Early Favorites Emerging for WSOP Player of the Year

Vladimir Shchemelev
Russian Vladimir Shchemelev is creating a buzz with his play at the 2010 WSOP.

One of the most difficult crowns to win in poker is the WSOP Player of the Year title, which is handed out annually to the player with the best overall performance throughout the 57-tournament event. Past winners include Jeffrey Lisandro, Eric Lingren, Tom Schneider, Jeff Madsen, Allen Cunningham and Daniel Negreanu.

It's no small feat to win the title as players must first enter enough events to accumulate the points necessary to win and, oh by the way, they must also play well enough to cash multiple times against thousands of the best tournament poker players in the world.

The early favorite to win the 2010 crown is Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, who has already made two final tables through only three WSOP events that he's played.

Not many people picked Mizrachi as a favorite to win the crown prior to the start of the WSOP. "We held a 96-man fantasy draft at Howard Lederer's house prior to the start of the tournament where 12 people each picked a team of eight players with a $25,000 buy in," said New York-based poker pro Amnon Filippi. "Not one person took Mizrachi."

"I kind of came out of nowhere this year," said Mizrachi. "I was just playing pot-limit Omaha cash games for seven days a week down in Miami. I haven't really been on the circuit and not many people knew if I was going to be playing all of the events or not."

Hindsight is 20-20 as Mizrachi is now the clear favorite to win the 2010 title. Past champs Eric Lingren and Allen Cunningham both like The Grinder's chances. "I guess Grinder should win if he goes deep in the stud [tournament]," Lingren told PL.com. "He'd have to air ball the rest of the events not to."

Not everyone is ready to hand the trophy to Mizrachi. "There are still a lot of $10k events and we're still going to see someone win two bracelets like we do every year," said Barry Greenstein. "Plus, I plan still plan on catching him."

Ever the mathematician, Cunningham took a more by-the-numbers approach to making a prediction. "Who is leading the points? Mizrachi? That's who I've got."

Russian player Vladimir Shchemelev is currently giving The Grinder a run for his money, having made both of the same final tables as Mizrachi. Daniel Negreanu, Eli Elezra and Victor Ramdin all said they think Shchemelev is the favorite. "There are a couple Russian players who are playing so damn well, it wouldn't surprise me to see [Shchemelev] win it," said Ramdin. Negreanu said that if he doesn't come back and win it himself, then Mike Schwartz is his underdog pick.

Who does the defending champion think will win? "I still think Phil Ivey can do it," Lisandro told PL.com "Even though he's got no points, he's got the style."

Other players to keep an eye on: Greg Raymer said he never bets against himself until it's mathematically impossible to win. Darvin Moon said that Annie Duke is the best female player in the world and should be a contender if she plays enough events.

The race could hinge on the outcome of tonight's 7-card stud final table where both Mizrachi and Shchemelev are still playing. If Mizrachi wins tonight, then it will take a major upset to overtake him for the title. Needless to say, things are going pretty well for Mizrachi nowadays, but that doesn't mean he's entirely stress free. "It's going to be hard to play in enough events if I keep making all these final tables," Mizrachi said with a grin.


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