With 185 players remaining (which is 3% of the original field‚Ä¶amazing), let‚Äôs sort out our favorites to win the 2005 WSOP Main Event…
1) Greg ‚ÄúFossilman‚Äù Raymer ‚Äì Last year, Raymer showed he knew how to manage a chip lead and bulldozed mid-to-short stacks, almost cake-walking to the title once he made the final table. If he avoids a few bad beats, why should it be any different this year?
The amazing thing about Raymer is that he is just starting to earn respect from (most) people. Did he get lucky last year? Sure. You must get lucky to win the WSOP Main Event. He got lucky this year too. Remember, a few hours into Day 1, he was down to 3k in chips and was fortunate to double up a few times. While people had instant respect for last year‚Äôs runners-up (David Williams and Josh Arieh), Raymer was mostly considered a fluke‚Äîlikely due to the fact he qualified on Poker Stars (although he‚Äôs been a Foxwoods Casino staple for years) and he wore, and still does wear, those goofy glasses.
While there‚Äôs still a ways to go, Raymer has put himself in position to win the Main Event again. If he does, he‚Äôll accomplish something no one ever thought was possible again‚Äîwinning back-to-back WSOP titles. It would be the greatest feat in the history of poker.
2) Phil Ivey ‚Äì Think poker is huge now? If either Raymer or Ivey pulls off a Main Event win this year, you ain‚Äôt seen nothing yet.
Phil Ivey is recognized by nearly everyone as the best current poker player. Having observed him play this past week (and seeing his hole cards and how he played cards, people and position for two hours), there is good reason for this. While now considered more of a cash game player, Ivey has had arguably the best tournament year of anyone, making four consecutive major event final tables, not to mention winning his fifth WSOP bracelet (Event #27, Pot Limit Omaha w/ re-buys). As the 7th largest stack right now, his typical aggression (and reputation) can really pay off. It would be very surprising NOT to see him at the final table.
As poker hits the apex of popularity and cultural zeitgeist, it would only seem fitting if the best player in the game wins the WSOP. For the sake of the game and its continued growth, let‚Äôs hope he does.
3) Rodney Pardey, Jr. ‚Äì A relative unknown, Pardey has been near the chip lead the entire tournament. Wearing a Smith‚Äôs shirt (yes, Morrissey‚Äôs old band) for two days in a row, he looks more like a vital cog in an indie band (so, like us) than someone playing poker for a $7.5 million prize. Maybe he‚Äôs smoking what Gank is smoking. More likely though, his laid-back confidence and pedigree (his dad is a multiple bracelet winner) fuels his success. If he won, expect another Moneymaker-esque ‚Äúpoker for the masses‚Äù movement (although don‚Äôt expect the Moneymaker-esque-cash-in-while-still-almost-famous handling of success). Pardey‚Äôs personality suggests he‚Äôd just go right back to the tables and grind away.
4) Howard Lederer ‚Äì Watching Lederer this week, one of the most amazing traits about his game is that he simply doesn‚Äôt make a mistake. While his style of play won‚Äôt lead to having the chip lead in early stages of many tournaments, it does ensure him to be there when it counts the most.
Lederer is one of the most observant players out there. If he makes the final table with a few other pros that he‚Äôs familiar with, watch out.
5) Mike ‚ÄúThe Mouth‚Äù Matusow ‚Äì The Mouth has been the biggest surprise of the week. On TV, he‚Äôs almost impossible to watch. In person, he‚Äôs one of the most entertaining and skilled players you‚Äôll find. Matusow has had the least amount of fluctuation in his stack this week of any major player we‚Äôve followed. While Raymer or Ivey‚Äôs stack goes up 200k, down 300k, up 500k, Matusow just keeps climbing up, making strong plays and taking down pots.
Also, if Matusow and Raymer were to make the final table (or one of the last tables), it would be a dream come true for ESPN. You almost get the feeling it‚Äôs meant to happen.
6) Currently with the 13th largest stack, Bob Hotchandani has been another steady climber, consistently building without huge swings. From what we‚Äôve observed, his game is solid. Maybe not ready for a win yet, especially if the final table has experienced pros like Raymer, Ivey, Lederer, and Matusow, a final table appearance could still be in the cards for Hotchandani.
Another pro with a shot, though not well known, is Tim Phan. While he definitely has game, he doesn’t seem to have the reads the top pros have, and it’s been his aggressive style of play that has gotten him through. But he’s cashed in plenty of tournaments, and is obviously a force. Also, Russel Salzer, Minh Ly and Hung La all have had impressive weeks and have impressed us with solid play.
Of course, there‚Äôs still a good chance someone you‚Äôve never heard of will take this thing. But Vegas is all about odds and handicapping, and we think these guys are among those with the best shot.