We're at the midway point for this year's World Series of Poker, and what a Series it's been so far. From stars reasserting themselves to brothers winning bracelets, this Series has had a little bit of everything. Here's a look at the top-10 stories from the WSOP so far:
10. Nikolay Evdakov
Entering the World Series of Poker, very few people had heard of Nikolay Evdakov. Now, midway through the series, the Russian pro is a marked man. He's cashed in six events and is chasing the record for most WSOP cashes in a year, which stands at eight. Michael Binger (2007), Chad Brown (2007), Phil Hellmuth (2006), and Humberto Brenes (2006) share the mark. So far, Evdakov has cashed in the $5,000 Pot Limit Hold'em with rebuys (Event #28), the $5,000 No-Limit 2-7 Draw with rebuys (Event #18), the $10,000 World Championship Mixed Event (Event #8), the $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em with rebuys (Event #5), the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em (Event #2) and the $10,000 World Championship Pot-Limit Hold'em (Event #1).
9. Video blogs
Blogs are a nice way for poker pros to let us into their world. But a good blog takes time to produce. It's not easy sitting in front of blank screen and putting thoughts on paper. And time is one thing players don't have at the World Series of Poker. By contrast, video blogs don't take very long (for the player) to produce. And it's much easier to spill your guts on camera (This is what reality TV is based on, isn't it?) than it is to blog. And the video blogs do a great job of providing a window into parts of the WSOP most people don't get a chance to see. Some of the best video blogs from the WSOP can be found at rawvegas.tv, which boasts a lineup that includes Vanessa Rousso, Patrik Antonious, Gavin Griffin and Daniel Negreanu. Negreanu is a natural for the medium. He's at ease in front of a camera and comfortable with sharing "insider tidbits" from prop bets (with Phil Ivey and Antonius) to funny stories about dealers and the need to get eight hours of sleep. Antonius does his video blogs in both English and Finnish (though I don't know if they're different -- I suspect they are -- or the same). Right now, he's not too happy with his golf game. And Rousso's mathematics background shines through in her video blogs. She effortlessly breaks down the odds on almost every action she describes at the poker table. And to make it a little more interesting, she adds in a few details on her personal life. She's also revealed that she's now a Wii Rock Band addict (she likes the drums).
8. Increased participation
Almost every event has seen an increase in the number players participating. This year's Razz tournament (Event #26) saw a 33% increase from last year. The second event of the Series, a $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event, set a new non-Main Event record with a field of 3,929 entries and is the fourth-largest tournament in poker history. And the the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event saw an 8% increase in players from last year even though the buy-in had increased by $500.
Last year, outside of Katja Thater who won the Razz event, it was pretty hard to find a women at a final table. Nothing could be further from the truth this year. Vanessa Selbst has already won a bracelet in $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha (Event #19) and cashed in two other events (finishing third and and 34th). She's also third in the WSOP Player of the Year rankings. Kathy Liebert finished third in the $10,000 Wolrd Championship Pot-Limit Hold'em tournament (Event #1) and has cashed in three other events. And Jennifer Harman-Traniello finished eighth in the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament (Event #22).
6. Erick Lindgren
Lindgren won his first bracelet this year in the $5,000 Mixed Hold'em tournament (Event #4). He's also final tabled the No-Limit 2-7 Draw with rebuys (Event #18), finished 10th in $1,500 Limit Hold'em (Event # 12) and 18th in the $10,000 Heads-Up tournament (Event 25). It doesn't get much better than that in the poker world, and it's why he's currently sitting atop the lead for the WSOP Player of the Year.
5. No complaints
When things go wrong, as they did in spades at last year's WSOP, a great deal of criticism was leveled at WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. Now it's time to give Pollack and his team some credit. They learned from their mistakes last year, and this year's WSOP is running smoothly. From registration and cashing out to eliminating the poker tent, the entire WSOP experience has improved. Running an event the size of the World Series of Poker is not easy. But this Series is running smoothly. And Pollack and his team deserve a lot of praise for that.
4. Phil Ivey
The Phil Ivey prop bet stories have become a running storyline at this year's WSOP. Ivey reportedly made a $500,000 side bet with a few poker pros before the WSOP began on whether or not he would win a bracelet this year and has been doing everything possible to accomplish that feat. He's been much more active this year than in previous years and, according to the Tao of Poker, he dropped $60,000 in the $5,000 No Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball w/ rebuys, and didn't even make the final table. He also lost his side bet with Negreanu on the golf course.
But Ivey's biggest problem has nothing to do with poker or golf. It involves the NBA Finals. According to Wicked Chops Poker, rumor has it that Ivey has risked $2 million on his beloved Los Angeles Lakers to beat the Boston Celtics. But the Celtics currently lead the series 3-2.
3. The Hinkles
First, amateur Grant Hinkle bested 3,929 players and won $831,462 in poker's largest non-Main Event field ($1,500 No-Limit Hold'em) in the second event of this year's series. Then his younger brother Blair (who does play professionally) won the $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em tournament (Event #23) to make the Hinkles the first siblings to win bracelets in the same year. The Hinkles also joined the Pearsons as the only brother combinations to win bracelets. Puggy Pearson won 3 in 1973 and J.C. Pearson won one in 1994.
2. Pros vs. Joes
In previous years, people you never heard of (and frequently would never hear from again) were winning bracelets all the time. It was charming for a while. But the Cinderella stories, day after day after day, became nauseating (at first) and eventually boring. This year, thanks to an increase in large-buy-in events, professional pokers are back, and they're back with a vengance. Through 26 events, it's Poker Pros 20, Amateurs 4 and Semi-Pros 2. That's more like it.
1. Stars are shining
Not only are the pros winning, but the game's stars are dominating. Mike Matusow, Negreanu, Lindgren, David Singer and Barry Greenstein have all won bracelets. So have other well-know pros like Selbst and Nenad Medic. And the final tables have been just sick. Here's just a sampling of some the final tables that have been seen so far:
Event #1 $10,000 World Championship Pot-Limit Hold'em: Mike Sowers, Chris Bell, Amit Makhija, Patrik Antonius, Andy Bloch, Mike Sexton, Phil Laak, Nenad Medic and Kathy Liebert.
Event #8 $10,000 World Championship Mixed Event: Anthony Rivera, James Mackey, Matt Glantz, Mike DeMichele, Eli Elezra, Sam Farha, Jeff Madsen, and Tom Dwan.
Event #18 Deuce-to-Seven: Jeffrey Lisandro, Matusow, Tom Schneider, Erick Lindgren , Barry Greenstein, Tony G and David Benyamine.
Event #28 $5,000 Pot Limit Hold'em with rebuys: Phil Galfond, Brian Rast, Benyamine, John Juanda, Johnny Chan, Gerasimov Kirill, Negreanu, Adam Hourani and Phil Hellmuth.