“There are two kinds of poker players,” says industry expert Phil Gordon, “those who have bracelets and those who don’t.” It’s not a boast for Gordon, a man who despite two World Poker Tour victories and a fifth place finish in the 2001 Main Event, has never earned a piece of the game’s most fabled jewelry.
Gordon’s not the only one with a barren wrist and a hole in their heart. Below, a look at a few of the biggest and best who have been around the live game for a while and have still failed to get to the goal.
– Looking at tournament results doesn’t do Antonius justice. Thought of as a poker god by the online throngs, “The Black Lotus” is one of the few players to transcend format and venue, excelling online and live, in cash games and tournament play. While cash is more profitable, mention his lack of bracelets and you can see the fire in Antonius’ eyes. This is a man with a goal, and with eight $10,000 buy-in events this year, he’ll be playing more than in the past
– The big Frenchman is either one of the winningest or losingest players in the game, depending on the month. May’s been extraordinarily kind, with Benyamine reportedly up over $2,000,000 online, but this isn’t about online cash games. Possessed with an unmatched bulldog mentality, the big question with Benyamine is how much he’ll show up, since the cash games get better than good this time of year.
Michael Binger - One of the poker world’s best-kept secrets. Binger’s a mathematical genius who’s seen remarkable success since his emergence at the 2006 WSOP. It was in the main event where Binger –then a complete unknown – finished third in the biggest poker tournament ever played. A year later, Binger came back and proved without a doubt that he was amongst poker’s elite, tying a WSOP record by cashing eight times. You have to think the bracelet is an inevitable eventuality. It’s just a question of when.
Gus Hansen – When the poker boom began, no one saw their star rise more than Hansen. “The Great Dane” won three WPT titles in that loop’s early goings, but a volatile playing style saw him experience a drought to follow. Hansen has been putting up strong results in the last eighteen months including a win at the Aussie Millions, a second-place finish at the 2007 WPT Championship and a deep run in last year’s main event, but the bracelet has remained elusive.
Nam Le – When Le was omitted from this year’s National Heads-up Poker Championships, at least one poker reporter howled in outrage (see this article’s byline for further details). Ask any circuit regular to name the best tournament players in the world and his name is inevitably going to be evoked. Winner of one WPT and eleven-time cash finisher at WSOP, Le is a good bet to go deep in just about any tournament he enters, and one double up later, a threat to win it all.
Erick Lindgren – There are few players in the game more respected than “E-Dog”. In ESPN.com’s WSOP fantasy draft, Lindgren went with the eighth overall pick, which shows you how much respect he commands from those in the know. Lindgren has two WPT wins and has been one of the most successful live pros in making the online tournament conversion. The only real question surrounding Lindgren is whether he wants it so badly that emotion affects his play when things get down to the nitty gritty. Says Bill Edler, “Erick is not only always one of the handful of players to beat in any tournament, but he’s playing as well as anyone right now. I think he’s pretty likely to get off of your list.”
Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi – Shane “Shaniac” Schleger has often said “The holy trinity of tournament poker is Nam Le, JC Tran and Michael Mizrachi.” The 2006 WPT Player of the Year was once poker’s golden boy, signing the biggest endorsement deal in online poker history. Since then though, fatherhood has altered the Grinder’s priorities and he’s watched brother Robert become the most successful member of the family. It’s a trend he’d privately love to alter.
David Singer – a quiet table presence is often a recipe for being overlooked in the entertain-hype poker world, but Singer’s resume is too good to ignore. The only player to have made both the 2006 and 2007 $50,000 HORSE final tables, Singer’s resume also boasts a spot at the final table of the 2003 Main Event and a recent win in an online $25,000 buy-in heads-up championship. Singer is selective about the tournaments he plays, but he’s running hot at the moment and seems like a strong candidate for removal from lists like this one.
– A year ago, there was no hotter tournament player on the planet than Tran, whose success earned him WPT Player of the Year honors. By the time he’d gotten to the WSOP, the travel had admittedly burnt him out and it showed in his results. “I don’t like feeling like I have to play all the time,” he told WorldSeriesofPoker.com
while playing on Day 1. “Now I just play when I want to.” With bracelets on the line and his wrists barren, he wants to now.
Gary Wise is covering the WSOP all summer for WorldSeriesofPoker.com, espn.com/poker and in his blog at www.wisehandpoker.net.