First-Round Picks: The 2021 World Series of Poker Main Event

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Niklas Astedt, Paul Volpe, and Yuri Dzivielevski will be in the field when the 2021 World Series of Poker Main Event kicks off this week.

This week the World Series of Poker Main Event, in all its glory, returns to the Rio for what is strongly rumored to be the very last time. Thousands of players – both pros and recs – will pony up the $10,000 buy-in in hopes that after more than two weeks, it will be they who will stand alone, earning life-changing prize money and be crowned the new World Champion.

The Main Event is one of the most unique tournaments in all of poker. The payday alone is enough to bring out the masses. But when you add the prestige and tradition of the Main Event bracelet, just playing in the event has become part of the poker dream.

And if we’ve learned anything over the 16 years that the Main Event has taken place at the Rio it’s that the spotlight of the Main Event is likely to feature players the greater poker world does not yet know. Perhaps it will be a young up-and-coming grinder who will take center stage or perhaps a recreational enthusiast who was bought in by their family looking to take their once-in-a-lifetime shot. This tournament has proved it’s impossible to predict what will happen and who will emerge, that’s what makes it special.

That’s also why picking players who will go on deep run in the Main Event is equally impossible to predict. But that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Whether you are drafting a team with some friends, playing a little fantasy poker, or getting a little side hustle down on PokerShares you’re going to want to check out this list and consider adding them to your squad.

We’re taking into account recent momentum, proven ability to navigate large-field tournaments, and the last half-decade of Main Event results. We’re also looking to see who’s already turned up at the WSOP this year and who may just sit out until 2022.

So, enjoy. Here’s a special super-sized, special edition of First-Round Picks for the 2021 World Series of Poker Main Event.

#1. Niklas Astedt

Main Event Cashes: 2
Main Event Earnings: $59,420

The former longtime #1-ranked Niklas ‘Lena900’ Astedt is in Las Vegas and ready to make a run at the Main Event. Generally considered one of, if not the, greatest online poker player of all time, when this large-field tournament destroyer is in the field it makes him simply unable to pass up. The truth about Astedt is that he doesn’t have a lot of history with the WSOP, just seven total live cashes at the Las Vegas series. However, two of those came in the Main Event (2016, 2019) and he just made the money in the $10K Six-Max this year. Don’t be surprised if when the field narrows, Astedt is in the mix.

#2. Paul Volpe

Main Event Cashes: 5
Main Event Earnings: $635,129

Three-time WSOP bracelet winner Paul Volpe is no stranger to making deep runs in the Main Event. He has five Main Event cashes in the past 10 years including finishing in 192nd in 2011 ($47,107), 142nd in 2018 ($57,010), and 29th in 2016 for $216,211. His deepest Main Event run was back in 2012 when he finished in 20th place for $294,601. The fact is that in the Main Event (or any tournament, really) Volpe is as good a bet as there is.

#3 Yuri Dzivielevski

Main Event Cashes: 2
Main Event Earnings: $317,079

The current #1-ranked online player in the world, Yuri Dzivielevski, has been grinding the entire 2021 WSOP and has racked up six cashes to date. However, that’s just momentum headed into the Main Event where Dzivielevski is a proven large-field master. In 2019, he was one of the standout stars of the Main Event and, after being featured on the ESPN broadcast at the same table as Daniel Negreanu, he went on to finish in 28th place for $261,430.

Read: Yuri Dzivielevski Enjoying Success, Freedom With Nothing Left To Prove

#4. Alexandre Reard

Main Event Cashes: 3
Main Event Earnings: $428,978

France’s Alexandre Reard is already having an outstanding 2021 WSOP, having won his first gold bracelet in Event #47 ($5,000 Freezeout) for $428,694. But the reason he’s such a high pick is his long history of crushing in the Main Event. In 2017, he finished in 16th for $340,000, and in 2018 he had another top 100 finish, ending in 92nd for $66,330. Having cashed in the Main in three of the last four years, Reard already knew what it took to make it deep and now he knows how to close out a bracelet event.

