We’re nearing the halfway point in this year’s November Nine intermission, meaning we’re closer than ever to determining the 2011 world champion of poker.
But who are these champion contenders, and what poker ambassador qualities do they bring to the table?
What kind of potential to impact the poker world do they each possess? And what are their individual chances of actually taking this thing down?
These are the questions we’ll be considering in this installment of Poker Graphed.
Understanding the Graph
There are four values represented above.
First off, each player is represented by a circle. The size of the circle corresponds to that player’s chip stack. Next, the color of the circle indicates what part of the world that player represents, and the current state of its poker market.
Thirdly we have each player’s chances of winning, as estimated by the Bodog Sports Book.
And finally we have our own estimation of how big an impact each player is capable of making should he become the 2011 world champion of poker.
Since none of these players would be patently “bad” for poker, we’re going to talk about impact in positive terms. This includes growing the game, legitimizing poker as a recreational activity as well as a way to make a living, and adding to the overall development and establishment of poker culture.
The Best Potential Champion
We’re singling out Ben Lamb as having the biggest potential impact on poker. Luckily for us, he’s among the most likely to actually win this thing.
One interesting thing that this graph helps show is that Lamb shares the same odds to win as Matt Giannetti, and better odds than Phil Collins, despite having the smallest chip stack of the three.
The reason for that is obvious if you were following the WSOP this summer, and it’s also the reason we’re picking him as the best candidate for world champion.
Ben Lamb’s performance at the 2011 WSOP was perhaps the greatest in history. He won the $10k PLO Championship, came second in the $3k PLO event, final-tabled the $50k Players Championship and narrowly missed the final table in the $10k Six-Max No-Limit Championship.
Including the money he’s guaranteed for making the final table of the Main Event, Ben Lamb has already earned well over $2.1 million at the 2011 World Series of Poker.
And that seemingly impossible run could be capped off by winning the biggest event of the year.
Sports need stars. The media needs someone to paint as the superhuman. Not only is it noteworthy, which will translate to more media exposure, it reinforces the idea that poker is a skill game.
If Ben Lamb can crush to that extent by being among the best in the world, we can all expect to succeed at least moderately with the small edges we’ve honed in our own games.
All of that, and the fact that Ben Lamb is a clean cut, personable and articulate young man, makes him the best possible face for the game in the 12 months following the final table.
Continuing to Appeal to Poker's Biggest Demographic
The ranks of the poker playing world are dominated by men and I don’t think it should be underestimated how big an impact having a world champion that matches that demographic represents.
For teenagers and twenty-somethings, watching Jon Duhamel win an astronomical amount of money can be a powerful thing. And it’s not the same thing as knowing that Joe Cada did it just one year before.
And having clean cut, well-spoken individuals representing the game to the mainstream only legitimizes it as an honest and real way of making a living.
Phil Collins is a self-described “family man”, and being able to tell the world that his hard work playing poker has given him the opportunity to begin a family without financial worry is a nice bullet point for any interview.
But this line of thinking has some problems. For one, there is no online poker in the US. Also, America experienced its poker boom years ago so how much of an impact could yet another young, American world champion really have?
November Niners from Emerging Markets
Representing the Czech Republic and Ukraine, respectively, Staszko or Makiievskyi might act as the fuse for a new explosion in the game’s popularity in Eastern Europe. After all, the area has always produced intensely competitive mind-gamers.
This premise is sound, but Martin Staszko won’t be the man to prove it.
Having potential has never been a guarantee of reaching it and we don’t have a lot of confidence in Staszko’s ability, or desire, to act as an effective poker ambassador. Our prediction is that if Martin Staszko wins this tournament, he’ll be the least visible world champion in a long, long time.
Makiievskyi is a different story. He is personable, young, and appeared to us at least to be much more interested in spending time with the media. Anton Makiievskyi already has the opportunity to do great things for poker in Eastern Europe. He’ll be able to do even more should he become a world champion.
November Niners from Developing Markets
Pius Heinz represents Germany, a more developed market than Czech and Ukraine but one with much untapped growth potential.
Poker is already big in Germany, which could make Heinz a very influential champion. The infrastructure is already in place to promote him, and mainstream Germany is already aware of the game which makes major media opportunities in that country a reality.
A little further along the scale of development are the UK and Ireland, homes to Sam Holden and Eoghan O'Dea, respectively. Poker is an establishment in both these countries, but just like Germany, there's still plenty of room for it to get even bigger.
Both O'Dea and Holden will be in good positions to impact the poker world if they win the Main Event in November.
Questionable Impact as World Champion
If Martin Staszko will be hard to see as a world champion, Bob Bounahra will be invisible. Our perception of him may be skewed, however, by a particularly painful November Nine video interview. Cut together it plays as a punchy one-minute short, but it’s important to note that it took 10 minutes of questions to compile the material.
And while poker is getting big in South America, Boudahra’s native Belize, and the surrounding countries, represent a relatively small poker market.
In just over two months we’ll find out who the 2011 Main Event winner will be, and over the following year we’ll see what that person can do to grow the game in their own region and around the world.
Another interview on David Letterman would be nice.