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Taylor ‘ambiguosity’ Paur Claims Online Poker’s Highest Honor

Steve ‘gboro780’ Gross Nearly Wins Back-to-Back Titles

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Feb 18, 2011

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The Card Player Online Player of the Year (OPOY) award was established in 2007 in an effort to recognize those who have excelled on the virtual felt. Over the last four years, the OPOY award has gone from being a novelty prize to the most sought after honor in the online poker community.
Players can earn OPOY points for going deep in any online tournament that follows the rule of 100. Points are offered in any tournament that features a buy-in of $100 or more, a prize pool of $100,000 or more, and a field size of 100 or more players. In 2007, there was a limited number of qualifying tournaments, but the point-scoring opportunities have nearly doubled since then, and there are now dozens each week.
Previous OPOY winners are Isaac “westmenloAA” Baron (2007), Alex “AJKHoosier1” Kamberis (2008), and Steve “gboro780” Gross (2009).
Taylor Paur Has Record-Setting Year
The 2010 OPOY race came down to the wire, but in the end, Taylor “ambiguosity” Paur was able to hold off a slew of players to claim the title. Paur won $1,099,435 in OPOY-qualifying tournaments, which makes up more than two-thirds of his career earnings.
The 22-year-old pro recorded 51 cashes during the year, but his most impressive stat hints at his consistency. He made 28 final tables during his run and managed to win an astounding 13 of them. With 11,030 points, Paur broke the record set by Gross in 2009. To put that number into perspective, Baron scored only 8,304 points when he won the title in 2007. That same score would not have placed him in the top 10 in 2010.
There is no doubt that Paur earned his title, winning more tournaments than any other OPOY contender, but the Northern California resident was an unlikely champion, coming seemingly out of nowhere to beat some of the most respected players in the game today.
Paur’s story isn’t unlike many others currently atop the online poker world. After playing baseball his entire life, he was missing the competitive element and used poker to fill the void during his freshman year of college. After making a series of small deposits, he was able to inflate his bankroll with some small-tournament scores and low-stakes sit-and-gos.
“At the time, I had managed to have some small four- or five-figure scores, but I wasn’t sure that I could sustain that sort of success,” he recalled. “Then in 2007, I managed to chop a WCOOP [World Championship of Online Poker] event for nearly $85,000. That score gave me the confidence to really pursue a career as an online grinder.”
Having little interest in school, Paur made the difficult decision to drop out and begin his life as an online poker player.
“Poker had a lot to do with me dropping out, but school was never really my thing, anyway,” he said. “It’s not that I didn’t care or have the drive, but I recognized pretty early on that I wanted to get going with my life. I guess that I was just overly anxious to get started. My mom and my grandparents were not happy with that decision, but my dad was a bit different. Obviously, he preferred that I stick with school and get my degree, but I think he understood, even early on, that it was something that was important to me. He played a little poker himself, and had a general appreciation of the mindset that is required to compete at a high level. The rest of the family thought I was gambling, but he knew differently.”
Although he was now technically a professional, Paur still had a lot to learn before he could compete with the big boys on a consistent basis.
“In the beginning, it was all trial and error,” he explained. “I was able to get myself to the point where I was doing a lot of things right, but I still had a ton of leaks in my game. That’s when I met ‘dipthr0ng’ [Mark Herm] and ‘pokerjamers’ [Jamie Armstrong]. They were really crucial to my development as a player. The main fix came when I learned how to be a better short-stack player. I used to panic anytime I fell below 20 big blinds, but once I realized that I didn’t have to press the issue so much, things started working out for me. I had a lot of trouble being patient, and found myself shoving pretty light in awkward spots, but now, I’ve definitely improved that area of my game.”
Even though he’s always understood the math behind the game, Paur said that it doesn’t dictate what he does on the felt. “I’ve never been a big math guy, to be honest. There definitely are times when I know that I’m getting the right price, but I’ll fold anyway, simply because I’m confident in what I can still accomplish with the stack I have left. Part of it is valuing your tournament life, but the other part deals with maintaining your own comfort level. If I’m getting good odds on a call, but losing would mean that I’m not able to continue to play table captain, I’ll fold and look for a better spot. Sometimes you have to pass up small edges in order to keep yourself available for the bigger edges.”
Paur is generally regarded as being one of the crazier players in the game, but he explained that things aren’t always what they seem. “I think most people would classify me as one of the more aggressive players online. I really like to make people feel uncomfortable when they are playing me. I apply a lot of pressure, but I’m not exactly reckless. Early on, I’m not as crazy as people think. In the late stages of tournaments, however, I really like to pour it on, especially when I know that others may be trying to move up the money ladder.”
Although he is not a big fan of following player rankings, Paur admitted that he was sweating his place in the OPOY standings as he led when coming down the homestretch in the final few months.
“I try not to pay too much attention to all of the various rankings out there, but the Online Player of the Year race is something you just can’t ignore. Winning this award means so much to me, not just because it is recognition for all of my accomplishments this year, but because of the company I’m now a part of. The past OPOY winners are some of the best players in the world, and I’m proud to say that I’m now a part of that group.”
Paur was a relatively anonymous grinder just one year ago, but now, he has officially been crowned the best online player in 2010. As a result, he’s been inundated with ovation and respect. “People are coming out of the woodwork to congratulate me, which has been very surprising. I think that as a poker player, you assume that the non-poker-playing public has no idea that this world even exists, but I can’t believe how much attention has come my way as a result of winning this award.”
When asked what’s next, Paur jokingly set a lofty goal for his 2011 campaign. “I’m going to try to be the first person to win both the OPOY and the POY [Player of the Year] awards [laughing]. I’ll be at a lot more stops on the live-tournament circuit, including a full schedule during the World Series of Poker. So, who knows? Maybe I’ll get hot and put myself in contention.”

