- Gary Wise, ESPN Poker
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LAS VEGAS -- Some stories tell themselves. We all know Chris Moneymaker as the man who came to represent the dream of instant wealth for the everyman. Moneymaker's 2003 World Series of Poker championship was broadcast to the world on ESPN and convinced the viewers that they -- like the charismatic, relatable 28-year-old accountant they saw on their screens -- could win millions of dollars, run through poker's best players and be champion of the world.
In the time since, Moneymaker's legacy has been the boom he sparked, but the excited chatter he inspired has, at some times in some camps, turned to low murmurs of dissent over the luck he enjoyed and the murmurers haven't. They say he hasn't posted much in the way of results since; what they don't see is just how smart the man is.
Moneymaker has used his fame in the past half-decade to become a successful brand and to intimidate in low-risk, low-stakes play. A typical night at the tables might be a $2/$5 game, a few beers and a few thousand dollars' profit at the end against players who are happy to have met and lost to the man.On Thursday, however, he rejoined the big boys with a performance on Day 1 of Event 2 of the 2009 World Series of Poker that's turned the murmurs back to excited chatter.
While more were expected initially, a total of 201 players put up the $40,000 entry fee for a net prize pool of $7,718,400 and a first-place prize of $1,891,012. When the dust settled on the night, just 89 players remained, with Moneymaker and France's Bruno Fitoussi separated from the pack. Both players had slightly more than $800,000; Emil "whitelime" Patel had $615,000 in third. Justin Bonomo, Michael DeMichele and Brian Townsend were among others to clear the half-million barrier.
While low attendance and missing names like Patrik Antonius were the stories early on, all eyes now turn to Moneymaker. On Friday and Saturday, he'll face a lot of play, even before Sunday's final table. But if poker's original hero can win the biggest-buy-in, no-limit, hold 'em event in WSOP history on national television, he'll quiet a lot of murmurs once and for all. We can only hope.
Here's a look at the top 10 heading into Day 2 with 27 players making the money:
Bruno Fitoussi $812,500
Chris Moneymaker $805,000
Justin Bonomo $738,000
Alexander Veldhuis $646,500
Kyle Wilson $611,500
Brian Townsend $609,000
Michael DeMichele $519,500
Emil Patel $494,500
Alan Sass $491,000
Andrew Black $449,500
Remember that article I wrote a year ago about the best players to have never won a bracelet? Or the one I wrote on the same topic a year before that? Or the year before that? Yeah, it's that time again.
Thing is, in thinking about that theme, I've come to realize that "best" doesn't really apply as much as "most established" or "most surprising." After all, Tom Dwan wasn't on my list a year ago because he'd never had his shot. He has now.
Welcome to this year's bracelet virgins column. I like "bracelet virgins" because it carries a mocktacular tone that seems suitable for the topic at hand. You haven't made your name until you've gotten the gold around your wrist, and everyone who hasn't gotten it knows it. Here's hoping some of these guys get theirs this time around.
Patrik Antonius -- It sure seems like the only reason "The Black Lotus" hasn't gotten some gold is that he doesn't care much about it. Life is good when your cash game dominance can buy you far more expensive baubles, and Antonius embraces that by sticking to $10,000 events and side game action.
Michael Binger -- Binger, on the other hand, has tried and done everything short of taking home the gold. Third in the 2006 main event, eight cashes in 2007, Binger has become one of the best no-limit hold 'em tournament players in the world, according to everyone whose opinion means anything. He'll put in the time and get there
Andy Bloch -- When Erick Lindgren won his bracelet in 2008, he handed down his bracelet-virgin-posterboy-dom to this man. I'm an Andy Bloch fan. He's thoughtful, well spoken, a genius and super skilled. He's also managed to finish second in just about every major tournament under the sun, and it's about time he breaks through to take the gold. I'm feeling like this is the year it will happen.
Tom Dwan -- Get a bunch of poker players together and get them chatting, and two names inevitably surface: Phil Hellmuth and Tom Dwan. Dwan is an uber-talent, the first face of the new generation of online players. He hasn't had many shots at the gold, since he's just 22, but until he does win one, people who follow the game will wonder why he hasn't.
Bertrand "Elky" Grospellier -- The hottest tournament player in the world. Elky has won three major tournaments, finished third in the National Heads-Up Poker Championship and the WPT championship, and seems to be winning at will. Some have said this will be his true coming out party, finally crowning him as a megastar. It says here that he won't achieve that kind of prominence until he gets his gold.
Gus Hansen -- Three WPT wins, no WSOP bracelets. Hansen is a massive personality in this game, and there's no denying his skill or style, but it has to bother him that he's become a mainstay on these lists. His WSOP record is fairly atrocious, with only five cashes in the past five years. If the cash games keep calling, he'll be here a while longer.
Andrew Feldman is hoping Elky and Nam Le remove themselves from this list. Why? They're on his fantasy poker team. Check out who drafted your favorite player -- and yes, Gavin Smith took himself in the second round.
Check out the teams
Nam Le -- Year in and year out, no one is more consistent than Nam Le. With six WPT final tables, including a win, he's shown over the past few years that he has what it takes, but none of his 15 cashes over the past four years has translated into a victory. Best friend and consultant JC Tran finally got his bracelet a year ago. Maybe that will give Le the nudge he needs to get over the hump himself.
Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi -- It seems like a long time ago now that The Grinder was sitting on top of the poker world. He finished second and first in back-to-back WPT events back in 2006, capping a meteoric rise that's seldom been rivaled. With career winnings in excess of $6 million and 19 WSOP cashes, one has to think it's merely a matter of time before he finally breaks through. Brother Robert beat him to the punch in 2007 with his first bracelet.
Gavin Smith -- Poker Road's favorite Canadian was the WPT player of the year a few years ago but has failed thus far in his quest for the WSOP bracelet. His two closest friends among the professional elite -- Bill Edler and Erick Lindgren -- finally got their hardware in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Could 2009 be the year he finally gets it done?
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to espn.com. You can hear more of his poker musings on The Poker Beat at Poker Road.
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