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Poker’s Ranking Systems – Part I

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Nov 01, 2009


One of my staple responses to friends enquiring whether poker is really a skill game is to point out the continuing success of individual tournament players in what are often huge fields with some tough competition. Ranking systems and Player of the Year awards highlight the consistency of certain individuals over a long(-ish) period of time, and online leader boards do pretty much the same thing, times 10, due to the massively increased volume taken into account.

This is a nicely accessible way to demonstrate that one player can outstrip variance and his or her competition in the medium-term, and it takes asking the players themselves how they’re doing out of the equation.

Poker involves deception, and no one is more prone to self-deception or the gentle misleading of others when it comes to their own success than poker players, of whom 10 percent at a generous estimate will actually be profitable over their lifetime. So looking to awards based on results over time is definitely one way to gauge ability, and one in which the players themselves seem to have a hardwired competitive interest.

For example, the World Series of Poker runs one of the most prestigious Player of the Year (PotY) races over one sixth of an actual year in Las Vegas every summer. Its points system is pretty simple, with players scoring points for cashing in any open event.

Winning a bracelet bags 100 points, and there are progressively smaller awards until simply making the money is worth five points. This means that top finishes are what really determine this particular PotY race, and topping the “number of cashes” category (tied this year between Daniel Negreanu and David Baker at eight) doesn’t really make that much of an impact on your overall score.
Jeffrey Lisandro
Jeff Lisandro won an impressive three bracelets and the title, 35 points ahead of runner-up Ville Wahlbeck and more comfortably ahead of following places Vitaly Lunkin and Phil Ivey (whose name, incidentally, comes up more than any other in the context of consistent winning).

More lengthy PotY contests are held by magazines and sites (taking into account in points calculations finishing position, buy-in, and number of entrants) and every tour from the European Poker Tour and Grosvenor UK Poker Tour to the World Poker Tour incorporates these competitions into their yearly circuit.

The differences in who makes the leader boards are mainly accounted for by variation in rules over what classifies as a ranking tournament. For example, John Phan won two PotY titles, including Card Player’s, in 2008 but scan down the list and there are more differences than similarities in the names listed.

Winning any one of these, however, usually involves a cash prize of some sort or at least a nice trophy at a boozy party (I have vague recollections of the PokerStars shindig for the EPT awards last year at which Luca Pagano received the PotY accolade).

The chance to top the European Rankings (worth £20,000) is something a lot of live players seem driven by, especially when it’s a close race and the number of ranking tournaments left to play in the year is dwindling.

Recent EPT Barcelona runner-up finisher, Marc Goodwin, for example, admits to having done a lot of running around after ranking points in small festivals as 2008 drew to a close, managing to bag the title in the end. Being based in the UK was undoubtedly a bonus as for some reason this country seems to permanently have a festival running somewhere with all the side events classified as ranking tournaments.

Hard luck if you live on the continent — since 2000, four overall winners and 57 out of 90 top 10 finishes have been British or Irish, although Dragan Galic from Croatia is currently leading the pack for 2009.

Next month we’ll look at the pros and cons of poker ranking. Spade Suit

Jen Mason is a part of She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.