2019 World Series of Poker: PokerNews Staff Predictions (Part One)
Summer is coming and that means it's also time annual poker pilgrimages to hot and sunny Las Vegas where poker players the world over will try their luck - and skill - at the World Series of Poker. The year is likely the last chance to play the seven-week poker festival at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, making the 50th anniversary all the more special.
With a robust bracelet event schedule, players numbering in the thousands and some of the biggest tournament fields around, it's nearly impossible to predict what will unfold during the series, but that doesn't stop the PokerNews staff from giving it a go. With dozens of years in poker media under our collective belts, we're making some bold predictions for what's to come... Who will add to their bracelet collections? Who will have a breakout WSOP year? Which events will crush?
Our team of prognosticators includes iBus Media Head of Content Frank Op de Woerd, Global Live Reporting Manager Yori Epskamp, Head of Video Sarah Herring, PokerNews Strategy Editor Martin Harris, U.S. Live Reporting Manager Chad Holloway, staff editors Mo Nuwwarah and Valerie Cross, PokerNews contributor Paul Seaton, and seasoned tournament reporters Tim Duckworth, Jan Kores, Will Shillibier, Shirley Ang, Aaron McBride and Jason Glatzer.
Check out some of our projected outcomes for the 2019 WSOP below, and see which ones you agree with.
What former WSOP Main Event champ will add to their gold bracelet collection?
Jason Glatzer: There are so many talented former WSOP Main Event champions that are hungry for more WSOP gold. I don’t think just one of them will win a gold bracelet but I’d pick Phil Hellmuth if there was money on the line.
Aaron McBride: Joe Cada. The 2009 champ showed last year that he is still hunting for bracelets at every opportunity!
Mo Nuwwarah: Chris Moneymaker will win one for the people. Sure, he hasn't cashed a WSOP event since 2007 (!), but this is the year Moneymaker does it again. He's done well in some mixed game events at Run It Up and even on the EPT, so I'll shot call and say he ships $1,500 8-Game. Please at least play it so I have a chance, Chris.
Tim Duckworth: Since Chris Ferguson returned to the WSOP in 2016, he has been an absolute monster on the felt. His 2017 alone saw him set a record with 23 WSOP cashes including his sixth WSOP bracelet and WSOP Player of the Year honors. With the amount of volume he will be putting in, I think he is the hands-down favorite to add to his WSOP bracelet collection.
Sarah Herring: As unpopular as this answer might be, I think from a statistical probability, you can’t go wrong with Phil Hellmuth. He has 15 bracelets in his possession that range from Razz to Limit to No Limit. The WSOP is undoubtedly where he shines. Although his “shining” has been known to cause controversy, he remains a force to be reckoned with.
Will Shillibier: Ryan Riess.
Shirley Ang: Hmmm, I have to go with Ryan Riess here. He’s been doing well lately and seems to be on a high in his personal life too, so I’m hoping his good run will keep on going!
Chad Holloway: I’ve been present when Phil Hellmuth has won bracelets 12-15, and I have a feeling I’ll be there this summer when he ships No. 16. The Poker Brat always seems to get it done. Also, it’s been awhile since Daniel Negreanu has captured a bracelet. He’ll be riding high from his wedding so I like his chances.
Jan Kores: Joe Cada had some summer last time, but I don't think any former champ will come close to repeating his feat. If I'm being rational, Chris Ferguson would be the best bet, based on his volume and results in mixed games.
Paul Seaton: Joe Cada. I interviewed Joe in 2017 and then he was one of the stars of the 2018 series. I think he has the experience, dedication and staying power to put himself in the right position multiple times.
Frank Op de Woerd: It's kind of amazing to see how many WSOP Main Event champions are still around and really at the top of their game. Joe McKeehen is still superb, Joe Cada showed the world last year that he's still a contender, Ryan Riess has done extremely well for himself, even in high rollers, Phil Hellmuth won another bracelet last year, Chris Ferguson has been making deep runs since his return, Martin Jacobson still plays big stakes online, and even Jamie Gold said he was returning this year. It's hard to choose from the list really. Is Robert Varkonyi still playing? For real, I'll go with McKeehen - just because.