Steve Gross Finishes in Top Two for Third Consecutive Year
Paur deserves his recognition, but what Steve Gross has accomplished in the last three years can’t be ignored. In 2008, Gross finished second to Kamberis. In 2009, he broke through to win the title. Now, with another runner-up performance on his resume, he has managed to finish in the top two spots for the past three years. With $3,144,841 in winnings, the 25-year-old pro now sits in second place on the all-time OPOY earnings list.
Gross scored a total of 10,320 points in 2010, which narrowly topped his 2009 total of 10,188. Those two scores are the second- and third-highest point totals of all time. Gross cashed 62 times, and made 37 final tables. In fact, he managed to win eight tournaments despite 2010 being what he called a “down year.”
“There was a three-month stretch that was pretty humbling for me,” said Gross. “I was miserable and couldn’t get anything going, but luckily I was able to finish strong toward the end of the year to put some pressure on Taylor.”
While he definitely forced Paur to scramble, he wasn’t quite able to overcome the once-sizable point differential. Gross wanted the title, but he has no problem with letting someone else have his time in the spotlight.
“I’m not too disappointed. It would have been nice, obviously, to win back-to-back titles, but after going on the downswing that I did late last year, I’m happy just to have been that close.”
After winning it all last year, Gross pledged to take some time off and focus on cash games, but that didn’t happen. “My original plan was to switch to cash games and really challenge myself with something new, but I guess I’m a creature of habit. I was fortunate to get some big scores early in the year to put me in contention. After that, I decided that I might as well go after it.”
Oddly enough, Gross credits his success to less playing time. “There are so many other guys out there who put in tons of volume, and I’m not trying to play at that rate anymore. I’ve found some balance in my life, and I’m working to keep that going.”
Gross’ three-year run has many in the online community calling him the best player in the game today. Last year, he was hesitant to agree, but this year, he can’t ignore his own results.
“In online tournaments, I would agree, as humbly as I possibly can, that I am currently the best in the world. Live tournaments, however, are a completely different story. I have a long way to go before I can comfortably compete in that arena.”
With the consistency that he and others have shown, Gross can’t understand why anybody would think that poker is anything but a game of skill. “Look at the best players out there, and you will see that the cream really does rise to the top in the long run,” he stated. “If poker wasn’t a game of skill, Phil Ivey wouldn’t be posting a winning record year after year. If you look at what I’ve accomplished in the past three years, you can’t say that I just got lucky. Yes, there is variance, but it can’t stop the best players from winning.”
Gross may have it all figured out right now, but he’s not one to get stuck in his ways. “The game definitely has changed. The players are crazier, but I remember saying that last year, as well. I’ve had to adapt in order to keep up, but that’s how you stay ahead of the curve.” ♠
The Best of the Rest
Casey “bigdogpckt5s” Jarzabek – 9,932 points
2010 OPOY Winnings $782,355
Cashes 58
Largest Cash $277,930
Final Tables 35
Wins 9

After experiencing a major health scare, Canadian Casey Jarzabek bounced back strongly to put himself into OPOY contention. The 37-year-old pro held the lead for several months, but was ultimately passed in the homestretch. Nonetheless, Jarzabek was able to improve upon his 2009 ninth-place finish, making him one of only two players, the other being Gross, to finish in the top 10 over the last two years.

