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Vote for your ChampionsIf you haven’t already cast your vote (do so here), the WSOP is conducting an open poll regarding who will participate in the 2010 Tournament of Champions, a 27 player Sit and Go where the winner will take home a cool $1,000,000 prize.  5 players have already been named to the event through automatic entry.  Former TOC Champions Annie Duke, Mike Sexton, and Mike Matusow, and reigning WSOP and WSOPE Main Event winners Joe Cada and Barry Shulman.  In addition, the WSOP is holding 2 wild card entries that will be named after the voting has concluded.

But for the other 20 spots, poker fans around the globe can cast their votes as to who they feel is the most deserving players to join the field.  The criterion is simple; you must be a WSOP Bracelet Holder in order to be eligible to participate.  Based on this, I’ve comprised a list of the most deserving players to compete in the event based on 4 different criteria. 

1st – The top bracelet winners:  This category is simple.  He who has the most bracelets wins.  I mean, you can’t exactly pass up the individuals who have the most championships under their belt.  So in this category, here are the 5 entrants:

Phil Hellmuth – “The Poker Brat” tops the list with the most WSOP Bracelets with 11, and all of them coming in No Limit Hold’em events.  This is a tournament that he belongs in, end of discussion.

Johnny Chan – With 10 WSOP Bracelets to his credit, the back to back Main Event Champion has proven that he’s among the best to ever squeeze two hole cards.  While we haven’t seen him run deep in events lately, Chan does have a WSOP resume that is difficult to top.  42 total cashes and more than $4.2 Million in career WSOP earnings, including a 5th place finish at last year’s Heads Up NLHE Event.  Chan gets an easy nod.

Doyle Brunson – Any Tournament of Champions event wouldn’t be complete without the “Godfather” of poker.  I mean, he wrote the book on the game. Literally.  Brunson’s 10 WSOP Bracelets make him an automatic entry as well.

Erik Seidel – He’s the guy that just never seems to get the recognition or accolades when mentioning the top poker players in the game.  But when it comes to playing poker, every player pray’s that he doesn’t sit at your table.  An expert at taking your chips away from you, Seidel is the owner of 8 WSOP Bracelets, good for 5th most all time, and 4th among living poker players. 

Phil Ivey – With 7 WSOP Bracelets, Ivey is by far the most qualified player for any tournament.  He’s got to be the odds on favorite to win at poker, regardless of the stake, and regardless of the game.  He’s currently pokers top player, and makes a case for being the game’s best overall player ever.  He’s in by a landslide.

2nd Category – The most WSOP Career Winnings – Bear in mind that you have to actually be a bracelet winner to gain entry into this event, and the idea here is to put some recent main event winners into the field as they bring a certain celebrity to the event that comes unmatched.  I mean, when you’re a world champion, you’re interesting.  And fans want to see you play.  Here’s a list of the top 5 WSOP Bracelet winners that aren’t on the list of automatic entries or in the 1st group.

Jamie Gold – Courtesy of his World Championship takedown of the largest tournament field in WSOP history, Gold still holds the top spot on the WSOP Career earning list.  He’s also the only player that has an 8-figure win total with more than $12 Million in career WSOP earnings.  And yes, some of that came from the 3 cashes that were NOT part of the Main Event win.

Peter Eastgate – This Main Event Champ has 1 other cash to his name in the WSOP that was not a main event win.  He really established himself as a force to be reckoned with when he followed up his Main Event win with a 78th place finish in last year’s Main Event.  Eastgate will be around the WSOP for years, and he’s a deserving champion that should play in this event.

Jerry Yang – The only WSOP Cash for Yang was his run of good cards in the Main Event in 2007.  That win still has him at 4th place overall in the career WSOP money list with over $8 million.  Because of his recent win, I think that Jerry deserves to be here.  Perhaps not as much as another player who will be omitted, but based on the criteria, I hope he gets an invite.

Joe Hachem – What would a WSOP poker tournament be without the chant of “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy.”  Hachem is a great champion, and tremendous ambassador for the game.  In addition, he’s a great player, having now cashed in 10 WSOP Events, and holding more than $7.9 million in career WSOP earnings.  Hachem has the total resume to deserve his shot.

Allen Cunningham – I was surprised to see his name pop up as high on this list.  But when I looked back at his resume, it made sense.  He has 5 bracelets, and 41 cashes in WSOP events.  His total of $6.7 million in career WSOP earnings makes him a lock to be in this event.

3rd Category – The All Time Money List – This is for events around the globe.  While the WSOP hosts “The Big One” in the main event, there are other places around the world where you can make money playing poker.  These guys have built their resumes and made more money than anyone else that plays the game of poker in tournament winnings, and they have a WSOP bracelet, so they’re eligible.

