ESPN's Eighth Annual WSOP Fantasy Draft

May, 24, 2013
5/24/13
9:00
AM ET
The annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas is underway. On Wednesday, May 29, the 2013 World Series of Poker will begin at the Rio and the eyes of all players from around the world will be on earning the bracelets and cash at the end of the journey. Who will emerge out of nowhere to become a household name as Greg Merson and Ben Lamb did over the past two years? How will perennial favorites Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth fare? Who will be the touted pro who struggles to the surprise of many? If I could answer all these questions, I'd probably be living in Vegas and a lot richer. But I can't and nobody can. That's what makes the annual WSOP fantasy draft all the more fun.

On Thursday, May 23, the draft was held over conference call. Some drafters were at tournaments while others were at the slot machines hoping to really get that "Wheel of Fortune" bonus to appear. Did you really expect anything less? The trash talking was held to a minimum and within an hour we were done with 10 teams filled with the game's elite. Three new owners - Jason Somerville, Matt Glantz and the all-knowing Kevin Mathers - entered the fray this year, joining returning drafters Daniel Negreanu, Lance Bradley, Chad Holloway, Steve "Chops" Preiss, Eric Baldwin, Josh Brikis and me for an eight-round draft where each of us hoped to predict the players who would dominate the Vegas felt.

Now, before we get to the draft, if you haven't already scrolled down (which I assume you have), I'll brag for a minute. Last year my team dominated. On the backs of Hellmuth, "The Original" David Baker, Nick Schulman and Chris Bjorin, my team put up nearly 200 points more than runner-up Dwyte Pilgrim's team. After seven years of drafting, I had earned my first win and I'm hoping to do to it again. My strategy for 2013: draft players who are proven talents who will hopefully stay away from the Open Face Chinese action long enough to win bracelets. Seems pretty straight forward.

The teams are below, along with some analysis. Teams can add/drop one player throughout the WSOP at any point. I'll update the transactions and standings mostly on Twitter and I'll recap the summer later on this year. We know we missed many talented players (Tobias Reinkemeier, Carlos Mortensen, Gavin Smith, Joe Tehan, David Bach, Frank Kassela, Alexander Kostritsyn, Jonathan Duhamel, Eric Froehlich, David Williams, Allen Cunningham, Andy Bloch, Oleksii Kovalchuk, Matt Hawrilenko, etc.), so feel free to weigh in the comments section and tell us who we got right and which players you would've added to your squad. We know there will be players who surprise us this summer, but just like your fantasy football and baseball drafts, we put on paper our teams that we believe have the most potential during the 2013 WSOP.

Good luck to all the players, and fantasy owners, over the next seven weeks!

My thoughts: If you're looking for a list of players who will be in attendance day in and day out at the WSOP and playing in all the biggest events of all formats, now you have it. There were a few changes from last year, but these 10 players should be the ones who draw the most attention, and cash, this summer. Negreanu going No. 1 for the second year in a row is no surprise at all, especially considering the run he's on. Ivey being available at No. 2 makes him a no-brainer, although even Daniel recently argued that if he could choose himself or Ivey, he'd probably take Ivey. There's one question mark here and I'll get to that in just a second.

Best value: Glantz - Hellmuth. Listen, I know that the majority of us look at the prospect of Negreanu, Ivey, Mercier, etc. as the nuts when it comes to this sort of thing, but if we look back over the past three years, Hellmuth, with his twin runner-up finishes in the WSOP Player of the Year race, is probably the most consistent out of anyone drafted. He's no one-trick pony and plays all the games despite whatever stigma there is about his mixed-game talent. Hellmuth comes to play each summer and has a drive to win unlike any other. He leads the WSOP in lifetime cashes and victories and Glantz getting this talent at No. 7 is a steal. In full disclosure, if Somerville took Mercier, I would've taken Hellmuth in an instant.

