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Your 2007 WSOP dark horses
So. Who had Robert Varkonyi to win it in 2002?
Picking the World Series of Poker Main Event winner in 1976 may not have been a particularly unreasonable proposition. If you had enough money to spread to the participants, you probably could have even bought the title yourself.
Picking the World Series of Poker Main Event winner in 2007 is, likely, next to impossible.
Former World Champ Greg Raymer says no matter who you are these days the odds are at least 1000-to-1. A test of endurance now as much as skill, with a constantly growing, 9,000-strong beggar's banquet of "aggressive callers," loose cannons and internet juggernauts to outlast, fellow World Champ Dan Harrington suggests no one over the age of 45 will ever win again.
A lot of things have to fall into place for someone to win. But somebody, of course, will. And if you get the right odds, anyone's worth taking a gamble on.
With the first four weeks and 32 events in the books at the WSOP this year, a few notables have definitely separated themselves from the goon pack as possible darkhorse ponies however.
This is them, with a lead horse in each of five categories: Internet phenoms, Big Name pros, Past Winners, European and Wildcard.
Internet Phenom - Justin "ZeeJustin" Bonomo
The internet pros have definitely made a name for themselves and earned their esteem at the 2007 WSOP. Dan "Rekrul" Schreiber positively ran over the largest Heads-up No-Limit field in history. Baby-faced James Mackey likewise steamrolled the field in the $5k No-Limit Hold'em.
But if you're looking for a reasonable bet on a rising young player who earned his chops online - albeit someone who notoriously earned his chops multi-accounting online - look at the controversial Bonomo.
Still enough of a relative newcomer to not grab a lot of attention - except from Bodog, who've wisely jumped on the opportunity to sponsor him - Bonomo got off to a blazing start in his live career last year, final-tabling four of eight tournaments at the Bellagio WPT Five Diamonds World Poker Classic and bubbling the main event.
He also thoroughly dominated much of Event 10 at the WSOP this year, the $2k No-Limit Hold'em tourney. He rolled, rather easily, over a huge field to a gigantic final table chip lead and what seemed like a sure bracelet, only to lose a couple of key pots and finish 4th.
He did subsequently lose in the first round of the Heads-Up Event to Annie Duke. But he's got all the right ingredients to put together a long run in the Main Event - and with a bit more live poker experience than some of the other Internet superstars wrecking shop so far.
Big Name Pro - Allen Cunningham
It's not exactly going out on a limb to pick Cunningham. Big name pros are big name pros for a reason, and when the early betting lines came out for the Main Event Cunningham was, of course, near the top of most of them.
He's not a "favorite favorite," like Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, or Daniel Negreanu, with fans four or five deep at the rail when he plays (in fact hardly anyone rails Cunningham). But with five WSOP bracelets already at the age of 30 (Number five coming in Event 13, the World Pot-Limit Hold'em Championship), there's no question Cunningham is as capable as all of them.
Probably even more so - he just kind of slips under the radar, making little noise and drawing little attention until he's sitting right next to you at the final table. And that quiet, steady confidence just always makes you think he's going to go deep.
The gigantic superbrain he has also helps. And he looks like he's using it well to adapt to the newer, Interweb-infused styles of play.
Honorable mention here goes to Erik Seidel. Also not a "favorite favorite," he is undeniably a great card player and also seems to be adapting his game to meet the demands of the young guns. And if anyone finally deserves to shed the Rounders noose, it's Seidel.
European - Katja Thater
Anyone who saw her roll over the field in both the Ladies Event and Event 29, Seven-Card Razz - taking the first ladies' bracelet in a mixed event in three years in Razz and a couple curious hours at the Ladies' final table the only thing that prevented her from a second - knows the playing field is absolutely level when it comes to Thater.
She also seems to have the focus and temperment of an Olympic wrestler. More concerned with what her husband, Jan von Halle, thinks of her play than with a bracelet, she is absolutely relentless in her quest for perfection.
After busting out of the Ladies event with some uncharacteristically bad decisions, a furious Thater boldly said the next tournament she entered she was going to win. Whatever it was. Omaha, Razz, Mille Bornes.
And then she did. How can you bet against that?
Roland De Wolfe also gets honorable mention here - he hasn't made a lot of noise at the WSOP, but him and David Williams put a beating on a strong field in a Bellagio $5k tournament last week, with De Wolfe finishing second. And he knows how to bring it in big tournaments.
Past Champ - Action Dan Harrington
All the talk is Hellmuth, Hellmuth, Hellmuth these days, what with the record-setting 11th bracelet and all. But, despite his claim no one over 45 will win it again, the smart money is always on Harrington.
Always. It's what he does for a living - guarantee a return on your investment - and he has rarely disappointed at the WSOP.
It's never wise to rule out the truly great brains of this world, who can find a way to adapt and overcome no matter the circumstances. And Harrington definitely has a great brain. State chess champ. World backgammon champ. Main Event Champ. And, as everybody knows, the one who really wrote the book on No-Limit Hold'em tournament poker.
He hasn't made much of a dent here in 2007, but of all the Main Event champs, Harrington is the most capable of a yet another good long run.
Wild Card - Russ "Dutch" Boyd
Here's your wild card longshot: the one and only Dutch Boyd. Bracelet winner last year in Shorthanded No-Limit and near-bracelet winner this year in Seven-Card Stud, Boyd looks ready to win in 2007.
Intense and completely absorbed at the felt, he set a goal of four bracelets before the World Series started, and he's yet to get one - but one big one at the end would likely make up for it.
Remember this, despite all we've seen and heard from Dutch over the past few years: He is a genius. He hit college at 12, graduated law school at 18 and despite seemingly being around forever, he's only 27.
When he sets his mind on something, it's not far-fetched he'll make it happen.
Get your money in as good as you can, and see you on July 6 for the Main Event kickoff.