WPT winds down with POY race still open

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As the sixth season of the World Poker Tour draws to a close, the race for its Player of the Year honors is still up in the air.

Now that the Foxwoods Poker Classic has been written into the history books, the eyes of the tournament poker world turn to Las Vegas, where the sixth $25,000 Jonathan Little.

Currently sitting atop the Season 6 POY standings with 1,900 points is Jonathan Little. The Pensacola, Fla., native terrorized WPT fields early in the season, adding first-place (Mirage Poker Showdown), second-place (North American Poker Championships) and seventh-place (Gulf Coast Poker Championship) finishes to an already-impressive tournament resume.

Just behind Little is David "The Dragon" Pham is familiar with POY honors, having won the Card Player POY award in 2007. His 1,100 points come from a second-place finish at the Legends of Poker and a fifth-place finish at the World Poker Challenge.

Rounding out the field of potential contenders with 1,000 points are the season's other champions, including newly crowned Foxwoods Poker Classic champion Erik Seidel. Also in contention with 1,000 points is Mike Matusow, who totaled 1,000 points by finishing second at Bellagio Cup III and sixth at the Borgata Poker Open.

Danny Wong, who accumulated 900 points with a third-place finish at Bellagio Cup III and sixth place at the Mandalay Bay Poker Championship, could tie for the title with a win at Bellagio.

The possibilities are (somewhat) endless

To some degree, every player in the running for the POY title controls his own destiny at Bellagio next week.

That's certainly the case with front-runner Little. If he finishes in third place or higher, he puts himself out of reach and seals up the POY title. Even a fourth-place finish would give him 2,400 points, meaning he could do no worse than tie for the honors.

If Little finishes worse than fourth at Bellagio, a number of scenarios may develop in which someone else wins the title.

Phil Ivey
If anyone can do it, Ivey can.

For instance, if Little takes fifth place to leave himself with 2,300 points, Ivey would secure the title by winning the WPT Championship. A sixth-place finish by Little (2,200 points total) would open the door for Steve Sung to tie with a Bellagio win, while a seventh-place finish would give Pham a chance to tie by winning the final event.

If Little fails to make the top seven, the race opens up even further. Ivey could win the title outright by finishing in third place or higher, or tie by taking fourth. Sung could win outright by winning the tournament, or tie for the honor by finishing in second place. Pham, meanwhile, would need to win the WPT Championship and have Ivey finish in third place or worse.

Should Little not pick up any points but still manage to stay ahead of his three closest competitors, he could still be knocked out of the top spot by a win from any of the season's champions. Dan Harrington, Gavin Griffin, Bill Edler and Brandon Cantu, along with the rest of the season's winners and two-time Season 6 final-tablist Matusow, would total 2,000 points and secure the POY crown with a win at the WPT Championship.

How important is the award?

To be sure, the five players who have previously won the title - Howard Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, Erick Lindgren, Gavin Smith and J.C. Tran - form an elite group. But the impact of winning the WPT's Player of the Year title can't be summed up neatly, mostly because the award's true importance depends on who comes out on top.

If anyone but Little wins, the mystique of having come from behind to win the POY race by taking down the second-richest poker tournament in the world will forever be attached to their name.

Steve Sung
Could Sung sneak into the top spot as well?

Should either Little or Sung win the title, the WPT would have its youngest-ever Player of the Year. Both players would further enhance a growing reputation for consistency at the table. It's even possible that a POY win for Little could give him the kind of PR boost needed to overshadow for good his recent loss of sponsorship at Full Tilt Poker.

A win by Ivey would be another notch on a belt already notched aplenty. Considering Ivey finally got the WPT monkey off his back with his Commerce win in February, coming out on top of the POY race would cement Ivey's status as one of poker's all-time greats.

Likewise, a POY win for Pham would be another trophy on the shelf for one of the most consistent tournament players over the last few years.

Unfortunately for Pham and Sung, any immediate boost in marketability from such a win is questionable; even the most successful Asian poker players haven't seen the same sort of windfall from sponsorships during the poker boom as some of their fellow champions from Caucasian or African-American backgrounds.

At the end of the day, the only sure thing about the WPT's Player of the Year race at this point is that it holds the potential for a lot of drama at Bellagio next week. If you ever needed another reason to follow the tournament with our star reporters here at PokerListings.com, consider yourself justified!

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