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With the World Series of Poker Main Event completed and a new World Champion in Koray Aldemir crowned, one of the last major awards of the series to be handed out this fall will be to the winner of the 2021 WSOP Player of the Year.
Headed into the last weekend of the 2021 schedule, there is plenty of drama left to be had as the final WSOP events to take place at the Rio all have the potential to shake up the leaderboard and provide a potential surprise ending to this year’s tightly-run race.
One person, looking for as little drama as possible is current POY frontrunner (and PocketFives’ own) Josh Arieh. After a series performance that includes two bracelet wins and a final table appearance in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship, Arieh simply needs to hold in order to have his banner hanging in the halls of the new home of the WSOP when it moves to the Strip in the summer of 2022
READ: Q&A With Josh Arieh: Enjoying Life, Seeing Success At The WSOP
While a nearly 600 point lead is substantial, it’s by no means insurmountable. He understood this when, earlier in the week he announced on Twitter that he had to make his way back to Atlanta and that his WSOP was over – meaning that he wouldn’t have an opportunity to improve his position. But days later, circumstances changed for Arieh and he booked a flight back to Las Vegas in order to try and regain the heat had throughout most of the series and lock down a place in WSOP history.
One of those players Arieh needs to contend with is the 16-timer Phil Hellmuth who, after an in-the-money finish in the $777 WSOP Online event and a final table appearance in the $10K Razz Championship, has vaulted right back into the race. He currently sits in second place, and has made it well-known that he’s angling to win the POY award.
Although he’s sitting in a solid position right now, the remaining schedule doesn’t quite favor Hellmuth. His reputation for being “less than” at mixed games has been obliterated during the 2021 series, but unfortunately for him, there are no more small field/big point mixed game Championships for him to run deep in. Now, in order to make up the points he needs to catch Arieh, he’s going to have to get back to basics and dominate in No Limit Hold’em. Of the nine events that he can still register for while in Las Vegas, eight are NLHE with the lone stand out being the $50,000 Pot Limit Omaha. Perhaps the route for Hellmuth is to focus on grinding out a deep run in one of the larger field, smaller buy-in events like The Closer, the $1,000 Turbo, and the $5,000 8-Handed.
This brings up another, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of the late POY race – the emphasis on High Rollers late in the schedule. Of those nine events, four have a buy-in of $50,000 or more. While both Hellmuth and Arieh are regular runners in the $50K PPC, playing in the NLHE shark-infested waters of the $50,000-$250,000 NLHE events is a totally different game. The fields will be replete with the biggest crushers in the game today, including the likes of Michael Addamo, Ali Imsirovic, and Justin Bonomo. Fields that some of those that are looking to close the POY race may not have a lot of experience against.
There’s a lot of leaderboard points at stake in these remaining High Rollers and if someone can put together a run, as Michael Addamo did in PokerGO’s Poker Masters and Super High Roller Bowl prior to the WSOP, there’s plenty of points there to upend the POY leaderboard. That bodes well specifically for someone like Daniel Negreanu.
Negreanu, sitting near the top of the Total Cashes leaderboard with 16 in the series, currently sits in 16th place on the POY leaderboard – one of the highest positions for the tight-knit crew of nosebleed MTTers. He’s 1,200 points behind Arieh and it would be a tough task to rack up that many points in such a short amount of time. However, in the $250,000 Super High Roller – in which he still has a shot to win – there are no less than 1,228 points for first place. There will likely be more than 1,100 points up for grabs for all of the High Rollers and should Negreanu keep cashing at his current pace it may just be enough to make a last-minute surge.
Another player that the same scenario holds true for is Scott Ball. Ball, an NLHE specialist, has two WSOP bracelets – both won this series – and now has plenty of bonus bankroll to chase the POY. He took down the $5K Six-Max (one of the toughest tournaments of the series) for $562,667 and then best the massive field in the Little One For One Drop for another $396,445. He’s also proven he’s not afraid to fire $50Ks, scoring an 11th place finish an earlier $50,000 buy-in NLHE this series for $87,500. Ball, having a career series, is just over 700 points away from the lead and if his heater continues he could be a dark horse late in the race.
Other storylines that have the potential to emerge include early POY favorite Anthony Zinno, making a deep run in the $50Ks, as we know he plans on playing them. Look to see if Aldemir, currently in fourth place, returns to the series well-rested after his marathon win in the Main Event to fire in high rollers which have been his bread and butter for years.
Finally, Shaun Deeb, currently sitting in tenth place, would love nothing more than to make a deep run in the $50K PLO to upend one of his best friends in Arieh and make history for himself by becoming a two-time POY winner.
The best part about this race is that it ends in Las Vegas. Despite WSOP Europe kicking off this coming week, the winner will be determined at the Rio, as it is meant to be.
To view the current 2021 WSOP Player of the Year standing – click here.