotty Nguyen at the Gold Strike World Poker Open ($566k), won the Borgata Winter Poker Open ($1.173 million) then flew home for the birth of his daughter. That was good enough to win CardPlayer Magazine's Player of the Year honors, but not enough to unseat Hachem from the top spot in our list. (Hey – we're tough.)

3.) Phil Hellmuth
$1.2 Million, WSOP Bracelet, four final table appearances

After a dismal showing in the 2005 WSOP, Hellmuth vowed to return to the Rio and reclaim his standing as one of the top WSOP players of all-time. He succeeded. Hellmuth broke or tied four WSOP records: number of cashes in a single WSOP (8), number of final tables in a single WSOP (4), total number of WSOP cashes (57) and total number of WSOP final tables (36). To top it off, Hellmuth won his tenth gold bracelet, bring his total on par with living legends Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan. The only thing preventing Hellmuth from taking the Casino City Player of the Year honors was the that he didn't really play anywhere besides the WSOP.

4.) Eric "Rizen" Lynch
Online - $328k, 13 final tables, 75 cashes Live - $600k, 1 final table

In the age of the online player, Lynch has "Rizen" to the top. His 2006 online record is nearly impeccable. Lynch surpassed the $300,000 mark via 13 final tables and 75 cashes in major online tournaments. He piled up major wins on nearly every significant online site, including a $156,000 May victory in the Poker Stars Sunday Million. But there's more – Lynch proved he could transcend the online world at the WSOP. His third place finish in Event# 3 was impressive, but not as significant as finishing 24th in the Main Event. Lynch proved in 2006 that he belongs among poker's elite players.

5.) Jeff Madsen
$1.5 million, 2 WSOP bracelets, 5 final tables

The 21-year old Madsen came to the 2006 WSOP with enough money to play in one event thanks to a loan he received from his parents. And in his very first WSOP appearance, he made the final table. The rest is history. Madsen made three more final tables, winning two of them and becoming the youngest player to win one bracelet, then the youngest to win two. Madsen left the WSOP with the label of poker next big thing, being compared to the late Stu Ungar and the great Phil Hellmuth. History will prove whether or not the young live-game player from California has the lasting power to become one of the greats, but no one can argue how great a year he had in 2006.

6.) J.C. Tran
$1.7 million, WCOOP Main Event Champion, 10 final tables

Tran is as quiet at the table as anyone in poker. And he quietly had one of the best years of anyone in the game. After finishing in 5th place at the L.A. Poker Classic in February, Tran cashed six times at the WSOP and, just two short of the record. While he wasn't able to capture his first WSOP bracelet, he did finish 2nd in the second-to-last event of the year. He finished 2006 by winning the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker Main Event ($670,000), World Poker Finals Event #13 ($312,000) and the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic Event #7 ($266,000). His friend and colleague, Michael Mizrachi, said Tran would be his pick to win Player of the Year honors in 2007.

7.) Nam Le
$2.1 million, WPT title, 10 final tables

Much like Tran, Le quietly made 2006 his breakout year, winning $2.1 million while making 10 final table appearances. Le burst onto the tournament-poker scene in March, capturing his first WPT title at the Bay 101 Shooting Star Championship. WPT announced Mike Sexton proclaimed Le was a player to watch in 2006 and the Sexton was proven right after Le cashed five times at the WSOP including a second-place finish in Event #6.

8.) Alex Jacob
$1.7 million, U.S. Poker Champion, 4 final tables

Jacob took some time off from his studies at Yale to finish second to Victor Ramdin at the Foxwoods World Poker Classic in April. That $660,000-finish allowed Jacob to comfortably complete his Ivy League education and then take the poker world by storm. The hyper-aggressive player joined the growing legion of poker's young guns at the WSOP, making two final tables and completing the Hold'em-trifecta by cashing in a Pot-Limit, a No-Limit and Limit event. Unable to earn his first bracelet, Jacob continued undeterred, winning the prestigious U.S. Poker Championship in October. Along with Tran and Le, Jacob is one of the young players to watch in 2007.

9.) Roland De Wolfe
$1.9 million, EPT Title, 4 final tables

De Wolfe followed his successful 2005 campaign with another tremendous tournament year in 2006. Proving his range, De Wolfe cashed in nearly every major tournament series, winning money in WPT, WSOP and European Poker Tour events. De Wolfe made tournament-money all year, grabbing $1 million for a third place WPT finish at the Five-Star Diamond Classic in April, earning $65,000 for a No-Limit Hold'em Shootout final table appearance at the WSOP in July, and capping his year by winning $700,000 at the EPT Dublin Championship in October.

10.) Scott "phat_cat" Luman
Online - $296k, Internet Player of the Year, 21 final tables 102 cashes

Perhaps the best online player you've never heard of, Luman is a dominant force in online tournament scene, earning just under $300,000 for 21 final table appearances and 102 cashes. Although he has yet to venture into the major live tournament genre, Luman rules the Internet and was the winner of the 2006 Internet Player of the Year.

Honorable Mentions

Allen Cunningham
$4.4 million, WSOP Main Event final table, WSOP bracelet, 4 final tables

John Hoang
$691k, 14 final tables

Kathy Liebert
$531k, 4 final tables

Mary Jones
$287k, WSOP Ladies Champion (bracelet), USPC Event # 10 winner

Mucking McLane
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