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Friday, June 20, 2008

Heir Apparent?

In this blog post Gary Wise essentially calls Phi Ivey Doyle Brunson's heir apparent to the title of best living poker player.
Maybe it’s because with Chip Reese’s passing, Doyle has to eventually pass the torch to someone. Maybe Phil is embracing the idea of that being him…I don’t know.

Who is the heir apparent? Is Doyle even the greatest living poker player?

Let's go ahead and accept that as a given. With his successes over the decades and his work to revolutionize the game (i.e. Super/System), I think we'll give Doyle the title of Greatest Living Poker Player. Maybe there was a time when he couldn't hold Stu Ungar's jock, but Stuey no longer qualifies in the "living" part of the title.

So if not Phil, who?

How about Phil Hellmuth. He does after all, have 11 WSOP bracelets. And let's face it, bracelets are like majors in tennis or golf. It's how we measure greatness. It might not be the true measure of a poker player's success, since we won't ever really know how ahead or stuck a player is, really. And we won't ever really know how much of someone's tournament winnings they actually get to keep. So bracelets is the yardstick we have, and Hellmuth has more of them than anyone.

In hold'em. All his bracelets are in hold'em, be it limit, pot limit of no limit. He's cashed in some other events, but never managed to seal the deal. And just like a tennis player has to be able to play on grass and clay, and a golfer has to be able to deal with the glass-like greens in Augusta and the vicious rough of a U.S. Open course, to be the greatest poker player, you have to have success in all the games. And that's where Hellmuth falls short. He doesn't have the success that a player like Phil Ivey has had in the different games.

For example, Hellmuth has 11 bracelets in hold'em. Ivey has five bracelets, less than half Hellmuth's number, but they are in four different games. Ivey has two bracelets in pot limit Omaha, one in S.H.O.E., one in stud hi/lo (arguably the hardest of the games) and one in stud hi. That mix puts Ivey firmly ahead of Hellmuth on the greatness-meter.

How about Full Tilt stablemate and tournament messiah Chris "Jesus" Ferguson? They share a numerical level of greatness, with five bracelets each. They are in a similar number of games, each having won bracelets in four different games. Ferguson has bracelets in Omaha hi/lo (2), stud hi, stud/hold'em mixed and that little victory in the Main Event. Does his status as a World Champion move him ahead of Ivey on the greatness-meter?

I think it does. One of the reasons we revere Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan is their back-to-back victories in the main event, feats that seem less likely every year to be repeated. The Main Event is the biggest diamond in the poker crown, and winning that gives Ferguson a bit of an edge in the race to be "the greatest."

But what about Johnny Chan? He's got a lot of tread left in his tires, as the saying goes, and does have two Main Event bracelets to his name. He also has wins in pot limit hold'em, pot limit Omaha (2), limit hold'em, stud hi and 2-7 lowball. This variety of games is impressive, and adding in a draw variant to the flop and stud games makes it even more impressive. Chan, for all his 10 bracelets, flies a little bit under the radar nowadays with his lack of affiliation with Full Tilt or PokerStars. It certainly seems like he isn't mentioned in these discussions nearly as much as players without his pedigree. Interestingly enough, I don't think Chan is the heir to Doyle's legacy, largely because the majority of his success came quite a long time ago. I think to be considered the greatest, you need to show that you can hang with the massive fields that we see in today's events. But for now, until Ivey picks up a couple more bracelets, or at least one Main Event win, Johnny Chan still edges him out.

What about some of the biggest of the big names? How about Daniel Negreanu, who just topped a field of480 players to claim his 4th bracelet. Not so much. As great a player as Daniel is, three of his four bracelets have come in hold'em, and the other in S.H.O.E. While the mixed game bracelet is a bonus, the fact that he only has four (yeah, I know, I just wrote that) and the fact that most of them are in one game puts him at the back of the bus as far as overall greatness goes. Barry Greenstein is certainly a phenomenal player, and great at all the games, as his bracelets in NL 2-7, PLO and Razz show, but his years of concentrating on cash games to the detriment of his tournament results make me want one more big one, like a win in the $50K HORSE event or the Main Event to catapult him to the forefront.

