Every year when I head to the Rio for the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, my goal is obviously to win some gold bracelets, but my main focus is on winning the player of the year award, which is an accomplishment that is much more draining and difficult than winning one tournament.
In 2004, I was named player of the year, and since then have knocked on the door consistently but have failed to repeat. Last year, my buddy Erick Lindgren won the honors with a total of 245 points. That's an impressive total, but with the Main Event yet to be played this year, five players have 240 points or more.
It has been just an amazing series on many levels. While I have cashed in eight tournaments — a personal record, as well as the highest number at this year's WSOP — my accomplishment pales in comparison to what we've seen over the last month.
•Jeff Lisandro: He established a triple crown for the ages, winning three gold bracelets in the same year. That feat has been done before, by Phil Ivey, Ted Forrest and Phil Hellmuth, but there was something extra special about Lisandro's feat. He won three bracelets in three different forms of stud poker: Seven-Card Stud, Razz and Seven-Card Stud high/low. In total, Lisandro has cashed six times for 355 player of the year points, good enough to give him the lead going into the Main Event. He's not in the clear yet, because there are several players in striking distance.
•Ville Wahlbeck: Who? Exactly. Wahlbeck has taken the WSOP by storm this year, racking up 320 POY points by showing off his overall poker skills in several different disciplines from Razz to 2-7 Draw to two final tables in mixed-game events. Wahlbeck is a professional poker player who has had lots of success with online poker, but this year's WSOP was his coming-out party onto the world stage. Wahlbeck made four final tables with first-, second-, third- and sixth-place finishes; the sixth place came in the prestigious $50,000-buy-in H.O.R.S.E event, which requires excellence in five different disciplines.
•Phil Ivey: If poker were to have a Tiger Woods, he would be that man, and it has nothing to do with the vague resemblance. Ivey is widely regarded as the best all-around poker player in the world. And when he's motivated, he wins gold bracelets. This year, he has won two for a career total of seven. At 33, he is the youngest player to win that many.
The all-time leader is Hellmuth with 11 gold bracelets, but the only thing stopping Ivey from surpassing that total is motivation. Ivey is a high-stakes gambler and makes most of his money playing in high-stakes cash games in Las Vegas. Winning bracelets is more of a hobby for Ivey. If there is any player in the world who can win 20 bracelets in a lifetime, Ivey is clearly at the top of that list.
Ivey and Lisandro have won multiple bracelets this year, but two other professionals have struck gold more than once: Brock Parker and Greg Mueller.
Four players have won multiple bracelets, breaking another WSOP record. The other feat worth mentioning, and it was very close to being truly historic, involved Russian Vitaly Lunkin. He won the 40th anniversary $40,000 buy-in No Limit event, followed that up with a second-place finish in the $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha event and then came close to winning the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, finishing fourth.
This year's WSOP results should put an end to the foolish debate as to whether poker is a game of skill. The WSOP already will go down as one of the most memorable ever, and the Main Event championship has yet to begin.
Despite economic woes globally, the WSOP thrived and records were broken in several events.
It's still hard to predict how many players will chase WSOP glory in the Main Event, but here is a safe bet for you: I will be one of them.