#5. Andrew Moreno

Main Event Cashes: 2
Main Event Earnings: $256,476

Andrew Moreno, the younger brother of “high-quality” poker vlogger Johnny ‘Vibes’ Moreno, is coming off an epic career score. He took down the $10,000 buy-in Wynn Millions in June for $1.46 million dollars and that was just two weeks after he closed out the $1,100 Ultimate Stack at the Venetian for $127K. Moreno has been seen in the WSOP payout lines, making the money in a number of 2021 events, and has a history of going deep in the Main Event, finishing in 28th in 2015 for more than $211,000. It seems the one-time cash game pro thrives when the stakes are at their biggest, making the Main Event a perfect situation for him.

Also, Johnny’s not a bad choice either.

#6. Daniel Lazrus

Main Event Cashes: –
Main Event Earnings: –

Long Beach, New Jersey’s 31-year old Daniel Lazrus is entering the Main Event with a wave of momentum at his back. In July, he won the first bracelet of his career in the WSOP.com NLHE High Roller Championship for $205,347. Then he made his way to Las Vegas where he earned his second by taking down the massive 2021 Millionaire Maker for an even $1 million score. This would be the perfect time for Lazrus, who was leading the NLHE Player of the Year standings for a good portion of the first half of the series, to break out for his first (and possibly deep) Main Event cash.

#7. Joao Vieira

Main Event Cashes: 2
Main Event Earnings: $34,347

Current Online All-Time Money List leader Joao Vieira is looking to put his stamp on the Main Event. In 2019, he earned his first bracelet in the incredibly tough $5K Six-Max where he won $758,011. A great win to be sure, but Vieira is a world-class player and is looking for that televised result that will take his name to the next level. He has two previous Main Event results in Las Vegas, and a pair of cashes from WSOP Europe Main Event in both 2018 and 2019. He’s has all the skill one needs to survive to the endgame, the only question is – is it his time?

#8. Kelly Minkin

Main Event Cashes: 3
Main Event Earnings: $392,646

Kelly Minkin grabbed the title of Last Woman Standing in the Main Event in both 2015 and 2018, when in both years she finished inside the top 50. But one can’t help but feel like that title means little to Minkin who is pushing to always be the last person standing – full stop. In addition to her two deep runs, Minkin last made the money in the Main in 2019 and, with her doing what needed to be done in order to play this year, she’s in the perfect position to make a run at a final table…and more.

#9. Adam Friedman

Main Event Cashes: 4
Main Event Earnings: $373,989

Talk about a complete player, Adam Friedman proved that he’s one of the best in today’s game when he put on a historic performance in the 2021 $10K Dealers Choice, defeating Phil Hellmuth and winning the event for the third time…in a row. His $10K three-peat should be credentials enough to want to grab him in the Main Event, but a deeper looks shows that Friedman also crushes in the Main. He’s cashing in the Main Event four times in his career with three top 200 finishes. If you add on the confidence he’s going to feel heading into the Main, that makes him a top-tier choice to lead a squad.

#10. Maurice Hawkins

Main Event Cashes: 1
Main Event Earnings: $38,453

When it comes to the Main Event, Maurice Hawkins has the resume of the ideal player to succeed. He should be making deep run year in and year out. He’s the all-time leader in WSOP Circuit rings with 14 and knows how to battle against the type of player who comes to Las Vegas to take a shot in the Main Event. He’s a proven stack builder with more than $2.6 million in WSOP earnings. The interesting part about Hawkins is, when it comes to the WSOP Main Event, he’s had little success. He has a top 300 finish back in 2012 and nothing since. It’s surprising but perhaps he skipped a few, took some bad beats. Whatever has kept Hawkins from making his presence felt in this event we expect to end this year.

#11. Tyler Cornell

Main Event Cashes: 4
Main Event Earnings: $189,499

Early in the series Tyler Cornell captured his first WSOP bracelet when he took down the $25,000 High Roller for $833,00 – a career-high score. But prior to his early WSOP win, Cornell already had a stellar WSOP resume having cashed in the live Main Event four different times (2013, 2015, 2018, and 2019). Last year,  he cashed in multiple online Main Events. First, he made the final table of the August GGPoker $5K Main Event in which he finished in 8th place for more than $328,000. Then in December, he tacked on another $35K with a deep run in the WSOP.com Main Event.