Daniel Negreanu – If Phil Ivey didn’t play the Aussie Millions earlier this year, than Daniel would still be number 1 on the all time list.  But being number 2 with more than $12.5 Million in career earnings isn’t so bad.  “Kid Poker” also has 5 WSOP Bracelets to hang from his wrist, and nearly has 2 others as he had 2 runner up finishes in WSOP events in 2009.  I think it would surprise no one to see Daniel, a fierce competitor, reclaim the top spot of the biggest money winner of all time, and this event would certainly be one that he could do it in.

Scotty Nguyen – The man who calls everyone, and everything, and ends every sentence with the word “Baby,” currently sits in 5th place on the Career all time money list with more than $11.1 Million.  Scotty has so many championships, so many deep runs in big tournaments, and wears so much “Bling,” he’s just got to be invited to a Tournament of Champions Baby!

T.J. Cloutier – I was actually surprised to see this member of the Old Guard qualify in this area.  I think of T.J. being one of those guys who has cashed from when the game first began gaining credibility.  He’s been around the game for so long, that you forget how good this guy really is.  T.J. is still currently 10th overall in the Career Money list with more than $9.7 million in career tournament winnings.  Plus if he wins this, he may not have to put another one of his 5 WSOP Bracelets up for sale.

John Juanda – He’s such a solid player, that I was surprised to wait this long to call his name.   Juanda has 4 WSOP Bracelets, 50 WSOP Cashes, and oh by the way $9.7 million in career earnings, for 11th on the all time list. 

Carlos Mortenson – Another name that surprised me, but I think that’s the way that “The Matador” likes it.  It’s funny to me that I never thought of Carlos as one of the largest money winners (he has $9.2 Million in career winnings), but it’s kind of that way in tournaments too.  You don’t really realize that he’s around until he’s just stacked some player and creates a giant tower with his chips.  His chip stacking structures would be such a tremendous addition to this tournament, and the 2 bracelets (1 Main Event) and 14 other cashes give him the resume that says “I Belong”.

4th and Final Category – What have you done for me lately.  This is the category where I think it is open for some discussion.  The 5 players in this category are the hottest players out there who already have a bracelet, and are simply deserving players.  I’ll make their case now:

Jason Mercier – Who is hotter than this guy?  It seems like if this guy is playing in a tournament, he’s cashing in it.  The only question is how deep he’s going to run.  Mercier final tabled what seems like more tournaments than anyone lately.  Recently he final tabled the WSOPE Main Event in dominant fashion, finished 3rd in the LA Poker Classic High Roller, and made the elite 8 of the NBC Heads Up event.  It’s astonishing that Jason has only the 1 WSOP bracelet to his name, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he wins another this year.

Daniel Alaei – Recent months have been very good to this 2 time WSOP Bracelet winner.  How about a  WSOP Bracelet in the $10k Omaha Hi/Lo in the summer, a WPT Championship in December, and a runner up in the LA Poker Classic High Roller event.  This guy brings one of the best poker games in poker to the table every time he sits down, and his cashes continue to be huge.  Daniel finished 10th overall on 2009’s money list and already has more than $200k in winnings to kick off 2010. 

Eric Baldwin – “Basebaldy” has really established himself in the online world, but in live play he scores just as big.  He won his first WSOP Bracelet this past summer in the $1,500 NLHE event, and then proceeded to cash in about everything he played in.  Baldwin finished 2009 26th on the money list in live earnings with 17 final tables, 4 first place finishes.  Eric had a breakout year that was good enough to earn him the prestigious 2009 CardPlayer Player Of the Year title, and he secured himself a deserving spot in this event.

Scott Seiver – This is probably the player that you’re least familiar with on this list, and maybe the player that is the most likely to win it all.  Scott followed up his 4th place finish at the NAPT High Roller event (a $215,000 cash) with a victory in the LA Poker Classic for $425k.  The guy has been the hottest player out there in events that require huge buy ins, and he’s been slaying the competition in them.  It’s hard to argue that anyone is playing better poker than Scott right now, and his 1st place finish in the 2008 $5,000 buy in No Limit Hold’em event makes him eligible. 

Jeffrey Lisandro – You have to make a spot for the reigning WSOP Player of the year, especially considering the fact that Lisandro won THREE bracelets in this past World Series.  The guy ran ridiculously hot during the summer in Las Vegas, and while his 2009 earnings were less than $1 million, it’s the victory’s that make “The Iceman” deserving of the final spot here.

It’ll be interesting to see who the fans vote in, but this is who I cast my votes for.  I would hope that with the final 2 spots, that WSOP awards Greg Raymer (who finished 6th in the WSOP Money List, and just outside the all time money list as well), and probably Chris Ferguson.  I think that those two players would be good choices to represent a Tournament of Champions. 

If you think that I missed someone, let me know.  I’d love to know who you think I left out, and why they should be in and someone else out.  Let me know.