$40,000 and very talented rookies
Bonomo holds chip lead after Day 2
LAS VEGAS -- The Moneymaker repeat will not be in effect at the 2009 World Series of Poker Event 2, the $40,000 no-limit hold 'em tournament. After a glimpse of the possibility of the 2003 champion's resurgence, we waited with bated breath only to see every man's everyman fall by the wayside, replaced atop the standings by a healthy mix of online and live representatives.
On a day that started with 89 players and finished in the money with just 23, Moneymaker was knocked out in 38th, eventually replaced in the driver's seat by a newer breed of poker star. Justin Bonomo was a constant presence in the first five spots on the leaderboard during Day 2 and finished on top of it. Mostly graduated to live play, the former online phenom ended Day 2 with $2.6 million. The 24-year-old Bonomo seems to be the bridge in this field between online pros like David Baker ($2.3 million), who's third in chips, and Lex 'RaSZi' Veldhuis ($2.1 million), who's fifth, and more familiar names to the masses following at home.
Moneymaker's misfortunes centered mostly around a yo-yo battle with Ted Forrest ($2.5 million) that ended with Forrest's kings topping Moneymaker's 10-10 when both pocket pairs hit their respective sets on the flop. One of the few players to have ever won three bracelets in a single year (1993), Forrest also boasts a National Heads-Up Championship on his résumé and holds tremendous respect within the professional community for his unorthodox play and his seeming dedication to play rather than poker's extra-curricular distractions.
Meanwhile, the "World Championship" banner is now being carried by Greg Raymer. The 2004 champion has been every bit as much the poker ambassador as Moneymaker and has proven to have staying power with the kind of big stack he's wielding now. He bounced in and out of the top spot twice in the day's later stages and now sits in fourth with $2.2 million.
The remaining field of 23 will play down to nine on Saturday before Sunday's final table. With Friday's final eliminations including David Pham, JC Tran and Vanessa Rousso, online players seem to be winning the battle for poker's newest elite landscape. The question now is whether the likes of Forrest and Raymer can avoid being overrun.
Here are the top 10 chip leaders heading into Saturday's play:
Justin Bonomo $2.6 million
Ted Forrest $2.5 million
David Baker $2.3 million
Greg Raymer $2.2 million
Alexander Veldhuis $2.1 million
Alec Torelli $1.7 million
Keith Lehr Jr. $1.2 million
Vitaly Lunkin $1.1 million
Matt Marafioti $1.0 million
Brian Rast $912,000
A year ago, Tom Dwan's name was on the tips of tongues wagging throughout the Rio as the new kid on the block. Dwan is a once-in-a-generation player, combining brilliance with gamble in a way that may not have been seen in one man since the emergence of Phil Ivey. No wonder then that he stole the attention from the rest of his rookie class.
There's no Dwan in 2009, but this class may prove to be far deeper than last year's. As we move further away from poker's blossoming, the annual generations are a year better-educated and better-established in an online world that still lacks the kind of regulation that will stop a 15-year-old from finding his or her way to poker wealth. The result is rookie debuts coming from experienced pros in 21-year-old bodies. Here are just a few of them:
Isaac Baron -- An online whiz with victories in both the PokerStars Sunday Million and the Full Tilt Online Poker Series, Baron is already one of the top tournament pros in the world. "WestmenloAA" has parlayed his online success into a remarkable string of live cashes outside the USA, with a fourth-place finish at the 2008 EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo good for a $932,000 score. Think about this; still 21, this kid already has five WPT cashes. It's only the beginning.
Jeff Garza -- Norfolk, Mass.,' "ActionJeff" burst onto the live scene with a sixth-place finish at the WPT's North American Poker Championship at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Canada. Garza's winnings in online tournament play aren't entirely unimpressive, but it's in cash games that he's been considered a monster for the past four years. Now finally legal to play in live American tournaments, the 2009 WSOP will see him finally try to crack the public consciousness.
Christian Harder -- Unlike most of the players on this list, Harder's major accomplishments have occurred in the live arena. A fourth-place finish at the WPT championship in April netted him $571,965 for his trouble, bringing his career live tournament winnings to just short of $1 million.
Adam Junglen -- The first member of this class to secure sponsorship (Full Tilt), Junglen's story is a remarkable one for the mental fortitude he's shown in conquering adversity in life to achieve greatness at the felt. Adopted in infancy, Junglen has managed to conquer all and impress along the way, even inspiring Daniel Negreanu to take him under his wing. His strongest showing to date was a $268,622 win for sixth place at the 2007 EPT Barcelona.
Soren Kongsgaard -- It's hard to fathom what this Danish phenom's going to do for an encore at 21. Kongsgaard already has three live six-digit cashes on his résumé, foremost amongst them a $814,306 third-place finish at the 2007 EPT Grand Finale. He also managed a twelfth-place finish in the main event of the 2008 WSOP Europe. To date, none of his 18 live cashes have come in the USA.
Ozzy Sheikh -- Two years ago, "Ozzy87" was seen the way Dwan is now. An incredible talent who went on a multimillion dollar run, Sheikh has since found himself in trouble with both the law and the rules of tournament poker. Making news both for playing into the second day of a Venetian Deep stack event despite being underage and for his arrest some 20 months ago in connection with reckless speeding and possession of marijuana, there's still no denying his talent. There's potential for Ozzy to explode if he can keep his focus on his play.
Justin Smith -- Smith came to viewer attention early this year when seen thriving in the WSOP Europe main event despite battling severe illness. "BoostedJ" has impressed in multiple poker disciplines, which may make him the best shot in this class to take home a bracelet. To that effect, he's offered an open challenge to anyone without a bracelet to their name, saying he'll take action up to $5,000 with the winner being determined by total WSOP player of the year points. It's a bold statement and it will be interesting to see if any of the players listed yesterday will take him up on the challenge.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to espn.com. You can hear more of his poker musings on The Poker Beat at Poker Road.