1. Phil Ivey
Known as “The Tiger Woods of Poker,” Ivey has earned eight World Series of Poker bracelets, one World Poker Tour title and appeared at nine final tables on the World Poker Tour, but has yet to take home the WSOP Main Event gold. He came very close to Main Event glory by final tabling in the 2009 WSOP Main Event only to be knocked out when his A/K was beaten by Darvin Moon’s A/Q. This could be his year to win the big one.
2. Phil Galfond
Known as OMGClayAiken online, Galfond owns one WSOP bracelet. With the dismantling of online poker in the United States on April 15, he no doubt is logging fewer hours than usual, but the way he tracks the action and his clutch decisions at the table make him a front-runner on the felt as well the Internet.
3. Lex Veldhuis
This Dutch poker player has performed well in Europe but has yet to crack the American WSOP nut for a bracelet. He impressed me with a really sick hero call against Doyle Brunson’s uncharacteristic bluff in one of last season’s High Stakes Poker episodes. Keep an eye on him.
4. Erik Seidel
Rounders made Seidel famous as the guy who gets beat to a pulp by Johnny Chan as Matt Damon reviews the tape of that infamous final table heads-up hand from the 1988 WSOP. But, guess what: That was Seidel’s first WSOP, and he took second. Not too bad, I’d say. Since then, Seidel has racked up an impressive eight WSOP bracelets, and he’s a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. Ivey’s gaze may get all of the attention, but guys like Seidel scare the hell out of me.
5. Matt Affleck
For anyone who was watching, it may take awhile to banish the memory of Affleck’s aces getting busted by Jonathan Duhamel’s jacks at the 2010 WSOP Main Event, sending him out in 15th place. Not so much because of the suck-out, but because of the gut-wrenching reaction and seeing a player reduced, literally, to tears. It will be exciting to watch how he plots his revenge and how deep he will go. He’s obviously the emotional favorite this year.