Martin Harris: I like the prospects of 2013 champion Ryan Riess to win a second career bracelet. He’s collecting impressive results on a routine basis of late, and that ten-high river call in Monaco has me on the “Riess the Beast” bandwagon at the moment.
Yori Epskamp: Riess the Beast. If someone is casually and correctly calling off ten-high at EPT final tables you know where the smart money is.
Valerie Cross: Ryan Riess has been on a roll of late, final tabling the EPT Monte Carlo Main Event along with some other deep runs, plus I know he’ll be playing an interesting mix of events including the $10k Short Deck championship. With some NLH and other smaller field events mixed in, I think The Beast has a shot at adding another bracelet to the extra special one he already owns.
How many ladies will get heads up for gold, and how many ladies will win open events?
Jason Glatzer: There are many talented ladies that will be competing but they are still well outnumbered by the men in the field. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if ten ladies were heads-up for gold with five winning bracelets.
Aaron McBride: I'm going for at least two ladies heads-up for bracelets in open events this year, with at least one winner.
Mo Nuwwarah: Kristen Bicknell and Maria Ho are on fire coming into the WSOP so the ladies are definitely drawing as live as they have in recent memory. I'll just roll with the law of averages working off the past few years and say one woman wins an open event, with one more reaching heads-up play.
Tim Duckworth: I feel like it is safe to say that one will be heads-up in a WSOP event, and that lady will manage to win the gold. I predict that Kristen Bicknell or Loni Harwood will collect their third WSOP bracelet and join Vanessa Selbst as holding three WSOP bracelets. Maybe even both of them collect gold and create a three-way tie at the top and force Selbst out of her retirement.
Sarah Herring: Well obviously with the Ladies Event there will be at least one certain event with a lady heads up for the gold. But, I do believe there will be at least one or two more. The WSOP is hosting 89 events this year. If women continue to make up about four percent of the field, they should win three or four bracelets. Erring on the side of caution since actually the last few years the number has been closer to 3.7/3.8% and the mixed games (with a few exceptions Esther Taylor, Vivian Saliba, Jennifer Harman, etc.) I would say there will be two ladies heads up for gold including the Ladies event. And there will be one open event won by a lady. So, you are reading that correctly; the one woman who gets heads up outside the Ladies, will also win that bracelet.
Will Shillibier: I tipped three female bracelets last year, and I'm sticking to my guns. But they're the only three who make it to heads up.
Shirley Ang: I’m hoping for a lot but being realistic, the percentage of women participating in the open events is low. Too low. So, let’s go with four going heads-up and two of them winning. If I had to pick who, I’d go for Krissy [Bicknell] and Natalie Teh, although I’m not too sure if the latter is going to be playing many events.
Chad Holloway: There are a lot of fierce female players on the circuit. I’ll say four of them make it to heads-up play and three of those walk away with the top prize.
Jan Kores: Goose egg. I'm sorry, but someone has to balance the usually overly optimistic answers of my colleagues.
Paul Seaton: This is so tough to answer because every year we say more and yet the numbers haven't changed a lot in recent times. Sadly, I'd say only one or two win open events, so you can double that for how many get heads-up, but I hope that balance does even out in the future.
Frank Op de Woerd: Women make up a small percentage of the WSOP field, and that number shrinks more when it comes to high stakes, small field bracelet events like $10,000 mixed games - so their chances are just smaller. The ladies that do grind the WSOP, are superb and a ton of them will be a favorite over the average player, but that still leaves me with a somber outlook for their chances. I'll go withtwo heads-up spots in open events and one bracelet.
Martin Harris: With 89 bracelet events, it would stand to reason the number of women making it to the final two would increase. I’m going to say five women make it to heads up, with two of them winning bracelets.
