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Player of the Year Bash Lives Up to the Hype

Poker's Superstars Hit Hollywood for the 2005 Card Player Player of the Year Awards

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The hype leading up the 2005 Card Player Player of the Year Awards was nothing short of gargantuan. In the weeks preceding the Feb. 15 event, the poker world was buzzing with talk of the upcoming trip to the Henry Ford Music Box Theatre in downtown Hollywood. With world-renowned party throwers Bodog.com at the helm and comedian Brad Garrett as the emcee, the stage was set for one amazing night. And was it ever.

Billing this night as the "Oscars of poker" doesn't even do it justice. People expect to see Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie get decked out for their special night, but when's the last time you saw Gavin Smith in a suit? No need to answer … we already know. To see the biggest collection of gamblers in the world gather in one place dressed to the nines was nothing short of staggering, and the event hadn't begun. Upon arrival at the theater, players were greeted by a red carpet and full press line. As players paused for the paparazzi, the street began to fill with starry-eyed onlookers jockeying for position to get a glimpse of poker's top brass. At one point, the entire world stopped when Phil Ivey stepped onto the carpet, but once inside, all returned to normal.

Once inside the theatre, only two words mattered: "open bar." The pre-ceremony cocktail reception took place on the roof of the theater, where, surprisingly, nobody fell off.

The ceremony itself began at 8:30 p.m. Seating was first come, first served, so the process was a little like finding a lunch seat in your high school cafeteria. Seating ended up looking a little like a United Nations gathering, a fact that host Brad Garrett used to brutally roast many of the players in attendance. ("Hey Men, I want my dry cleaning back by Tuesday. You hear me?") The players were, for the most part, good natured about the ball-breaking and the crowd absolutely ate it up. The award presentations were broken up by dance performances by the beautiful Bodog girls and with musical performances by Don Felder from the Eagles and Gilby Clark from Guns N' Roses.

The awards themselves were given to 14 enormously deserving players, and each was given a beautiful crystal Player of the Year trophy. The winners were:

Player of the Year - Men Nguyen

Best Cash Game Player - Chip Reese

Poker Ambassador - Mike Sexton

Best No-Limit Player - Phil Ivey

Most-Entertaining Player - Mike Matusow

Lifetime Achievement Award - Doyle Brunson

Best Heads-Up Player - Phil Ivey

Best Mixed-Game Player - Chip Reese

Breakthrough Player - Michael Gracz

Most-Feared Player - Phil Ivey

Most-Underrated Player - Allen Cunningham

Best Female Player - Jennifer Harmon

People's Choice Award for Favorite Player - Daniel Negreanu

People's Choice Award for Favorite Celebrity Player - Jennifer Tilley

Phil Ivey took home the MVP title for the evening, raking in the award in three categories. Ivey, who readily admits his disdain for public speaking, was suave, cool, and very complimentary of his fellow players. Daniel Negreanu, who was beaten by Ivey in the most-feared and best no-limit player categories, defeated Ivey for the People's Choice award, an award Negreanu said was one of the most important he's ever won.

The man of the evening, however, was Men "The Master" Nguyen, the 2005 Card Player Player of the Year. This is Men's fourth Player of the Year title, having also won it in 1997, 2001, and 2003. Men won this year's title by exhibiting unshakable skills at the poker table and an extreme dedication to tournament play, as shown by his willingness to play any event, despite the buy-in. Men attended the ceremony with his wife and daughter, but unfortunately forgot to bring a translator. Several Coronas in the bag and a heavy Vietnamese accent do not a fluid speech make, but presenter Phil Hellmuth stepped in to help out. Somehow Phil avoided any reference to his latest unbelievable laydown, and the audience was moved to tears. Congratulations go out once more to the 2005 Player of the Year, Men Nguyen.

To say that the night was a monstrous success and a huge leap forward for poker would be an understatement. This ceremony drove poker further into the mainstream and solidified the Card Player Player of the Year award as the pinnacle of poker achievement. The Player of the Year race for 2006 has seen an early leader in Michael Mizrachi, but, as we've seen time and time again, anything can, and usually does, happen.