[+] EnlargePaul Volpe
Jay Newnum/WSOP.com Will Paul Volpe keep up the heater throughout the 2013 WSOP for Team Negreanu?
Biggest stretch: Negreanu - Volpe. Volpe was definitely in the top 30 on my list, but not the top 10. That said, it's hard to argue with this pick. Volpe has been one of the hottest players on tour since his deep main event run in 2012 and recently won two events at the EPT Grand Final, which should give him some added motivation to begin the Series. Here's my concern though: If you look down Volpe's tournament résumé you see primarily success in no-limit hold 'em. Negreanu is a veteran of this draft and knows that you'll need mixed game success at high buy-ins. I'm sure he didn't make a mistake here. Even if Volpe doesn't dominate the mixed-action felt, he should be able to put together a few deep runs that can get Negreanu big points in the hold 'em events.

My thoughts: See my thoughts in Round 1. Brikis completely stole my pick with Seiver at 16 and honestly, I'm surprised he fell that far. This is another round of pure talent in all formats. There's an argument to be made for most of these players for why they weren't taken in the first round and I think when all is said and done, this round of 10 may outscore the first 10. Last year, the second round was the fourth most productive. Oh, and for those who were trying to figure out which David Baker went in the first and second round, it all depends on which one has the better summer.

Best value: Holloway - Selbst., Brikis - Seiver To choose the right player to put in this spot was difficult and I couldn't choose just one. One of the great things about Vanessa Selbst is her motivation to always improve. She seeks out the best resources, becomes an expert, dominates, then finds the next challenge. When Selbst goes deep in a no-limit event, she reaches the final table. You don't see too many min-cashes from her and when we think about the bonus points available in large field no-limit hold 'em events, she seems like the perfect fit. Seiver has been red hot since 2009. He already has 10 cashes this year, including a victory in the $100,000 Super High Roller at PCA, a semifinal finish at the National Heads-Up Poker Championships and back-to-back final tables on the EPT High Roller tour in April and May.

Biggest stretch: Feldman - Glantz. On first look at the list, I'm sure many of your reactions probably pointed you to Baldwin's pick of Ausmus. It might be a small stretch to pick the October Niner in this round, but my taking of Glantz barely takes the honors. We know a few things about Ausmus that validate the selection: He's a local, wants a bracelet, playing very well currently and cashed a whole lot at the WSOP last year. Nobody doubts Glantz's ability in the least. He's a mixed game star with a high-stakes cash game background who has done everything on the WSOP but win. Volume is a slight concern of mine and he'll need to do better than two cashes in '12 to have validated a pick in this spot from me. I think the pressure of him being a drafter got to me. Prove me wrong, Matt.

My thoughts: The third round was all about variety. Oh, and a guy that I'm sure at least half of the people reading this have never heard of before. Chops takes Cheong and if you're even questioning that selection and are merely recalling Cheong's WSOP main event final table, you haven't been paying attention. Cheong is one of the leaders on the money list in 2013 and has most recently been enjoying success in high roller events around the word. I love that pick here and with so many close calls, I'm sure Cheong is finally ready for that WSOP win. Bonomo, Grospellier, Racener, etc. are really good value picks here

Best value: Bradley - Grospellier, Holloway - Seidel. There was probably nobody on the call who wasn't angry to hear Grospellier's name get called. Bradley secured a true talent late in the third round who has found the money often after an underwhelming 2012 WSOP. Grospellier has earned seven figures in four of the past five years. Seidel has been a first-round pick for as long as I can remember. He had a "quiet" 2012 WSOP with six cashes, but has cashed for more than six figures three times since last August. This could be the steal of the draft.

Biggest stretch: Negreanu - Gorodinsky. The only reason Gorodinsky is in this spot is because I needed to spotlight his efforts. Gorodinsky has a history of success in mixed game events. He won the 8-game Championship at PCA in 2010 and 2012, made the final table of the 10-game at the WSOP last year, plays high stakes cash and, according to his Twitter feed, is ready to make a few bracelet bets. Negreanu is banking on Gorodinsky to break into the poker mainstream this summer. We'll see, but even so, I don't think anyone else would've taken him at this point in the draft.