Yori Epskamp: Can this be the year of Maria Ho's defining tournament win, please? I feel the ladies are going to do well this year, so I'm going for four women heads up, and two bracelets (including one for Ho).
Valerie Cross: I’m going to guess the ladies get heads up for a bracelet in four events and win two - one in a hold’em event and one in a non-hold’em event. My mixed game pick is one of the L.A. area players Carol Fuchs or Shirley Rosario, but I’ll give the nod to Fuchs because she’s done it before (in 2015). That first one is much harder to get than the second, right? In hold'em, I'd say Kristen Bicknell, Maria Ho, or Kitty Kuo bink one off - more about her later in my predictions.
Eight players have won four bracelets during the 2010s. Which one is most likely to add a fifth bracelet this year?
[George Danzer, Jason Mercier, Dominik Nitsche, Brian Rast, Michael Mizrachi, Phil Hellmuth, Shaun Deeb, Brian Hastings]
Jason Glatzer: It wouldn’t be hard to see any of the players that have won four bracelets this decade, to add a fifth. I already mentioned Hellmuth as the most likely to win a bracelet out of the former winners but will be going with Dominik Nitsche, who's an absolute beast, as my pick to become the first player to hit five.
Aaron McBride: Every single one of them will no doubt have at least one deep run at the Rio this summer, but my money would be on 2018 POY Shaun Deeb.
Mo Nuwwarah: Hopefully he doesn't ghost the early part of the series like last year: Michael Mizrachi. We know he'll never miss the $50K so that's a good opportunity in a small field and Mizrachi certainly always plays to win. Plus, he's got to get past Rob again and prove he's the family's pre-eminent grinder.
Tim Duckworth: The safe bet is to choose between Phil Hellmuth and Shaun Deeb mainly due to the volume each of these guys puts in during the WSOP. My money would be on Deeb since I believe he is one of the best all-round poker players right now and I think his ego will push him towards chasing back-to-back WSOP Player of the Year honors.
Sarah Herring: George Danzer isn’t as active on the poker scene as of late. Jason Mercier is living his fatherhood dream so I am less aware of his recent results. I already put Phil Hellmuth on my list to win a bracelet, it seems like a cop-out to put him here too. I’m debating between Shaun Deeb and Dominik Nitsche. Deeb won POY at WSOP last year and he plays all the mixed games so he is likely to end up in more small field events on his bracelet. That being said, Dominik has posted incredibly consistent results in both large and small field No Limit Events. While my head says Shaun on this one, I’m going with heart, Dominik Nitsche.
Will Shillibier: Dominik Nitsche.
Shirley Ang: Dominik Nitsche would be my pick. He’s pretty consistent, plays a lot, and I’d like to see some more bracelets coming back to Europe!
Chad Holloway: Based on sheer volume I think Hellmuth and Deeb are the odds-on favorites, but I’m actually going to go with Nitsche. He always seems to break through in a big no-limit tournament and I won’t be surprised to see him do it this summer.
Jan Kores: Who loves it more than Shaun Deeb?
Paul Seaton: It's hard to look past Hellmuth just because he's likely to play so many events, but I'll go 'Opposite George' and pick Brian Hastings. Nitsche is likely to stick to High Roller events and Mizrachi can't win the PPC every year, can he?
Frank Op de Woerd: To be honest, I would have been able to tell you seven of these names, but overlooked Brian Rast as winning four. Maybe that's a sign I should go with him on this one? Since I'm not the superstitious guy, I'll go with Shaun Deeb instead. We know he's going to be playing as much as he can.
Martin Harris: I’ll go with last year’s WSOP POY, Shaun Deeb, to pick up at least one more bracelet this summer, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see another player in this group do so as well.
Yori Epskamp: Shaun Deeb. Who loves it more? Who wants it more? Not even close.
Valerie Cross: Deeb would be a solid answer as he’ll most likely be grinding harder than pretty much anyone over the summer chasing back-to-back POY titles, but I’m going to go with Brian Rast. If he puts in volume in the bigger buy-in smaller field mixed events and guns for bracelet No. 5, I think he has a great shot at it.
