I don't mean to belittle the success of any of the players who've scored bracelets so far at the 2006 WSOP - I certainly don't have any fancy jewelry decorating my wrists. Winning any top-flight poker tournament takes loads of skill, a ton of focus, sure, but it also takes a dump truck full of luck. With so many skilled, focused poker players entering tournaments alongside the hundreds and hundreds of fish and donkeys who fancy themselves poker stars, luck and fate play as much of a role in determining a winner as anything else.
The record books of the World Series of Poker are filled with names of players who exploded onto the scene with the glory of their first bracelet, only to fade into oblivion when they were unable to repeat the task. Has anyone heard from Reza Payvar lately? What about Ron Kirk? What about Chris Moneymaker? Okay, so Moneymaker has been around; we've at least seen him at the 2006 WSOP. But when has he even come close to repeating the dramatic and spellbinding poker heroics that brought him the 2003 WSOP Main Event title? While it may be unfair to say that "anyone" can win a WSOP bracelet, it's not the first bracelet that's the real gauge of a player's skill, it's the bracelets that come afterwards.
Consistency matters. The World Series of Poker has seen countless Reza Payvars and Ron Kirks, and more than a couple Chris Moneymakers. But the list of names who have won multiple WSOP bracelets is much, much shorter. And it presents a far better idea of who the really skilled players are, and who's just riding the wave of hype. Chances are you've heard of most of the players on the list, even those who've "only" won two bracelets. These include Barry Greenstein, Howard Lederer, and Jennifer Harman. Players with three bracelets include John Juanda and Daniel Negreanu, while further up the food chain are a ton of superstars, but also a couple of players who may not get the face-time on ESPN or the waves of adoring fans that Moneymaker, Raymer, or Hachem might get, but whose resumes put them in poker's upper echelons: Allen Cunningham (four bracelets) and Erik Seidel (seven bracelets).
Cunningham and Seidel are two of the quietest, most unassuming players at the World Series, and while they may not garner much attention from fans when they walk through the casino, you can bet that any pro who shares a table with either man is aware of their presence. Cunningham and Seidel play consistent poker while resisting the hype, and while that may not put them high on the armchair fan's list of favorites, it certainly puts them on the shortlist of poker's very best.
This year has seen a number of first-time bracelet winners at the WSOP. Only time can tell whether people like Jeff Cabanillas, Jeff Madsen, and Eric Kesselman can build from their early successes and prove that they're not just flashes in the proverbial pan - skilled poker players, sure, but players whose single victory proved to be more the exception than the rule. The WSOP is about results, and results are about performance. Consistently replicating the performance that wins bracelets is extremely difficult, but it's how players like Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan made names for themselves while others fell short.
One player who in an incredibly short amount of time has managed to elevate himself from the mass of one-off winners is William Chen, who two nights ago won his second bracelet at the 2006 WSOP, and who is now garnering tons of attention as a player who may fit the same mold as Cunningham or Seidel - unassuming, quiet, not exactly prime-time material, but consistent and focused, and above all, wildly successful.