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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)
It took just one week for the 2021 World Series of Poker to settle into a routine. After the initial chaos of the early events with their long lines and sometimes slow-paced verification processes, the vibe at the Rio found its stride with big names winning bracelets, shot takers living their dream, and a historic blow-up we all saw coming. Week two brought back a very familiar feel to the WSOP, even under the “current conditions.” From packed fields of poker's brightest stars to an old-fashioned dose (or two) of drama, things remained lively throughout the week. With that, let’s check out the five biggest storylines from Week 2 of the World Series of Poker. #1. Hellmuth Melts Down, Wants To Burn It Down The question of whether Phil Hellmuth would win WSOP gold bracelet #16 before he lost control has been answered. This week, Hellmuth was at the third final table of his first five events and took the chip lead into the final day of the $10K Stud. The entire poker world tuned in to see if he would make history - and he most certainly did. Just not by winning a bracelet. Hellmuth saw his chip lead slip away and, as his stack tumbled, his #POSITIVITY absolutely crumbled. Then it happened - he finally freaked out. (Note: there’s an eff-ton of eff-bombs in this video so fair warning) https://twitter.com/SrslySirius/status/1447982387619528709?s=20 After losing a key pot to eventual winner Anthony Zinno, Hellmuth had a full-on meltdown. Hurling insults, swear words, and a few self-congratulatory comments. He jokingly threatened to “burn this motherf***ing place down” if he didn’t end up winning. He even re-introduced himself to the table, asking if this table even knew who he was?! For poker purists, like commentator Norman Chad, Hellmuth clearly crossed the line. https://twitter.com/NormanChad/status/1447979843811823619?s=20 For pure entertainment value, it was a historic, epic Hellmuth “Poker Brat” moment. It was an all-timer for sure and “burn it down” is going to rival “idiot from Northern Europe” in future memes. https://twitter.com/HunterGrouse/status/1448075867004022787?s=20 Once he calmed down, Hellmuth took to Twitter, issued as much of an apology as he could muster, and took his medicine. He even retweeted some of the harshest comments directed at him (see above). But for poker as a whole, this is another love-it-or-hate-it moment from the WSOP. And wherever you fall, this is for certain, this moment is one we won’t forget anytime soon. https://twitter.com/phil_hellmuth/status/1448431418762088448?s=20 https://twitter.com/phil_hellmuth/status/1448544952162553856?s=20 #2. Misguided Man Enters the Ladies Event In case you hadn’t seen our op-ed published earlier - here’s a link. The facts are that a poker player from Minneapolis decided to be the sole man to pay the $10,000 entry fee and play the Ladies Event. He claimed it was all to raise money for unspecified women’s charities, even though in order to make any money, he would have needed to have a final table finish of eighth place or better. As should be expected the decision was met with plenty of backlash, including from some of the women who played in the event. The player ended up not making the money and according to reports, the announcement of elimination was met with plenty of cheers. As of this writing, the player has not spoken more about his experience or if he plans on making donations to women’s charities despite finishing out of the money. More importantly, the event drew a field of 643 women, including top-tier pros Jennifer Shahade, Sofia Lovgren, Jamie Kerstetter, Melanie Weisner, Elena Stover, and J.J. Liu who made the final table. https://twitter.com/JenShahade/status/1447642272221184001?s=20 https://twitter.com/thegroupie/status/1447682599426531328?s=20 The final table of the Ladies Event can be watched for free on YouTube. #3. Big Names Add Bracelets To Resume The deeper into the series, the most notable names have been emerging with new gold bracelets to add to their trophy case. Over the course of the past seven days, John Monette picked up his fourth career WSOP victory after besting Nate Silver in the $10,000 Limit Hold’em Championship for $245,680. Days later it was Anthony Zinno grabbing his third bracelet in the aforementioned $10K Stud where he overtook a talented final table including Hellmuth, Poker Hall of Fame member Jack McClelland, and Stephen Chidwick. Zinno took home more than $182K with the win. Mixed game specialist Dylan Linde can be taken off the “best without a bracelet” list as he grabbed gold in the $1,500 Mixed Omaha Hi-Lo for $170,269. Finally, longtime grinder DJ Alexander found a way to to the end of the $1,000 Flip & Go to earn some hardware of his own plus the $180,655 first-place prize. That’s leads us to… #4. Flip and Go Madness For the better part of two days, you couldn’t look at social media from the World Series of Poker without seeing the crowds that gathered in the single table satellite area of the Pavilion, hoping to flip their way into the money of the $1,000 Flip and Go event sponsored by GGPoker. READ: Fast and Furious Flip and Go Event Incites Action At The WSOP Daniel Negreanu lit the fuse and soon thereafter people were lining up to pay $1,000 to try and win a single hand in order to advance to the money round. For some, it was one and done. But for a couple of big-name pros, the quest to win the flip became costly. The event was polarizing with plenty of detractors feeling like it was a rake trap and added to the narrative that the WSOP was cheapening the brand by allowing people to “flip for a bracelet.” However, there were also plenty of accounts of people embracing the madness and adrenaline that came with leaning into the luck factor in order to advance. #5. Drama Returns to the Rio The World Series of Poker is in full swing so is the drama that comes with it. Of course, there’s the aforementioned Hellmuth explosion and “Man Entering Ladies Event”, which are their own stories. However, other mini-drama bombs have gone off this week, some of which have serious implications, some of which are just reminders of the kind of spats that take place when highly competitive players are fighting for massive prize pools. The first took place when poker pro Adam Hendrix tweeted out an issue that he heard about where an unnamed poker pro was entered in an event, sat down, and was waiting for the event to start but decided to unregister. Then later, that player re-registered (which is standardly against the rules). When that player turned out to be Kelly Minkin who unreg’d for a variety of reasons and only re-registered hours later, the air was cleared and the social media spat was squashed. Here’s a taste of the back-and-forth: https://twitter.com/AdamHendrix10/status/1446585726372499456?s=20 https://twitter.com/The_Illest/status/1446595732065042436?s=20 https://twitter.com/AdamHendrix10/status/1446656678041055235?s=20 While that gave Poker Twitter some good reads for a few hours, Shaun Deeb encountered a much more serious scenario when he woke up, with what he said, was someone in his hotel room. https://twitter.com/shaundeeb/status/1447215029758033922?s=20 Deeb’s been mum about the incident since, not saying what if anything was taken. Thankfully, he’s fine and was spotted at the tables soon thereafter.