Which under-the-radar player will have a huge breakout summer?
Jason Glatzer: Belgium's Bart Lybaert has quietly put together an amazing year and won’t be surprised if he wins a bracelet. He came close to winning one in 2016 when he took second place in the $1,000 No Limit Hold’em Top Up Turbo for $88,238 and last year took third place in the $2,620 No Limit Hold’em The Marathon for $290,315. Lybaert already has eight victories under his belt out of the hundred cashes he’s recorded including shipping side events at the PCA, Aussie Millions, and the Rotterdam Poker Series. Despite these results Lybaert still is not a household name and I believe this will change over the summer.
Aaron McBride: Danny Tang showed his WSOP prowess with a 31st place finish in the Main Event last year, and he will once again be a player to watch!
Mo Nuwwarah: I've already covered some players to watch in my annual preview article but I'll highlight a guy I wanted to include but was unable to get a hold of: Brett Murray. Murray's been killing it on the Circuit and has had a few close calls in WPT events recently. If he stays hot, I won't be surprised to see him at a WSOP final table or two.
Tim Duckworth: Hard to define “under-the-radar” as it is so specific to each individual, but someone I think that qualifies to the general poker public is Martin Zamani as his name is still relatively unknown. Although in 2018 he collected eight WSOP cashes, Zamani began 2019 with a PCA High Roller title, and three U.S. Poker Open cashes. With a new-found bankroll, and an ability to play both No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him continue his hot form to start the year and parlay that into WSOP success and follow in the footsteps of his brother Benjamin as becoming a notable to the poker public.
Sarah Herring: Josh Reichard. To be fair, I’m not sure if you can call him under the radar. He has 11 WSOP-C rings. And he was on the inaugural episode of the LFG podcast with Chad Holloway and Jamie Kerstetter in Dec 2017. However, depending on what circuit you follow more regularly, I don’t know that is a household name. He is due for a WSOP bracelet and he wants it.
Will Shillibier: Hard to say because, well, the clue's in the name. But Tomas Macnamara has been popping up everywhere, from WPTDS High Roller wins to deep EPT Main Event runs.
Shirley Ang: Not sure he’s really under the radar any more but I’m still going to guess that not that many Americans know him: Julien Martini. He had a pretty amazing 2018 already and a great start to 2019. I haven’t really reported much on him and don’t know that much about him, but he seems like a nice guy that deserves a huge summer in Vegas after having already won a bracelet last year.
Chad Holloway: Stanley Lee. If you don’t know who he is, look him up on HendonMob. He’s a beast and I’ve long said it’s only a matter of time before he really breaks through. He’s a Vegas local so he has home-field advantage.
Jan Kores: While I don't think he qualifies as an under-the-radar player anymore, Julien Martini got, totally unfairly, snubbed at the recent awards. He should've won the Breakout Player of the Year outright, yet he didn't even receive a nomination. Martini's going to prove the panel wrong again. I've seen the guy play some mixed games; he's cold.
Paul Seaton: I don't think Ben Winsor is very well known in the U.S. and both his six-figure scores have come from his native England, but he cashed in five events in three weeks last year in Vegas and I think he'll fly under the radar. He's quiet and unassuming but has a great temperament when it comes to big decisions at key moments.
Frank Op de Woerd: I don't even know what his plans are for the summer, but it only takes some big results to be deemed a breakout year. Online poker tournament players will already know of Joris "BillLewinsky" Ruijs, and those following the European live circuit will too, but most Americans won't have heard of him I feel. Ruijs is a true poker beast, and he'll let the world know this year.
Martin Harris: Is it possible to call Josh Reichard “under-the-radar”? Probably not. After all, he’s won 11 WSOP Circuit rings (!), which has obviously put him on the radar of his opponents at those stops. But he’s yet to come close to any WSOP final tables, so I think after doing so this summer (and perhaps landing some additional hardware in Vegas) Reichard will be known to many more.
