The 2015 rendition of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) begins on Wednesday!
With a schedule of 68 events spread between May 27 and July 14, the 46th annual WSOP is the most anticipated series of the poker season, and thousands of people will swarm on Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas for a shot at poker stardom and a piece of nearly $200 million in estimated prize money.
The summer of 2014 was a dark year for Canadians at the WSOP, getting shut out of the winner’s podium for the first time in a dozen years. The year before, we set a tough standard to beat, earning 10 bracelets in the series. In 2015, there were six Canadian runner-up finishes, but that win proved elusive.
It’s no secret that the WSOP in Vegas is largely an American ordeal. No other country has a chance at catching up to the level of success found by American players, solely because their entries outnumber everyone else by a large margin. Last year, there was a total of more than 78,000 entries by Americans. Canadian entries were the second-most numerous at just over 6,000, and we had more than double the third-place representation of the U.K. at a little under 3,000 entries.
Just playing the statistics, expect Americans to run away with the most bracelets by a large margin again for 2015. But Canada has traditionally been well-represented, earning more wins per entries than you would expect.
I predict that Canada will once again field the second-most entries for WSOP events this summer, and that we will bring home eight bracelets, with at least five of them being non-hold’em or mixed-game events.
As for Main Event-specific predictions, we will see a Canadian make the final table (something we weren’t successful in last year), but the win will not go to that Canadian. Jonathan Duhamel is the sole Canadian to have won the WSOP Main Event, having done so in 2010.
When you look through the roster of top Canadian players right now, it’s hard to imagine which of them we might be railing at a final table this summer, but I’ve come up with a list of some top picks to watch.
To follow the prediction of eight bracelets in the summer of 2015, here are eight Canadian players you need to keep your eye on in the coming month and a half, as they are strong contenders to win a bracelet:
Currently ranked No. 1 in Canada and No. 8 in the world on the Global Poker Index (GPI) and the only Canadian currently in the top 10 for 2015 GPI Player of the Year, there is plenty of evidence that points to Sorel Mizzi as the best player in the country right now.
Mizzi managed three WSOP cashes last summer, the best of which was a ninth-place finish in Event #24, a $5,000 pot-limit Omaha six-max tournament. It was another $5,000 pot-limit Omaha event in 2009 where Mizzi found his best WSOP result so far — second place for $253,048.
Despite more than $11 million in lifetime cashes, Mizzi has yet to find that WSOP win, but he’s been very close on several occasions, and he’s playing very well right now, positioning him for a good shot at getting the job done this year.
This list has to include Daniel Negreanu. I get zero points for creativity in including Negreanu, but there’s a good reason he’s a shoo-in to take down an event: he’s already done it six times in his career. He’s also finished second seven times; two of those were within his nine WSOP cashes in 2014.
With more lifetime earnings than anyone in the world at a tick under $30 million, Negreanu is arguably the most consistent player this game has ever had. He is the only two-time WSOP Player of the Year, winning the honours nine years apart. GPI named him as Player of the Decade (years 2004 - 2013), he was voted Poker’s Best Ambassador at the inaugural American Poker Awards last year, and he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
If you’re putting your money on a player this summer, there is a decent chance we’ll see Negreanu scoop up his seventh bracelet this summer. If he meets the goal he set for himself in his annual poker goal-setting blog post, he’ll win three this summer.
Mike Leah is on an upward trajectory that appears to be aimed square at a WSOP win in Las Vegas this year. He found his first bracelet last year at WSOP Asia-Pacific in the $25,000 High Roller. That followed a summer of four WSOP cashes and the incredible feat of winning two WSOP Circuit rings at back-to-back events within 24 hours. He also finished runner-up in the $10,000 World Poker Tour L.A. Poker Classic this year for more than $700,000.
Currently ranked No. 4 in Canada and No. 30 in the world, he’s ranking a little below his lifetime best of No. 13 on the GPI, but Leah is playing very well in the toughest events right now. Like both of the above players, Leah is also a strong mixed-game player (all four of his 2014 WSOP results were non-hold’em), which is where there are bracelets to be won. He can compete with the best in the many no-limit hold’em events on the schedule, but watch for Leah deep in the less popular game variants like deuce-to-seven draw lowball.
