2018 WSOP: Predictions from PocketFives’ Esteemed Panel of Experts

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It might seem like just yesterday that Scott Blumstein won the WSOP Main Event, but the 2018 WSOP is finally upon us. (888 photo(

It’s Christmas Eve for poker players. Or, if you want to borrow from the more contemporary metaphor, it’s the day before Poker Summer Camp officially kicks off. Poker players from around the world have been flooding into Las Vegas over the past week to get settled and ready for the 2018 World Series of Poker. 

So, as the tables are getting set up at the Rio and dealers are getting last minute instructions on how to deal Triple Draw, the staff here at PocketFives take their turn at predicting exactly how some of the things at the 2018 WSOP will go down.

The Panel

  • Editor in Chief – Lance Bradley
  • Community Manager – Kevin Mathers
  • Writer & The Fives Co-Host – Matt Clark
  • Writer – Jeff Walsh
PocketFives Staff (L to R) Lance Bradley, Kevin Mathers, Matt Clark, Jeff Walsh.

JUST HOW BIG CAN THIS THING GET?

There are a record-setting 78 bracelet events on the 2018 WSOP schedule, including 13 events that being after the Main Event does. Our esteemed panel dove deep into some heavy math and analytics to break down eight key events.

EVENT #7 – $565 Colossus

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
16,133 17,425 17,653 16,960

There’s been a steady decline in attendance over the past few years (roughly a 20% drop in runners from year one to year three), potentially due to a small cannibalization of the lower buy-in player pool from the $365 GIANT (which gets underway the same weekend as the Colossus) and also possibly because there may just be so much offered at any given time at the start of the series, the star event that is the Colossus may have just faded a little. -Jeff Walsh

EVENT #20 – $5,000 Big Blind Ante

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
659 603 622 645

The Big Blind Ante is all the rage in tournament poker right now and 2018 marks its debut at the WSOP. The price point for this one is definitely going to draw out a certain group of players, many of whom have already played with the big blind ante before and have come to enjoy it more than the traditional ante system. There were two $5,000 full ring NLHE events on the schedule last year drawing 505 and 623 players respectively. I think the hype of BBA puts this one over the top and we end up with over 650. -Lance Bradley

EVENT #21 – $1,500 Millionaire Maker

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
7.483 8,049 6,541 7,644

One of the most popular events on the ‘Weekend Warrior’ schedule, the enticement of a $1,000,000+ guaranteed reward for first brings the droves to the Rio. After a couple of flat years, allowing players to re-enter each flight (for a maximum of four total) brought the field to 7,761 entries, up almost 600 from 2016. I expect another increase, passing the record number from 2014’s 7,977 entries, with 8,049 entries after late registration closes. -Kevin Mathers

EVENT #33 – $50,000 Players Championship

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
107 110 110 106

Each year, the $50,000 Players Championship attracts a select field of players, all eager to play some eight-game mix. Last year’s field drew 100 players and has hovered around that number in recent years after bottoming out to 84 in 2015. This year, I’m predicting another modest increase, to 110 players. -Kevin Mathers

EVENT #42 – $25,000 Pot Limit Omaha Eight Max High Roller

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
203 180 210 213

The $25K PLO is one of the true elite field tournaments of the summer. Not only will it attract a regular slate of high rollers but it’s one of those tournaments when $10K regs may stretch into shot taking mode. The last three years this event has been offered there’s been a nice uptick in registration, including a massive 21 player jump from 2016 to 2017.

The 2018 Aria Summer High Roller has an event a couple days before and after WSOP’s $25K PLO and I’m going to err on the side of this helping push the PLO player pool up as players may want a break from NLHE but want to play the same stakes. Plus, this event will very likely provide a seven-figure score for the winner and for the players who can afford the buy-in and handle the swings, that’s very enticing. -Jeff Walsh

EVENT #61 – $1,000 WSOP.com Online Championship

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
2,729 2,400 2,005 1,802

Last year’s number of 1,312 is going to be shattered. The player pool combination is already seeing increases across all WSOP.com tournaments and the bracelet “Main Event” is a great test for the platform. The influx of players in Nevada for the WSOP combined with New Jersey grinders equals 2,005 runners in 2018. – Matt Clark

EVENT #74 – $10,000 Six Max NLHE Championship

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
299 340 294 308

In years past, the $10,000 Six Max NLHE event has drawn out the elite short-handed players, many of whom cut their teeth online. It’s all been afforded a decent spot in the schedule. That’s not the case this year though as it was moved to one of the “post-lim” events on the schedule and will share Rio floorspace with Day 7 of the Main Event. For a lot of players, the end of their Main Event means their WSOP is over. Fatigue – physical, mental and bankroll – comes into play and players look to get out of Vegas. A number of players who normally play this event might decide to skip it out and get a head-start on the post-WSOP detox. -Lance Bradley