Yori Epskamp: Oof, so many I want to list here. Tobias Peters has been inching closer to the gold year after year but always goes overlooked in these lists. He's been aging like a fine wine. Julien Martini should have won the PSPC to be a true poker superstar by now, and he'll show this summer just why that is. Joris Ruijs is still ridiculously underappreciated and will be going deep in the Main Event, just like Bart Lybaert.
But, since we're listing just one pick, I'm going with a true under-the-radar gem for all the PLO-aficionados out there: Pim van Holsteijn. High-stakes PLO cash gamer that rarely bothers with tournaments, and also best friends with last year's $3K PLO champ Ronald Keijzer. He'll dip his toes into a few big PLO tourneys this summer, so if you spot an unknown, small, blonde guy tearing it up in The Great Game, now you know who it is. Remember the name, folks.
Valerie Cross: It really depends where you draw the line on “under-the-radar” but I’m going with Maxwell Young. Is he still under-the-radar? He’s been crushing for over a year and based on watching him play, I have to think he might be the next Alex Foxen, if that’s a thing. Based on his success the past year, I’d expect him to be firing all summer, if he chooses to do so.
What country will break through with their first bracelet?
(See Hendon Mob's list of WSOP titles by country.)
Jason Glatzer: I am going with my heart with this one and pick Lithuania where I have lived for the past decade. Despite the country’s small population of about 2.8 million, there are many talented players. Matas Cimbolas is the country’s biggest hope to win gold as he has been on fire as of late with two monster scores in March including a runner-up performance in the WPT Los Angeles Poker Classic for $646,930 and a third-place finish in the partypoker MILLIONS South America for $559,200.
Mo Nuwwarah: Poland seems like a decent choice. Not only do they have a solid number of players but they have a star to carry the volume load and represent in the mixed games in Dzmitry Urbanovich.
Tim Duckworth: Over 50 countries have won a WSOP bracelet over the years, so it’s hard to say there is a favorite next country to break through. However, Asian poker players have been amassing results at the WSOP and around the world for many years now and I believe the next country to break through will be Singapore. They have several players that make the trek to Las Vegas each WSOP, and if I have to wager on anyone, I’m going to take Bryan Huang to win the $1,500 NLH Shootout.
Sarah Herring: I honestly have no idea. At first I was thinking Malta since that has such a burgeoning poker life due to its unique tax situation. But, since I know some great Lithuanian poker players, and still love Tony G, I am going to support Lithuania.
Will Shillibier: *checks list* Lithuania.
Shirley Ang: How many countries are there still left that don’t have a bracelet?! Taiwan? Let Pete Chen or Kitty Kuo win one!
Chad Holloway: I want to say Chad in Africa, but I’ve been in this business a long time and have never met a player from that landlocked, war-torn country. Instead, I’m going to go with Chile. I’ve been there for an LAPT in the past and they’ve got some solid players. Time for them to join the ranks of South American counties to win a bracelet.
Jan Kores: I'd root for Botswana, but she only has two players in the Hendon Mob database. One of them is probably fake, too. So I'm taking Taiwan and Pete Chen.
Paul Seaton: I'll go with Lithuania. Matas Cimbolas is in superb form going into the series and it seems the right time for him to grab a WSOP bracelet, maybe even one of the bigger ones.
Frank Op de Woerd: In 2013, I played a $1,500 WSOP event where I eventually finished in 132nd place for $3,500. Because of an error by the WSOP's payment desk, my country code of the Netherlands (NL) was mixed up with Nigeria's (NI.) As a result, I was on the Nigerian All-Time Money List on The Hendon Mob. Better yet, I was the all-time money leader of the African country for at least a couple of months in 2013. Unfortunately, the error was corrected and I am no longer leading, and instead sit in 1,227th place on my own country's All-Time Money List. I have a feeling this is the year for Nigeria. I'm not sure who's going to be doing it for the country, maybe Nigeria Emmanuel Arokodare. He needs to step up his game, though, as his last cash came from a £15 event in Nottingham.
