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Best of Dan Podheiser

Gaming Guru

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Top 10 players I'll be watching at the 2015 WSOP

11 May 2015

The 46th Annual World Series of Poker kicks off in just 16 days, beginning with the $565 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold'em event on May 27. The series will feature 68 events (64 are fully open to the public) over just 49 days and will halt when the Main Event reaches its final nine players on July 14.

I covered the WSOP Main Event for the first time last year and was left in awe of the circus that takes place inside the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino during the summer. The World Series is Disney World for poker players. It's a series for all types of players – a true convention for the poker world.

And while tens of thousands of pros and novices alike will converge on the Rio again this summer, there are a handful of players I will particularly be keeping an eye on.

Here are the top 10 players I'll be watching as the action unfolds this summer.

10. Dean Baranowski

From a journalist's perspective, the first few days of the Main Event are a complete mess. There are so many players and so many tables that it's tough to zero in on an interesting storyline or a potential feature to write. You just have to go hunting.

On Day 1C last year, I was walking around the massive Pavilion when I spotted a blonde-haired woman standing behind the ropes, watching a table. I asked her who or what she was watching, and to no surprise, she was rooting for her husband. That's pretty common at the World Series.

As it turns out, the husband, Dean Baranowski, made a deep run, finished in 527th in the 2013 Main Event and won $21,495. And his wife, Colleen, was right there by his side the entire time, delivering him smoothies and snacks and keeping his spirits high. They were back again in 2014, and I decided to write a story about them. I figured I'd never see them again.

But Dean kept surviving. He made it through Days 2 and 3. On Day 4, he reached the money. And on Day 5, he nursed a short stack all the way to a 135th-place finish for $52,141. Some players might call that disappointing. The Baranowskis were ecstatic.

I interviewed Dean one more time before he and Colleen left the Rio for good that night, and I figured I might run into them again at the 2015 Main Event. Or maybe not. Dean was just an amateur, after all.

But the full-time chiropractor has been absolutely crushing it on the tournament circuit since last summer. He's had six cashes in 2015 alone, including a seventh-place finish in the $3,500 buy-in WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open Championship for $116,667 and a 19th-place exit at the $15,400 WPT World Championship for $31,297.

Dean's deep runs at the Main Event seem to have given him some confidence to play with the big boys. And if he takes some time off from his chiropractor work to play multiple tournaments at the World Series in 2015, I wouldn't be surprised to see his name all over the payout sheets.

9. Asher Conniff

Talk about a kid who is red hot. Conniff, a Brooklyn native, recently took down the first event at the Borgata Spring Poker Open for $203,231. The 26-year-old then accidentally registered for a $1,600 buy-in online satellite for the WPT World Championship and won a seat to the event. And then he took down the world title for a whopping $937,683.

Conniff will undoubtedly be one of the hottest players entering the World Series this summer. But I'll be watching him for personal reasons. Conniff is actually a good friend of my college roommate, Nick, who's a director living in New York. Nick is filming a documentary for Rolling Stone about Conniff, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. Hey, maybe I'll do some fact-checking for the film and get a credit!

8. Paul Pierce






7. Maria Ho

Maria Ho made headlines in the poker world when she was the “last woman standing” in the 2007 Main Event, eventually finishing 38th for $237,865. Last year, Ho became the first woman since the poker boom in 2003 to earn that recognition twice when she placed 77th for $85,812.

Ho also has a second-place finish in a $5,000 No Limit Hold'em event at the World Series on her resume, and with 30 cashes in her WSOP career, she's proven she can handle herself in all types of tournament formats and in several different games.

6. Mark Newhouse

Newhouse's run to make back-to-back Main Event final tables in 2013 and 2014 is one of the most impressive feats in WSOP history. But his ninth-place finish in 2014, following the same result the year before, is probably the biggest bust since the November Nine began in 2008.

I don't know how anyone could possibly bounce back from what Newhouse went through last year. Sure, he made$730,725. But he also “lost” millions of dollars in expected equity. For two straight years, Newhouse collected a check in July, and then returned to the Rio in November to win absolutely nothing. He had two chances to set himself up for life, and he failed.

The odds of Newhouse making the final table again are through the roof. But maybe he'll return to the World Series more determined than ever this year. We shall see.

5. Erik Seidel

Maybe it's because he's a low-key, quiet guy, or maybe it's because he went through a bit of a slump during the heavily-televised days of the poker boom. But Seidel, with eight WSOP bracelets, is an absolute legend in the poker world and continues to crush games against the best players on the circuit.

The 55-year-old recently won the EPT Grand Final €100,000 Super High Roller for €2,015,000 and is now third on the all-time tournament earnings list. He'll likely play all the high buy-in events this summer, and with a deep run in the $111,111 One Drop High Roller or the Main Event, he could vault his way to the top of the list.

4. Daniel Colman

Nobody had a better 2014 playing poker tournaments than Daniel Colman. The online heads-up specialist and 25-year-old vaulted his way to third place (now fifth) on the all-time tournament earnings leaderboard thanks to three seven-figure scores and a massive $15.3 million win in the $1 million Big One for One Drop.

Colman declined to be interviewed after his One Drop win, sparking a major controversy within the poker media. He was viewed as a spoiled kid who had no respect for the game and who only cared about himself.

That controversy has since died down, but Colman will surely be returning to the Rio again in 2015 to defend his One Drop title (albeit in a lower buy-in format). This time, he'll probably have the bankroll to own more of his own stake in the event.

3. Martin Jacobson

The defending Main Event champion will, of course, be one to watch this summer. Jacobson made headlines in November when he took down poker's most notable event for $10 million, but many poker fans probably don't know that the Swede already had about $5 million in lifetime live tournament earnings prior to his win.

Jacobson has had a handful of cashes since the Main Event, including a recent 10th-place finish in Monte Carlo for $107,338. He should be ready to go at the Rio.

2. Daniel Negreanu

No one takes the World Series of Poker more seriously than Negreanu, the game's most marketable superstar. The 40-year-old PokerStars Team Pro has six WSOP bracelets and is the all-time leading tournament earnings leader, with nearly $30 million in live cashes.

Last year, Negreanu and fellow superstar Phil Ivey joined together to offer a bet that at least one of them would win a bracelet. Ivey locked up the win on that bet when he took down the $1,500 Eight Game Mix, but Negreanu made bigger headlines last summer with his second-place finish in the Big One for One Drop for $8.28 million.

Negreanu has been keeping himself busy lately playing both live and online, now that he's live streaming his sessions on Twitch. If you can win money online while broadcasting your hands (on delay), you know you're pretty good. Speaking of which …

1. Jason Somerville

Somerville, who has spent the last 70-plus days live streaming on Twitch, will be leading “Team Run It Up” at the Rio this summer. The new PokerStars Team Pro has completely revolutionized the way that online poker sites market their stars, and his popularity is sure to grow.

But mainly I'm excited to see how Somerville transitions from the online grind to the live one. He's no stranger to the live tournament circuit, with $3.9 million in earnings on the felt. But he no longer considers himself a “live pro,” or even a poker pro at all. He's a new form of poker celebrity, one who plays not just for money but for a broader form of entertainment.

At the World Series, there will be no live streaming for Somerville. But you can bet there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of Run It Up supporters on his rail at the Rio throughout the summer. I think he's going to have a huge World Series.
Top 10 players I'll be watching at the 2015 WSOP is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Dan Podheiser

Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.
Dan Podheiser
Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.