#12. Faraz Jaka

Main Event Cashes: 4
Main Event Earnings: $95,874

It’s hard to believe that Faraz Jaka has yet to win a WSOP bracelet, especially because of his reputation of being able to build mountains of chips in just about any tournament he plays. He has four career WSOP Main Event cashes (2014, 2015, 2017, 2019) and more than $1.5 million in WSOP earnings. If you take a close look at Jaka’s resume you can see just how many times he was on the verge of earning that career-defining score. This may be the year that this cashing machine makes headlines in the Main.

Second Time Around

It’s one thing to make it to the final table of the Main Event once, it’s remarkable to even consider doing it again (see: Mark Newhouse). While we didn’t rank the following five players in our original twelve, it would be silly to sleep on any of these players in the Main Event.

Phil Hellmuth

Main Event Cashes: 8
Main Event Earnings: $1,333,618

Sixteen-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth has a knack for knowing how to play against recreational players. He’s the 1989 Main Event champ and has eight Main Event cashes in his career. Now, he’s only made the money once since 2015, but Hellmuth is on a heater in 2021 and this could be the year he returns with a deep run in the Main.

Joe McKeehen

Main Event Cashes: 2
Main Event Earnings: $7,707,826

Joe McKeehen has a reputation for being two things – one of which is being a master of navigating large field MTTs. Of course, everyone knows he won the Main Event in 2015 for $7.6 million. Since then he’s earned another two gold bracelets and made five World Poker Tour final tables. His latest WPT score took place earlier this year when he finished as the WPT Venetian runner-up for just over $490K. Of all the Main Event winners in the past 10 years, McKeehen might just be the favorite to make it back to the final table.

Damian Salas

Main Event Cashes: 5
Main Event Earnings: $2,493,281

Of course, Damian Salas might have something to say about which Main Event Champion is best suited to repeat. Salas, the winner of the 2020 online-live hybrid Main Event for a combined score of over $2.5 million ($1.5 million international, $1 million in the heads-up portion in Las Vegas) already had Main Event final table experience before his win last year. In 2017, Salas finished in seventh place for a $1.4 million score and he’s actually made the money in five of the last 10 Main Events which is more than enough proof that he’s always going to be a threat to make it back to a final table.

READ: Desire To Remain Elite Drives New World Champ Damian Salas

Cliff Josephy

Main Event Cashes: 6
Main Event Earnings: $3,604,078

PocketFives Legacy Award winner Cliff Josephy is sometimes more well-known for his history of backing players during the online boom than his poker playing prowess. But make no mistake, Josephy has proven time and time again that he’s just as good at the game as those players he backed. Plus, he has a Main Event resume most would envy. He’s cashed six times since 2008 and made the final table in 2016 where he fell just two spots shy of being called a World Champion, earning $3.4 million for third place. He showed up for the Seniors Event this year, so we expect him to show out in the Main Event.

Kenny Hallaert

Main Event Cashes: 4
Main Event Earnings: $1,645,463

The ESPN story on Kenny Hallaert has been that he’s the tournament director who finally is getting the chance to show off what he can do on the felt. But those in the know understand that Hallaert has been beating online tournaments for years and cracked the worldwide top 20 back in 2017. He has nearly $6.8 million in online earnings and has earned partypoker POWERFEST and multiple PokerStars SCOOP titles. In the Main Event, he always brings his A-game. He’s cashed in the Main Event four times, three of which were top 125 spots and a peak performance of sixth-place in 2016 where he collected $1.4 million.

As we mentioned, there are going to be thousands of players in the Main Event, making it tough to narrow down our picks. Players like Antonio Esfandiari, Allen Cunningham, Davidi Kittai, Eoghan O’Dea, and Jake Schindler all have stellar records in the Main Event and would have likely been in contention to make the list, but it’s hard to know if they’ll show.

So choose wisely and enjoy the next couple weeks of non-stop coverage of the return of the Main Event. The action kicks off with Day 1A on Thursday, November 4, and doesn’t end until a winner emerges on Wednesday, November 17.

(images courtesy: PokerGo)