EVENT #65 – The Main Event

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
7,765 7,294 7,460 7,184

Go ahead and call me crazy, but I think the WSOP Main Event enjoys a big bump this year. I’m going to chalk a lot of it up to the crypto market. On July 8, 2017, Bitcoin was worth roughly $2,500. As of May 28, 2018, it’s worth roughly three times that. Yeah, the market is volatile, but so many poker players were invested in crypto markets early. Poker is also in a better place than it has been in years. The bruises from 2011 are starting to heal and the live coverage from 2017 on ESPN/PokerGO will show some dividends. Seeing similar year/year growth this year that we did last doesn’t seem out of the question. -Lance Bradley

THE SUPERSTARS

This time last year nobody was picking Alex Foxen to do anything at the WSOP. (WPT photo/Joe Giron)

Every year a few players emerge from relative obscurity to win a bracelet and launch themselves into the world of poker celebrity. That being said, poker’s biggest stage is also where the game’s best players want to shine brightest. Our esteemed panel picked seven of the biggest names in poker right now and took a stab at predicting just well each of them will do this summer.

Note: the table indicates if each panelist thinks that player will win a bracelet or not.

Alex Foxen

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
No No No Yes

Frankly, I hate taking the position that any player will win a bracelet in any given year, but by taking a “NO” stance that would be asking me to essentially bet against Foxen. That’s not a position I’m willing to take. In 2017, he fired up and down the WSOP schedule resulting in cashing 13 times. Foxen made the final table three times, including taking a 3rd place in a NLHE $1K. Headed into the 2018 WSOP he’s got high-roller experience under his belt and he’s red hot having earned four six-figure scores in 2018. If he has the same drive he had in 2017 and is playing all the games, it’s going to be very difficult to deny Foxen from leveling up his poker career with a WSOP bracelet. -Jeff Walsh

Chris Ferguson

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
No No No No

Ferguson has made numerous final tables since his 2016 return but carries only a win in Europe to show for it. Expect Ferguson to reach two final tables this summer but finish no higher than third. -Matt Clark

Phil Ivey

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
Yes No No No

It was a pretty big deal when Phil Ivey announced he would be returning to the WSOP this year. There’s a lot of opportunities for Ivey to be distracted in Las Vegas. The cash game scene during the WSOP is amazing, the high rollers offered at Aria and King’s Lounge might take some of Ivey’s attention, but many don’t know that when Ivey went on his November Nine run in 2009, he would leave the Rio and head to Bobby’s Room and play all night. He’s wired for this. -Lance Bradley

Daniel Negreanu

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
No Yes No Yes

A revamped WSOP Player of the Year system gives Daniel Negreanu the motivation to play a full WSOP schedule to chase his third POY title. With the battering he’s taken for his representing PokerStars in recent years, Negreanu wants to redeem himself in the eyes of the poker community and winning a bracelet, which he hasn’t done since 2013, is his way of doing so. I predict Negreanu wins one bracelet and has at least two other top-three finishes, all in non-Hold’em events. -Kevin Mathers

Adrian Mateos

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
Yes Yes Yes Yes

This is the only player that everybody on the panel agrees is leaving the Rio with new jewelry this year. It’s not surprising. He’s been one of the top-ranked players in the GPI for a while now and already has three WSOP bracelets to his credit and at 23 years old, fatigues just isn’t going to be a factor for him. He’ll also play every NLHE event on the schedule.  -Lance Bradley

Phil Hellmuth

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
Yes No No No

The all-time leader in bracelets is on a cold streak since his last win in 2015. Two final tables in the last two years for Hellmuth do not bode well for improvement in 2018. If there were 10 Razz events on the schedule, that would bolster his chances. -Matt Clark

Stephen Chidwick

Lance Bradley Kevin Mathers Matt Clark Jeff Walsh
Yes Yes No No

High Rollers have Chidwick’s attention now and his paltry five cashes last year prove his preference. Winning bracelets takes volume and Chidwick won’t be putting in enough to make consistent deep runs. -Matt Clark

BIGGEST SURPRISE

He’s baaaaaa-aacckkkk. Phil Ivey is set to return to the WSOP felt. (WPT photo/Joe Giron)

At the end of every summer camp, there’s always a player who two that pulled off something really special or left poker fans wondering what happened. Each member of our esteemed panel took one player who might provide the poker world with a surprise performance – good or bad – this summer.

Phil Ivey

Phil Ivey’s grand return in Montenegro gave poker fans a reason to believe Ivey might play this summer at the WSOP. Ivey confirmed as much when interviewed after the win. Poker fans teased themselves for years with a “Summer of Ivey.” Sadly, this summer will not be that year.

