The Nuts: Pre-WSOP Rankings – ESPN (blog)

The Nuts is a recurring feature that takes a look at the best poker players in the world. This feature aims to produce a list of the best players at the moment. Our panel of 10 is composed of’s poker contributors (Bernard Lee and myself); Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley, senior writer Tim Fiorvanti and information manager Kevin Mathers; managing editor Jessica Welman; PokerNews editor-in-chief Donnie Peters; World Poker Tour’s Eric Ramsey; PokerStrategy’s Barry Carter; and PocketFives’ Dan Cypra.

The 2014 World Series of Poker is underway and new faces are poised to make their mark and establish themselves among the elite in the industry. This set of rankings was determined before the start of the action at the Rio and is destined to take a different form in the coming months. For now, we watch and wait as the best in the game compete and the members of the panel will be table-side and talk to those that thrive day in and day out.

The top of the rankings looks relatively familiar with the same four faces owning the top four spots. Daniel Negreanu remains at No. 1 and still retained the majority of the panel’s No. 1 votes. Phil Ivey and Vanessa Selbst swapped places, perhaps due to Ivey’s recent turnaround online, and Mike McDonald’s effort in 2014 is worthy of any of the spots ahead of him. Both Ole Schemion and Scott Seiver found the winner’s circle once again, but the 21-year-old German got the nod from the panel to jump Seiver this month.

The biggest change from our last set of rankings is the emergence of Dominik Panka, the 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event champion who captured a second title and two more final tables since that festival. In just a few months, Panka has become the all-time leader on Poland’s money list and at 22, has become a marketable face for one of poker’s biggest brands (PokerStars). After Panka is Phillip Gruissem who continues to be the king of High Roller events with the addition of his third seven-figure score over the past eight months. If there’s a “favorite” for One Drop, it’s hard to not think it’s him.

Chris Moorman also returned to the top 10 and will be part of the “best without a bracelet” discussion this WSOP. He finally earned the live title he was looking for on the WPT last month. Rounding out the 10 is another German, Niklas Heinecker, who continues to find tremendous online success.

The next seven weeks will define careers and build or bust bankrolls. We’ll revisit the rankings after the November Nine are determined and some clear WSOP Player of the Year leaders have been established. Did we leave out your favorite player? Who should be ranked higher? Who should be completely off the list? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below. Here’s a look at our latest top 10:

On the bubble

All professional poker players understand what the WSOP means to their legacies. Eugene Katchalov is no different, but sometimes opportunities present themselves that one cannot pass up. Katchalov, this month’s bubble boy, will play just a few events at the start of the WSOP before traveling overseas for an undisclosed television show. Katchalov has earned more than $750,000 in 2014 and in March won the EPT Vienna 2,200 euro event for another six-figure score. He also cashed seven times during SCOOP and made one final table in the $215 eight-game event. … Mike Watson fell out of the rankings this month despite finishing 22nd in the EPT Grand Final High Roller and finishing in the top 20 on the overall SCOOP leaderboard (five final tables). Not many have the consistent results that Watson offers and he’s looking to earn at least $1 million for the third consecutive year. … Marvin Rettenmaier hasn’t won a title since September of last year and while that may seem recent to him, it’s a lengthy time compared to what he’s accustomed to. The challenge for Rettenmaier is that he’s often compared to the other German high roller players who, when they win, consistently bring in six and seven-figure scores at a time. … Is Jason Mercier back? The former No. 1 player finished third at both the AU$25,000 Aussie Millions event and the WPT Alpha8 in South Africa in February, then cashed twice on the WPT. He eclipsed the $10 million lifetime earnings mark this year, and for the seventh consecutive year, has earned at least half a million on the live tournament felt. … Steve O’Dwyer, Mukul Pahuja, Dan Smith, Fabian Quoss, Daniel Cates, Viktor Blom, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Galfond and J.C. Tran also received consideration this month.

Final thoughts

Bradley: It feels like this list is nearly perfect — particularly at the top. Negreanu, Ivey and Selbst are — for my money — the three best tournament players in the world right now — and the order is pretty interchangeable depending on who’s doing what right now. Given the amount of money Ivey can win from prop bets if he wins a bracelet this summer, it’s exciting for poker fans to know he’ll be playing a ton of events in hopes of cashing in and breaking the double-digit barrier for bracelets. The one real surprise to me is Dominik Panka. He’s basically being judged on the last five months of action. In January he won the PCA Main Event and then the EPT Deauville High Roller to put himself in the Player of the Year conversation, but he had very little live results prior to that. He’s also said he doesn’t plan on playing much of the WSOP, so it’s possible he slips off this list soon.

Feldman: My biggest eye-opener was Scott Seiver this month, as I honestly have no clue how he can be ranked this low given his consistent success throughout his career. He plays every game on every platform and competes at the highest level with consistent success. In my personal ranks, I had him third behind Negreanu and Ivey. Panka being on this list is a slight disservice. Sure, he won PCA, but it’s hard to kick off a player like Esfandiari or Duhamel or Retenmaier in his favor. Who would you rather stake? Panka or those guys? I wish we could say we’d see a ton more of him this Series, but it’s highly unlikely.

Omitting Katchalov is another surprise to these rankings. Spending minimal time at the WSOP won’t help his cause next time around. It’s been a tremendously successful rebound for him in 2014 and unfortunately, due to his choice to skip most of the WSOP, I think he’ll be on the bubble for a while.

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