The 2019 World Series of Poker is finally upon us and this year’s edition promises to be a doozy with millions of dollars in prize money, 80-plus gold bracelets and countless fascinating storylines.
To start things off, it’s the 50th anniversary of the venerable poker series (which started as a humble cash game in 1970) and the WSOP has rolled out the red carpet for players by offering a rake-free Big 50 tournament with $5 million in guaranteed prizes.
The Big 50 is just one piece of the 50th-year anniversary celebrations, which also include a $100k buy-in tournament and an awards ceremony for the players and builders who made the WSOP what it is today. Feel free to check out the complete 2019 WSOP schedule for more information.
But what about the actual poker and the players primed to make the most noise?
There will always be some surprises but expect the biggest names in poker to be out in full force, including the likes of Antonio Esfandiari, Erik Seidel and Mike “The Mouth” Matusow.
There will also be some missing faces as Doyle Brunson has retired from tournament play and Phil Ivey hasn’t played much at the WSOP over the last year.
Not sure who to look for in the chip counts or live stream? We’ve highlighted five poker pros with unique stories heading into the 2019 WSOP (all stats from hendonmob.com poker database).
At this point it seems extraneous to put Daniel Negreanu on a list of players to watch at the WSOP. It’s pretty much a given that fans are going to want to see what the six-time WSOP bracelet Sportsbook is going to do on poker’s biggest stage. This year is different, however.
Consider that within the last two weeks Negreanu got married, split from his 10-plus year sponsor PokerStars and sold some of his WSOP action to fans (with no mark-up) for the first time ever.
It’s pretty clear that the 2019 WSOP is an especially important one for Kid Poker and, for the first time in a while, he’s legitimately got something to prove.
To make things even more interesting, Negreanu has tweaked his schedule and will play a large number of small buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournaments in an attempt to chase a record third WSOP Player of the Year title.
Negreanu has always been capable of posting massive scores at the WSOP but this year fans who got lucky enough to get a piece of Negreanu will share in his success. Thanks to all the aforementioned factors, this might just be the biggest WSOP ever for Negreanu.
With Daniel Negreanu out of the way, we’ll focus on a player who casual poker fans probably wouldn’t even recognize.
Alex Foxen has been posting official tournament results since 2012 but he’s never had a year quite like this one. The New York native is currently leading the Global Poker Index database with 3,952 points that includes nearly $10 million in earnings since the start of 2018.
Unlike some of his fellow high-stakes competitors, Foxen appears motivated to play a large volume of WSOP tournaments and was looking to find action on bracelet bets via Twitter earlier this week. That’s a good sign that someone is ready to put in the time.
Another motivating factor? Despite nearly $12 million in total earnings, Foxen has never won a WSOP bracelet.
Perhaps the only downside for Foxen is that he’s mostly a No-Limit Hold’em guy. The WSOP has plenty of mixed games and you’re missing out if you don’t play games like Seven-Card Stud and Lowball. On the other hand, Foxen does have some experience playing Pot-Limit Omaha and he’s recorded five cashes in the format.
Foxen is assuredly a dark horse on this list but he appears primed to break out in a huge way at the WSOP.
Phil “Poker Brat” Hellmuth is one of the most famous poker players in the world and has been posting results at the WSOP since 1988.
It was in 1989, however, that he shocked the poker world by beating Johnny Chan in the Main Event and ending Chan’s attempt to win a record three consecutive Main Event titles.
Since then Hellmuth has consistently been one of the most successful players at the WSOP as the series experienced massive growth in the early 2000s.
Hellmuth’s style of play is somewhat controversial and there are many experienced players who think the Poker Brat’s methods are somewhat outdated.
Outdated or not, Hellmuth has proven that he is amazingly adept at navigating his way through massive fields. He also knows how to close out a tournament and has a fantastic record at final tables.
Hellmuth won his record 15th WSOP bracelet last summer and appears to be pulling away from his competition as Doyle Brunson has retired from tournament play and Phil Ivey is playing fewer WSOP tournaments these days.
Interestingly, Hellmuth is primarily a No-Limit Hold’em player but has gotten much better at mix games over the last five years and won a Razz bracelet in 2015.
It’s somewhat a given but Hellmuth is definitely a player to watch. The big question is whether he’ll win his 16th WSOP bracelet this year.
To have a shot at the WSOP Player of the Year, you generally want to be competent in multiple games.
The non-Hold’em events tend to have smaller fields and that potentially gives players a better chance at winning bracelets.
Playing all the games is not an issue for Ben Yu, who’s quietly established himself as one of the best all-around players at the WSOP with an astounding 68 cashes since he started posting results in 2008.
Yu was an absolute beast at the 2018 WSOP with 15 cashes, including three final tables. He also won one of those final tables for a tidy sum of $1.6 million.
The LA native seems to have found a new gear to his game over the last couple of years and is a consistent threat in almost everything he plays.
He’s a powerhouse on the high-stakes circuit but he also has a major advantage at the WSOP since he plays all the games.
Canadian poker pro Mike Leah knows all the games and is always in the mix but has never managed to close out Player of the Year. Perhaps this is the year.
Leah, who got his start by playing online poker under the name “GoLeafsGoEh,” has earned over $7.8 million in a career that spans back to 2006. In that time Leah has cashed a staggering 76 times and won one WSOP bracelet (which came back in 2014).
Last year Leah added another 10 WSOP cashes, including three final tables. He placed fourth in the prestigious Poker Players Championship (which utilizes 10 different games on rotation) for a hefty $364,197.
Leah simply has a thirst for poker and often takes a volume approach to major series, playing everything from $888 buy-in tournaments to $50,000 buy-in events. Somehow the Toronto native managed to stay motivated in all of them, as well.
That’s pretty much the perfect mix for having a monster WSOP. Perhaps this is the year Leah finally breaks out and takes down the coveted Player of the Year trophy.