What about Carlos Mortensen, the first man to win both the WSOP Main Event and the WPT World Championship? Not even. Both big events were no limit hold'em, and we're talking bracelets here, we're not using the WPT as a measuring device, no matter how deep and tough the fields are or how big the buy-in is. What about Billy Baxter, who sits 6th on the list of most WSOP bracelets with 7? Nope. While Baxter is a lowball master, he's a lowball master to the exclusion of success in the other games. ALL of his bracelets came in one form of lowball or another. Razz, 2-7 or A-5, Baxter is inarguably the best in history at running bad, but he can't be considered the greatest if he's only the greatest at one game. Baxter is also more of a contemporary to Doyle than an heir, as at 68, he's getting a little long in the tooth.

So who is the heir to Doyle's throne? If not Jesus or Ivey or Chan, then who?

Erik Seidel. Yeah, the quiet guy in the Full Tilt commercials that you kinda recognize but not really. Last year at the WSOP he picked up his eighth bracelet, tying him with Johnny Moss for third on the all-time bracelet list, behind Hellmuth, Chan and Brunson. He has bracelets in six different games (if we count limit and no limit hold'em and 2-7 as different games, and I think there's a case for that, particularly in 2-7), and has shown an ability to flourish in both the smaller fields of yesteryear (most famously coming second to Johnny Chan in the 1988 Main Event) and the mega-fields of today.

Here are a few tidbits from a PokerNews feature Dr. Pauly did on Erik Seidel a couple weeks ago.

Seidel is sixth on the list of all-time WSOP cashes. Only Phil Hellmuth, Men the Master, T.J.Cloutier, Berry Johnston, and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson have more cashes than Seidel.

Seidel has made 25 final tables at the WSOP and has won eight bracelets. Only Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, and Doyle Brunson have more bracelets.

Seidel is eighth on the all-time money list with over $9 million (U.S.) in career tournament winnings. Only Jamie Gold, Joe Hachem, Allen Cunningham, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey and T.J. Cloutier have won more money.

That's some impressive shit there, folks, and it's likely out of date as far as the number of cashes and final tables, since the WSOP has been going for two weeks since the piece was written. And please note that a couple of those people on the money list ahead of Seidel got there largely on one tournament win. So while Phil Ivey may be the most feared player on the planet, if I had to lay money on which pro was most likely to pick up another bracelet this year, I'd put my benjies on the quiet guy from New York. I present to you the heir apparent to Doyle Brunson's legacy of the Greatest Living Poker Player - Erik Seidel.


Astin said...

Yah, but does have the personality to match? He may be the heir apparent in terms of ability or skill, but will anybody care?

Easycure said...

Tom Schneider is the heir apparent. Obviously.

Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Cash games? Can't comment. If we're talkin' tourney poker...

Negreanu, then Seidel. The rest -- including Ivey (I say, risking charges of blasphemy) -- are far, far behind.

K_Kahne_Fan said...

Would you mind if I add your blog to

Jeff Dotson said...

So nothing for the apparent heir? I mean going by the bracelets Todd only has one. His Poker Superstar's places definetly show him to be a Hold 'em winner against only the best.

Among the people you mentioned, though, I can't see Erik over Johnny. Your main knock against Chan seemed to be the lack of "new" wins, but in the same time as Sidel's 8 he's won 7 (2 of his other 3 were main events...I had to look up the timeline).

On the upside I love the fact you've got me thinking about this. I'm actually a friend of Lisa Magee's...if I wouldn't have moved to Charleston I'm sure I'd have donated some to your home game. Look me up and shoot me a line on Myspace if you get the chance. My name is Jeff Dotson