Chris “Gettin Daize”
Oliver – 9,280 points
2010 OPOY Winnings $854,769
Cashes 52
Largest Cash $158,574
Final Tables 31
Wins 8

Chris Oliver was one of the biggest mysteries of the 2010 season, and it wasn’t until his deep run in the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event that he emerged to tell his story. The 21-year-old Floridian discovered poker at an early age, and made the decision to drop out of high school to turn pro. His online account was temporarily suspended for being underage, but he returned and found immediate success.

Jon “apestyles” Van
Fleet – 9,164 points
2010 OPOY Winnings $859,489
Cashes 71
Largest Cash $133,037
Final Tables 36
Wins 7

At 29 years old, Jon Van Fleet is one of online poker’s seasoned veterans. Five years ago, he was one of the highest-ranked players in the world, but a series of poor decisions and bad bankroll management saw him nearly lose it all. He then made the decision to turn his life around, and once again has made it to the top.

Zachary “HustlerGrune” Gruneberg – 9,084 points
2010 OPOY Winnings $776,347
Cashes 68
Largest Cash $118,692
Final Tables 43
Wins 4

Zachary Gruneberg is no stranger to success, having been widely regarded as one of the world’s best video-game players. As a teenager, the Pennsylvania native traveled the video-game circuit, playing the game “Call of Duty.” After learning poker from some friends, he made the switch to professional poker. Although he is only 21 years old, Gruneberg has found success in live poker, as well, making the final table of the main event at the Aussie Millions in 2009.

“kirbynator”
8,878 points
2010 OPOY Winnings $1,143,749
Cashes 42
Largest Cash $327,057
Final Tables 26
Wins 7

While he wishes to remain anonymous, kirbynator is a Canadian pro who had a breakout year on the virtual felt. He made headlines during the WCOOP [World Championship of Online Poker] for a chat war he engaged in with Daniel Negreanu; kirbynator took advantage of the rules, choosing to stall during the triple-draw rounds of an eight-game tournament, and Negreanu felt that he was hurting the game, but kirbynator disagreed. He undoubtedly had one of the most successful years online, making three six-figure cashes.

Cliff “JohnnyBax”
Josephy – 8,874 points
2010 OPOY Winnings $837,089
Cashes 59
Largest Cash $78,750
Final Tables 37
Wins 7

Cliff Josephy is one of the most famous online pros in the world. At the age of 44, he is considered to be the godfather of online poker. The New York resident spent years working as a stock broker before departing for the less stressful world of poker. In 2005, he won a World Series of Poker bracelet in seven-card stud, despite never having played the game before. Josephy and his friend Eric “sheets” Haber have been known to bankroll quite a few online pros, and have made a tidy sum as a result.
Raj “BadcardsAA”
Vohra – 8,688 points
2010 OPOY Winnings $1,319,012
Cashes 47
Largest Cash $430,000
Final Tables 26
Wins 4

Raj Vohra grew up in India, and was a successful tennis pro on the ATP [Association of Tennis Professionals] tour before an injury forced him to take up poker. The 36-year-old pro was determined to become a winner after watching Joe Hachem win the WSOP main event, and he dedicated his life to getting better at the game. Vohra now lives in Florida and plays high-stakes cash games whenever he’s not competing online.

Aditya “Intervention”
Agarwal – 8,432 points
2010 OPOY Winnings $739,105
Cashes 45
Largest Cash $72,250
Final Tables 27
Wins 6

Aditya Agarwal has been one of the most consistent players in OPOY races ever since their inception in 2007. During that stretch, he has won more than $2 million and has placed in the top 75 each year. This is his best finish to date, improving upon his 19th-place finish in 2009. The 26-year-old Agarwal currently splits his time between India and the United States, and makes time to travel to a few live tournaments each year.
Lifetime Online Player of the Year Winnings

Rank Player Name Lifetime Winnings
1 Yevgeniy “Jovial Gent” Timoshenko $3,185,416
2 Steve “gboro780” Gross $3,144,841
3 Greg “DuckU” Hobson $3,005,291
4 Alex “AJKHoosier1” Kamberis $2,864,756
5 Tyson “POTTERPOKER” Marks $2,746,240
6 Daniel “djk123” Kelly $2,687,150
7 Shaun “tedsfishfry” Deeb $2,455,184
8 Kevin “BeL0WaB0Ve” Saul $2,293,889
9 Jon “PearlJammer” Turner $2,262,228
10 Chris “Moorman1” Moorman $2,211,517