Cash games in Asia along with legal issues in the United States have Ivey’s primary attention now for different monetary reasons. If the right bracelet bet comes along, maybe then Ivey will put in the volume to satisfy the masses. -Matt Clark

Allen Kessler

I’m going out on a very long limb here, but I’m going to predict than Kessler will win his first WSOP bracelet this year. The Chainsaw is quite the polarizing figure, especially if you’re on #PokerTwitter, and I’ve surely had my war of words with him. He almost took down a bracelet during WSOP Europe in Rozvadov, Czech Republic finishing runner-up in the €2,200 Pot-Limit Omaha. The last time he made a WSOP final table in Vegas was back in 2011, so that means he’s gotta be due, right? When you play as many events as he does, eventually he’ll be on the right side of variance for once, and I think it’s time for him to win some gold. After his win, he’ll go on a Twitter rant about the bracelet or some other trivial matter and everyone will turn on him once again #Drama. -Kevin Mathers

Connor Drinan

Every year since 2013 Connor Drinan has attended the WSOP and every year he’s left without a single “trinket.” This is the year I think he truly breaks through and not only wins himself a bracelet but perhaps takes down the biggest tournament of the summer – The $1 million Big One For One Drop.

Drinan, the current PocketFives Worldwide #17-ranked online player is a consummate grinder, crushing just about any tournament series he dedicates himself to. Over the course of PokerStars’ 2018 SCOOP series, Drinan made the money an impressive 32 times, putting him in the upper echelon of the series overall leaderboard. His WSOP resume consists of 25 cashes and nearly $1 million in total earnings, including in-the-money finishes in the $111,111 High Roller For One Drop in both 2017 and 2013.

Should he find his way into the $1 million One Drop tournament, he’s my pick to take it down. Should he not have the chance I see him taking his 2018 online success and translating it into multiple deep runs during the WSOP, including the Main Event, resulting in him being a player whose success won’t be able to keep him out of the headlines. -Jeff Walsh

Adam Owen

So many people like to pigeonhole Adam Owen as a mixed game specialist. And while he’s fantastic at games other than Hold’em (16 non-Hold’em cashes in SCOOP this year), he’s also had some deep runs in bigger buy-in NLHE events. He finished second at the partypoker MILLIONS Barcelona Main Event for $1.6 million. He has 22 WSOP cashes over the last three years and given his recent big score, we could see him playing even more bracelet events this year. -Lance Bradley

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Mike Leah could finally capture WSOP Player of the Year this year. (WPT photo/Joe Giron)

Outside of Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer and apparently Phil Hellmuth, nobody was thrilled to see Chris Ferguson win Player of the Year last year. There were just as many people disappointed in the new system WSOP brass put in place which rewarded min-cashes in big fields with more points than runner-up finishes in Championship events. That same brass has promised the poker community that they fixed the POY issue, so the race is once again wide open. Our esteemed panel each made their pick for who reigns supreme this summer and through the end of WSOP Europe this fall.

Mike Leah

When you try to answer the ultimate poker question of “Who Loves It More?”, you can’t go wrong by answering Mike Leah. He loves everything about poker: the cash, the competition, and, yes, the awards. He’s not shy about wanting it all and one would have to assume that the WSOP Player of the Year would be high on his list of wanted accolades. As a Canadian, he’s faced with stiff tax laws on anything he wins in Las Vegas, but that has not stopped him from racking up 99-lifetime WSOP cashes and a bracelet.

He plays everything at every buy-in level and in 2017, he cashed for 14 times in Las Vegas and another six time during the World Series of Poker Europe. His efforts left him in fifth place of the 2017 WSOP POY race but his determination did not go unnoticed. Leah is comfortable playing just about any buy-in level and has plenty of non-NLHE results in WSOP events. Should he get off to a fast start in 2018 or perhaps when capture his second bracelet, expect him to dive headlong into the WSOP Player of the Year race. -Jeff Walsh

James Obst

James Obst earned his first WSOP bracelet in 2017 and is a force in all games offered at the Rio. Since 2014, Obst has cashes in 10 events with a buy-in of at least $5,000.

The Australian’s consistency in 2017 put him in the running for POY despite the flawed scoring system. Four top-10 finishes and two podium results equal even more for Obst this summer. Two bracelets plus five total final tables equal a banner in 2019. -Matt Clark

Daniel Negreanu

The 2017 WSOP Player of the Year race was the most controversial edition yet, as Chris Ferguson took down the title after cashing a record 23 times in Vegas and Rozvadov. Many critiqued the criteria as others decided to not put in the volume to try and chase Ferguson. This year’s POY criteria appears to be vastly approved, rewarding deep finishes over cashing. With plenty of events at a $10,000 or higher price point, it’s likely someone who goes on a heater in those events will likely win (Ex. Jason Mercier in 2016, Phil Ivey in 2012). Negreanu was the most vocal critic last year, and he heartily approved the changes and I expect him to win WSOP POY for the third time. -Kevin Mathers

John Monnette

Avid readers will remember that I predicted Monnette would win Player of the Year last year. That was before the 2017 WSOP POY scoring system was discovered to be as ugly as it was. Monnette still managed to finish fifth, but probably put more emphasis on smaller buy-in No Limit Hold’em events than he wanted to. With the new system rewarding bigger buy-in events and mixed games, Monnette might be the odds-on favorite to win. He excels at mixed games and will play nearly every $10,000 or bigger buy-in event.