My thoughts: This was probably the most unpredictable round of the draft. The majority of the picks, even though they probably didn't come in the order I would've foreseen, are safe selections in my mind and this was the pivot point for most of the drafters who looked for risks from here on out. These 10 are players capable of multiple deep runs, player of the year contention and strong mixed-game knowledge. Shak obviously gets additional attention this year based on his incredible year and Negreanu once again takes a player who didn't make many draft lists but cashed in seven events of all varieties last year.

Best value: Holloway - Lichtenberger. For some reason, Lichtenberger tends to fall off the poker radar sometimes. His cool demeanor isn't to be mistaken for weakness at the felt and out of everyone in this round, he's the guy who given his past, can make the most noise. Lichtenberger cashed eight times at the WSOP in Vegas last year and made two final tables. He made a third final table at WSOPE.

Biggest stretch: Glantz - Chan. Was last year an anomaly or was the 10-cash WSOP performance something that we should expect once again from Chan this summer. The value is good for Glantz if he's able to repeat that number, but last year, he didn't make a single final table which meant his efforts held little fantasy value. Chan has an eye for the money, but a final table is a must to warrant a fourth-round pick.

My thoughts: The players here tackle a wide variety of talent on the poker spectrum. Esfandiari highlights this group coming off a two-bracelet year and the largest pay day in the history of the game. Klodnicki, Juanda, Mizrachi, Mueller, Turner and Parker can play everything, O'Dwyer may be a no-limit specialist, but he's on top of the world right now after his EPT Grand Final main event victory, Gruissem's value lies in the high roller events and Kessler in the past has been an icon of consistency.

Best value: Holloway - Juanda. Juanda remains one of the game's elite and it was extremely surprising that he dropped this far. Holloway was focused during the draft on taking the players who have performed for decades and he made a great choice here. There is no game Juanda won't play and in 2012, he made a final table for the seventh year in a row. The only thing that will prevent him from making it eight is his probable appearance in Macau for a $130,000 buy-in tournament early in the series. A reduction of entries limits his value, but if he's in attendance, he'll be a force.

[+] EnlargePhilipp Gruissem
Gruissem_PhilippThere may be nobody more feared on the high-stakes scene than Philipp Gruissem.
Biggest stretch: Bradley - Gruissem. It's one thing to be a superstar on the high roller circuit. It's another thing to be a consistent part of WSOP events day in and day out. Gruissem only played in three events in 2012 and with no surprise, they were all $10,000-and-up buy-in no-limit hold 'em events. Gruissem's 2013 includes five cashes for $1.4 million in earnings. He's elite, but if he doesn't play enough, he doesn't warrant the pick here. I think Gruissem could've been a good add/drop for an owner looking to grab him for the $111,111 event and beyond.

My thoughts: Well, give Glantz his first bracelet. All kidding aside, Matros has won a bracelet in each of the past three years and really, why can't he do it again? OK, it's a pretty bold assumption to make, but really not a terrible pick considering his proficiency and edge in the hold 'em variations. Negreanu called Marchese and Sands "one trick ponies" in the fact that they'll either be boom or bust in no-limit events and out of these 10, they're the only ones who fit that profile. Nguyen and Greenstein fall into the Juanda/Seidel conversation with great potential based on a career of success.

Best value: Negreanu - Shorr. I felt this spot belonged to either Shorr or Bjorin. Bjorin only has seven WSOP cashes over the past two years, but out of those seven, he has made the final table in four of them. Shorr averaged 38 WSOP events over the past two years and is ready once again for the grind. He has $1.1 million in career WSOP earnings and had a third-place finish in in the six-handed event last year, falling short to some guy named Greg Merson.