Martin Harris: Put me down for Taiwan. Come on, Pete Chen!
Yori Epskamp: I'm with the team here. Taiwan number one baby. Let's go Kitty Kuo!
Valerie Cross: Taiwan seems to be the outlier on the list, with so many great players without a bracelet. Kitty Kuo’s social media game has been strong and I think her poker game will be sharp for summer too. If her posts are any indication, she’s been on top of her study game, she hangs around with some top poker thinkers, and she knows how to wield a big stack. I think she’ll run one up to victory.
How many entries will the $10K Short Deck get?
Jason Glatzer: Short deck has become more popular around the world. Many of the biggest names in poker follow the Triton Poker Super High Roller Series for high stakes short deck cash games and tournaments. I believe the interest will be relatively high and believe the tournament will attract 180 entrants.
Mo Nuwwarah: We don't have much to work off of here but the Poker Masters event I covered got 55 entries, although I believe that had unlimited reentry. I'm going to say 230.
Tim Duckworth: With Short Deck being so popular in the Triton Poker Series overseas, along with at the Poker Masters and U.S. Poker Open here in the United States, I believe the WSOP $10k Short Deck will shatter all expectations. 2018 Poker Masters attracted 30 unique entrants, and the U.S. Poker Open attracted 28 unique entrants, but the WSOP $10k Short Deck will see a total of 95 unique entrants.
The event is positioned at the start of the WSOP following the conclusion of the WPT season and also doesn’t conflict with any other big buy-in events. Consequently, the player pool likely to participate in this event should already be in town, and a high number of entrants should be expected.
Sarah Herring: I think a lot of people are curious about it, and a few people have been really trying to study it. However, $10K is a pretty steep buy-in for most people in a less unraveled game. And yet, many players will see the lack of information as a potential edge. It will be fewer than 100. I will go with 92.
Will Shillibier: Using the $10k 6-Max as a guide (355 entries) I'm gonna say it gets around 200.
Shirley Ang: I’m curious to see how many it will attract, I’m going to go with 188 as I think there might be quite a few people wanting to try it out but haven’t wanted to travel too far for it to do it.
Chad Holloway: $10K is a lot of money and not a lot of players will be comfortable forking over five figures to play a game they’re not familiar with. That said, it is a single reentry so that’ll juice it a bit. I’ll say it gets 141 entries.
Jan Kores: Short Deck seemed to be a funny thing when I got the chance to watch the high stakes action last year in Jeju, but it's hard to say how many players will be willing to experiment for $10k. I'd set the line at 120 total.
Paul Seaton: I'd say 150 tops. There can't be that many people who'll know the game well enough to risk their reputation. That said, no gamble, no future. I'd say the split on this is as wide as the variance in the format itself.
Frank Op de Woerd: I'm going with 110 entries. I remember the $10K Tag Team event back in 2017 that got 102 entries. Tag Team was really just not all that different from traditional hold'em, and it still didn't get a huge field. This short deck format is getting more popular with even online rooms joining in on the fun, but I feel the edge difference between the group that has played it at Triton and at PokerCentral's events, and the rest, will prevent the latter group from jumping in.
Martin Harris: The turnout should be comparable to the other $10K non-hold’em events, I would imagine, with the total being somewhere between what they normally get for mixed-game formats (between 100-175) and what the $10K PLO draws (476 last year). I’ll guess 239 play it.
Yori Epskamp: More than people might expect at first glance, so I'm going with 252 here. People seem to be overlooking the fact that it's a single re-entry, which will bump the numbers (especially in the Short Deck format).
Valerie Cross: 145. While it’s a growingly popular format, I think the number of players willing to fire $10k on it are still fairly small, and number of people willing to invest on it may be slimmer than in other events too. That said, the $50k high roller will be on Day 3 when Short Deck starts up, so there should be a fair number of players busted from that looking for some higher stakes action, and a gambly game with the deuces through sixes removed will probably be plenty appetizing.