There has to be a Greenwood brother on this list, and Sam Greenwood is the one I’m going with. Not only is he higher ranked than both of his brothers at No. 9 in Canada and No. 99 in the world, he also tends to play more WSOP events. The Greenwoods seem to favour the European Poker Tour (EPT), but they’re always good for a handful of cashes at the WSOP.
Sam Greenwood is due for a win; he has never won a live tracked tournament. What he has thus-far lacked in being able to clinch the win, he makes up for in consistent deep runs in some of the most difficult tournaments in the world. The average buy-in for his cashed tournaments in 2015 is well above $25,000, so watch for this Greenwood on a final table of one of the higher-priced events on the schedule. And if he doesn’t do it, one of his brothers will, so I get partial points for an almost-correct prediction.
More and more, talented online tournament players are successfully translating their skill into live tournaments. One such player is Griffin Benger. Formerly a professional Counter-Strike player and currently known as ‘Flush_Entity’ in the online poker realm, Benger has cashed for nearly $4 million on PokerStars, $1.3 million on Full Tilt, and a few hundred thousand on a few other sites. At one point last year, Benger was ranked as the best online poker player in the world by PocketFives.
So far, his live tournament cashes have added up to more than $1.3 million with his best result being a win at EPT Berlin in the €10,300 High Roller. However, that doesn’t include the result he is best known for. In the first season of PokerStars’ made-for-TV Shark Cage, Benger won the winner-take-all format for $1 million.
Benger is my first pick that is mainly a hold’em player, but with five WSOP cashes last year and an increasingly strong live tournament presence, this could be the year Benger earns a bracelet to go with all of those online wins.
Similar to Benger, Jonas Mackoff is another player who has found most of their career earnings online but has brought the skills he’s polished online to the live tables as well. Playing under the name ‘donut604’, Mackoff has cashed for $1.7 million on PokerStars, half a million on Full Tilt, and another quarter million on partypoker. His live earnings are over $500,000.
Mackoff doesn’t play a very busy live schedule throughout the year, but he’s on my list because he’s always a dedicated grinder at the WSOP. We’ll likely see him playing most of the $1,500-and-under events with a few of the higher ones thrown in there as well. Last year, Mackoff cashed six WSOP events in a few different game formats, including a 10-game mix.
With 18 WSOP cashes to his name at only 28 years old, the chances are good that we see him make a final table at one of the many $1,500 hold’em events on the calendar this summer.
One of the more exciting moments at last summer’s WSOP was watching Justin Oliver on the final table of Event #29 — a no-limit hold’em tournament. It was still pretty early days in the series and we were looking for that first Canadian bracelet. Oliver had won the $2,500 no-limit hold’em four-max the year before to earn his first bracelet, and he was soon sitting heads up for another shot at a title in 2014. He eventually finished second — a great result for the Torontonian.
Ranked at No. 38 in and Canada No. 680 globally, Oliver is not a player often talked about. His poker playing is mostly limited to various series running in Las Vegas at lower buy-ins, but he has been booking a couple of cashes at the WSOP every year for a couple of seasons now.
By the numbers, Oliver probably doesn’t seem like an obvious pick, but I have a feeling he’s going to be playing hard as he hunts for another final table this summer. He might be a long-shot prediction, but he’s the kind of player you want to see win a tournament.
My last pick is another player that might not come to mind if you’re just crunching the numbers. Ranking at No. 140 in Canada and No. 2914 in the world, Calen McNeil is not a high-volume pro travelling the various tournament circuits. McNeil is a restaurateur who serves some of the best burgers, fries, and milkshakes you can find in Victoria, B.C. at Big Wheel Burger.
McNeil has been playing the WSOP for a number of years, cashing five events in his first year back in 2008. His strength is his mastery of Omaha, and he’ll be one to watch in any of the mixed-game formats this year. He won a bracelet in 2013 when he proved to be the best in Event #20, a $1,500 Omaha hi-lo event. He returned last year and was poised to defend his title when he made the final table of the very same event in back-to-back years. He ultimately finished fourth, but it was exciting to watch as he came incredibly close to doing what very few poker players have ever done — winning the same event two years in a row.
With so many non-hold’em events on the WSOP schedule, and all of them with generally smaller fields, McNeil’s knowledge of alternative poker variants make him one to watch this summer.
The 2015 WSOP begins on Wednesday, May 27, and PokerNews Canada is your source for in-depth coverage of every event. We’ll be bringing you daily recaps of the action, giving special attention to the Canadian contingent in all 68 bracelet events.