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The Faces of the 2009 POY Race -- Part I

The Small-Ball Hitters Impressed with Their Consistency

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2009 POY Leader Eric BaldwinThe 2009 Card Player Player of the Year race is winding down, with the top contenders eyeing the World Poker Tour Doyle Brunson Classic $15,000 no-limit hold’em event at the end of the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio next week as their final chance to collect POY points.

The top 10 players have each taken different paths to accomplish a great year at the tables. Some of them have made a few major scores and won millions in the process. Others have been a model of consistency, scoring cashes and final-table appearances at an impressive rate. Both strategies are effective, as the results these players have posted can testify to below.

This piece will examine both the tournament poker players who have used the small-ball strategy and those who were the home-run hitters in 2009. Part I looks at the former, the players who score cashes at such a high rate that they accumulate enough points over time to battle with the players who score huge wins. These are the true grinders on the tour, and in 2009, they were the best at what they did. The money they have won may not make your eyes pop out of your head, but their consistency proves they are no flukes. These players are always a threat to play deep into a tournament field, and their survival skills and dedication to tournament poker have been unmatched in 2009.

Small-Ball Efficiency Aficionados:

Eric Baldwin

Current POY Place: 1
POY Points: 6,202
2009 POY Cashes: 16
POY Money Won: $1,237,834
Final Tables: 16
Tournament Wins: 3
Average Money Won Per POY Cash: $77,365

When you look at what Eric Baldwin (pictured above right) has accomplished in 2009, one thing jumps right out at you — 16 final tables. Since 2004 — the first year that full POY statistics were kept online — only four players have made more final tables in one year. Gioi Luong made 22 in 2004, and John Cernuto made 19 final tables that same year. Men Nguyen made 17 final tables in 2005, when he won his record fourth POY title. John Hoang also appeared at 17 final tables that year.

Baldwin’s many final-table appearances have come in both marquee events and in preliminary events at major tournament series. His most notable win in 2009 came when he won his first World Series of Poker gold bracelet, topping a field of 2,095 players in event No. 34 ($1,500 no-limit hold’em). In addition to the prestige factor, it was his largest win in terms of cash ($521,932) and POY points (1,440). He almost won a second bracelet, cashing in third place in the $10,000 pot-limit hold’em world championship at the WSOP just one week after winning his first bracelet. The other big scores for Baldwin in 2009 came when he won a $2,000 no-limit hold’em event at the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza II in April and his fourth-place finish at the UltimateBet Aruba Poker Classic $5,000 no-limit hold’em championship event in October.

The dozen other final-table appearances that Baldwin made throughout the year came in preliminary events. He made one final table at the Wynn Classic in March, two at the Five-Star World Poker Classic at Bellagio in April, and he then placed seventh in the no-limit hold’em championship event at the Caesars Mega Stack series in July. After the summer, Baldwin refused to let up, making a preliminary-event final table at the Legends of Poker and Commerce Hold’em Series before booking his most impressive week of the year in terms of consistency. In the course of six days at the Caesars Palace Classic, Baldwin made four final tables and scored his third tournament win of the year.

He has been active down the home stretch, as well. Baldwin made his 15th final table of the year at the World Poker Finals in early November. He is currently trying to add to his total by playing in preliminary events at the Five-Diamond World Poker Classic. He found success early during this tournament series when he made his 16th final table in event No. 3 on Nov. 30. Don’t be surprised if Baldwin makes another final table in the next couple of days before his final title defense takes place in the WPT championship event that starts next week.

Soheil ShamseddinSoheil Shamseddin

Current POY Place: 5
POY Points: 4,085
2009 POY Cashes: 9
POY Money Won: $915,562
Final Tables: 8
Tournament Wins: 2
Average Money won per POY Cash: $101,729

Soheil Shamseddin (pictured left) is a late bloomer in this year’s POY race. His total body of work was recently vindicated at the WPT World Poker Finals in November, when he finished in second place to win $463,332 and 1,750 points. The runner-up finish helped Shamseddin make a huge leap up the leader board during a critical time, and his jump to 4,000 points would not have been possible without the consistent results he posted throughout the year.

The World Poker Finals was the second WPT final table of the year for Shamseddin, who also finished in third place at the WPT Southern Poker Championship back in January. During the months in between his two largest scores, Shamseddin won preliminary events at the Wynn Classic and Festa al Lago. He also made a final table at the WSOP, cashing in eighth place in the $10,000 mixed hold’em world championship. It’s no surprise that Shamseddin is making a late run in the 2009 race considering he has put himself in position to win tournaments all year long.

Mike LeahMike Leah

Current POY Place: 9
POY Points: 3,497
2009 POY Cashes: 9
POY Money Won: $693,902
Final Tables: 9
Tournament Wins: 3
Average Money won per POY Cash: $77,100

Mike Leah (pictured right) decided to pursue poker full time in 2009, and the results of his decision have been impressive. Leah has had a year that is very similar to another successful small-ball specialist. Like Baldwin, each of Leah’s POY scores has come from final-table appearances. Leah has made the second most final tables of anyone in the top 10, and only four players have appeared at more final tables than Leah in 2009.

Leah’s biggest win of the year came when he took down the $500,000 Guaranteed Deep Stack event at the Borgata in March. He took home $319,536 in prize money and 960 points for the victory. Leah also won preliminary events at the Venetian Deepstack Extravaganza III in July and at Festa al Lago in October. Other highlights from Leah’s year include a runner-up finish in a $5,000 no-limit hold’em event at the L.A. Poker Classic and a final-table appearance at the WSOP Circuit championship event at Harrah’s in Tunica, Mississippi.

Leah was one major victory away from a serious title challenge this year, but if this is what he is capable of in his first full year as a professional poker player, then his sophomore season on the tournament trail should be interesting to say the least.

The Hybrid — Consistency at Marquee Events

Jason MercierJason Mercier

Current POY Place: 6
POY Points: 3,816
2009 POY Cashes: 11
POY Money Won: $1,145,596
Final Tables: 8
Tournament Wins: 4
Average Money won per POY Cash: $104,145

There are a few players on the tournament trail who possess the talent and dedication to cash consistently in marquee events. Daniel Negreanu is a player who possesses these qualities, and when he was at his best in the 2004 POY race, no one was able to touch him. It appears that another Team PokerStars pro may be developing into that type of hybrid talent. Jason Mercier (pictured left) is one of the most talented young players in poker, and his repertoire includes much more than hold’em. Most importantly, he truly loves to play tournament poker all year long, which leads him to play in every marquee event, as well as a lot of the preliminaries.

Mercier showed that he could win with consistency while scoring big victories and cashes at marquee events in 2009. Mercier won his first WSOP gold bracelet when he topped a field of 809 players to win $237,415 and 960 POY points in event No. 5 ($1,500 pot-limit Omaha). Mercier’s largest win in terms of points (990) came when he finished in fourth place in the WSOP Europe main event, which was widely considered one of the toughest tournament fields of the year by many poker professionals. Mercier showcased his consistency by winning preliminary events at the L.A. Poker Classic, Wynn Classic, and most recently at EPT London.

Mercier proved that he could win big by claiming EPT victories in 2008 in San Remo and at the London high-roller event. This year he showcased his consistency, and he is only going to get better in 2010. Another advantage that Mercier has proved through his results is that he can win just as easily abroad as he can in the United States. As the international travel involved in tournament poker becomes more of a factor, a young jet-setter like Mercier gains yet another advantage in the POY race.

Tomorrow we will look at the home-run hitters in the 2009 POY race.