Time for our final 2011 Wicked Chops Award: Player of the Year.
How do we determine our POY? Same rules apply as last year:
…we were looking for a combo of things: overall results, overall impact (or potential impact) on the game, sponsorship appeal, and the amorphous “more.”
Yes, results do matter. But we’re looking for a little more than just BLUFF or Card Player‘s statistical take on the overall performer on the circuit.
In 2010, our POY came down to two players: Vanessa Selbst, and the man the myth the legend, Black Phil Ivey, Big Sldick, the one and only Dwyte Pilgrim. Selbst won out, having captured two major events and representing a lot of what had been missing from successful poker players recently: personality, pursuit of respectable non-poker career paths, and a vagina.
This year, (with apologies to Eugene Katchalov) it comes down to two individuals as well. First, let’s start with second.
From a sheer financial perspective, nobody outperformed Erik Seidel in 2011. His first four months of the year were utterly insane, capturing over $5M in high roller events and at the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. He cashed six times during the WSOP. He made two Epic final tables. His overall one-year financial haul many never be equaled by a non-Main Event winner.
However, Seidel fell just short of landing our award. And by just short, we mean by a hair. While his overall performance was unbelievable, most of the cashes came in smaller fields with only a few tables (or invite-only events). Seidel absolutely generated buzz with his performances, but it was nowhere near the levels of our Player of the Year during his impressive summer run.
And with that, for the first time in 2011, Phil Hellmuth will not finish second, as he’s our Player of the Year.
Simply put, Hellmuth had the best mix of tournament results and “relevance” of any one player this year.
On December 30, 2010, he ended his association with UB, becoming a free agent in 2011 for the first time since the poker boom. He was courted heavily during this free-agency period and before Black Friday hit, Hellmuth would’ve inked a massive sponsorship deal. It showed once again that Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and (to a lesser more complicated degree) Phil Ivey (who we’ve dubbed the Holy TriumvirateTM over the years) are the biggest needle movers in the industry, and still command the most respect from sponsors for their ability to generate interest and deliver customers to online sites.
The beginning of Hellmuth’s year was focused on this free-agent courting. After Black Friday, Hellmuth focused on his game. What that demonstrated is a focused Hellmuth is still among the best tournament players in the world.
After Black Friday, Hellmuth earned over $1.6M on the circuit. He finished second in the WSOP POY race. Most importantly, for his reputation at least, he finished second in three non-hold’em events, including the prized WSOP $50,000 Players’ Championship.
A player can’t fluke his way into those types of finishes. On the biggest stage, when it matters the most, Hellmuth performed the best, even if he didn’t close out the events.
Equally important, two things happened during that WSOP run: 1) Hellmuth generated the type of buzz and excitement that you rarely see on the tournament circuit, and 2) poker fans actually started to root for him.
We’ve covered poker now for seven years. The buzz and electricity around Hellmuth’s WSOP run we’ve only witnessed a few times: 1) around the 2006 WSOP Main Event, when the fields were outrageous, the energy in the room was always palpable, and Jamie Gold proved a compelling figure to root for or against, 2) Phil Ivey’s 2009 Main Event run, and 3) Tom Dwan‘s near evisceration of the poker economy with his 2010 second place WSOP finish.
So Hellmuth proved to be poker’s biggest needle mover in 2011. But he was also humanized. Yes, there are still and will always be those who find his antics annoying and think he’s a douche. That won’t change, nor should it, as it makes Hellmuth more interesting than anyone in the industry. But Hellmuth was also open and honest and humble in defeat. While he may not have won that coveted 12th (or 13th, or 14th) bracelet, he did walk away with more fans than he has had at any time during his career.
Hellmuth also proved to have more mainstream / cross-over appeal than any other poker player not named Negreanu. He nearly landed a spot on Dancing with the Stars, and he made an appearance on cable’s most popular reality show, Storage Wars.
With the momentum gained in 2011, rest assured that when online poker is legalized in the U.S., Hellmuth will be in the most demand and command one of the biggest deals.
So there you have it. Agree or disagree, Phil Hellmuth wins the Wicked Chops Award for Player of the Year.