Biggest stretch: Mathers - Sands. There's not much "Doc" hasn't accomplished. He has been the No. 1 online poker player in the world, made deep runs in majors on multiple continents and captured titles that come with money that changes people's lives. He's a stretch here because he needs to make it through the minefield in the no-limit hold 'em events in order to provide value. He definitely has an edge in the $111,111 buy-in with the smaller field, but for the rest of the Series, he'll have to grind through thousands in order to bring points to Mathers' team.

My thoughts: There were a couple of players in here that I didn't see coming. Wattel being the first, Bellande the second and Billirakis for an altogether different reason the third. Except for my pick with Rettenmaier, the other nine are very proficient in all varieties. It may have been a mistake for me to take him, but just like what I said about Sands above, if he's able to go deep in one large-field hold 'em event, the pick is golden.

Best value: Mathers - Billirakis. I mean, pretty much half this round was great value in the seventh. The reason why Billirakis gets the vote here is that not much has changed for the 2012 first round pick. He still is one of the toughest competitors in any game and while he has been quiet on the live tournament felt since last year's WSOP, he's living in Vegas and is expected to be active at the Rio this summer.

Biggest stretch: Chops - Wattel, Baldwin - Bellande. If this were a fantasy football league, picking Wattel here would've been like taking a kicker before the last round. No, this is not a slight on his game, but the fact that I can't imagine anyone else was going to take him at this point. Wattel has five WSOP final tables since 2009 with three coming in $10,000 buy-in non-hold 'em events. Those are some big points there. He has one WSOP bracelet (won in 1999) and $2 million in tournament earnings throughout his career. Now, as for JRB, he's definitely good for one solid run, perhaps in the main event, but the WSOP grind hasn't been Bellande's friend over the past few years and I'm not sure why that will change in the coming weeks.

My thoughts: After looking at the final 10, we should've drafted a few more rounds. The talent pool is deep and seeing how the draft ended left with numerous names on my draft list that weren't taken. Negreanu absolutely nailed his final pick with Lisandro. The five-time bracelet winner is a machine in the non-hold 'em events and is always good for a final table or two during the Series. I'm very surprised he didn't go earlier considering he was taken in the second and fourth rounds in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Best value: Somerville - Haxton. I know I just said that Negreanu hit perfectly with Lisandro, but Somerville's addition of Haxton gives him a strong multi-game threat in the final round. Haxton essentially had six min-cashes in Vegas last year and will definitely be a factor in the big buy-in events again in 2013.

Biggest stretch: Chops - Robl. If he leaves the Macau cash games then Robl might be a solid last pick. If he prefers to stay pat, I don't know how much value he'll provide for Chops' team. Robl won the Aussie Millions AU$100,000 challenge earlier this year, so if he's going to make an appearance in Vegas, it will probably be for the $111,111 event.

Ten teams and 80 players down and so many more talented individuals not selected. It will interesting to see who the add/drops will be and what player not drafted will prove us all wrong as usual.

Here's the scoring system:

1 point for making the money

2 points for making the top 50

5 points for making the top 20

10 points for making the final table (up to a tournament with a field size of 100 players), then one additional point for each 100 players after that

then:

1 additional point for ninth

2 additional points for eighth

4 additional points for seventh

6 additional points for sixth

10 additional points for fifth

15 additional points for fourth

20 additional points for third

30 additional points for second

40 additional points for first

Double points will be awarded for all events with buy-ins of $10,000 or more. For every event that a player makes the money, additional points will be awarded based on the field size. One point will be awarded for every 100 players in the field. For example, if there are 300 players and a player makes the money, three additional points will be assigned.

Points are only awarded for in the money finishes. The final table is defined as top nine in hold 'em, eight in mixed, seven in lowball, six during short-handed events (with the exception being the four-handed event), eight in heads-up (5-8th will be awarded fifth, etc.).
Andrew Feldman is ESPN.com's Poker Editor. He is the host of the Poker Edge Podcast and co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Andrew has covered the poker industry for ESPN since 2004.

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