Casino City Debates Part 1 - WSOP Most Outstanding Player

18 August 2006

In the first installment of Casino City Debates (CCD), reporters Aaron Todd and Ryan McLane debate their choice for the 2006 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Men's Most Outstanding Player (MOP). CCD arguments are unscripted debates about poker topics conducted via email. Our reporters send their arguments back and forth, adding to the debate without editing the original intent. Sometimes they edit for grammar, but only when Ross the boss is looking.

Ready, Set, GO:

Aaron Todd:

Allen Cunningham's performance in the 2006 World Series of Poker will be remembered as one of the best in series history. While two players won multiple events, Cunningham was the only player to win an event AND make it to the final table of the Main Event.

Cunningham outlasted all but three players in a field of 8,773 in the Main Event. That achievement, combined with his bracelet and a total of three final table appearances, makes Cunningham the most outstanding player in this year's WSOP.

Ryan McLane:

I agree that Cunningham had an excellent World Series and that he is probably the best player in the game today, but the WSOP history book will long remember 2006 as the year Phil Hellmuth made his mark.

Hellmuth cashed eight times, a WSOP record. He made four final tables, tied for a WSOP record. He brought his career totals in cashes and final table appearances to 57 and 36 respectively, both WSOP records. Oh yeah, and he tied the WSOP record for most gold bracelets by winning his tenth.

If poker is truly becoming America's fastest growing sport, it's time to start paying attention to the statistics. Statistically, the advantage goes to the "Poker Brat."

Todd:

Phil Hellmuth made his mark in 1989 when he became the youngest person to win the Main Event. He didn't need 2006 to go down in the "WSOP history book." (Can you find me a copy of this? I think our library is incomplete without it).

Yes, his 10th bracelet win, along with the record number of cashes and final-table appearances makes Hellmuth one of the best all-time WSOP players, but Cunningham gets the edge over Hellmuth as this year's MOP because it's not a lifetime achievement award.

While Hellmuth's run made him one of the top five players in this year's WSOP, I think Cunningham clearly had a better year, and Jeff Madsen and William Chen's performances rank slightly above Hellmuth's.

McLane:

Craziness Todd, craziness. Madsen and Chen rank above Hellmuth? Why because they won two bracelets in one year? So did Scott Fischman and Mark Seif (in 2004), neither of whom won the POY award. How'd they do in 2006 by the way?

While I will give you that both Madsen and Chen had fantastic WSOPs, you must remember that Cunningham and Hellmuth play every tournament with a gigantic bullseye on their chest. Chen and Madsen kind of snuck up on everyone, grabbing their bracelets and running ala Fischman and Seif. That will not happen again and next year, they'll see what's like to play under the microscope.

Cunningham and Hellmuth have to play every hand knowing each player at the table would love to be the one who bounced the big pro. Given that four players can all make a case for being the POY, I'd have to favor the known players because of that fact.

That being said, both of the known pros had a huge Series. I'd venture to say their achievements were equal making the winning attribute come down to the intangibles of Cunningham 's performance in the Main Event and Hellmuth's record breaking days. Cunningham's run in the Main Event was spectacular, especially considering the number of entrants, but being a MOP or in this case, a Player of the Year, comes down to overall consistency. Four final tables and eight cashes, I simply can't shake that number.

Also, Hellmuth had a second and a third place finish. He was one card from winning his second-place event, which would have given him two bracelets and a lock on this award. Sure Cunningham did well in the Main Event, but almost all the pros called that event a crapshoot.

Todd:

Let me be clear on this point: Phil Hellmuth has accomplished more in the world of poker than Allen Cunningham, Jeff Madsen and William Chen combined. Yes, even more than Cunningham, whose back-to-back performances in the last two World Series of Poker are more impressive than the back-to-back Main Event titles put together by Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan.

Hellmuth's performance this year was once again outstanding True, Hellmuth was close to a second bracelet, and while he did make a final table in Omaha High-Low, he was never really a threat to win that title. Madsen on the other hand had four final table appearances and when he cashed, he never finished worse than third. On top of that, he made a final table in three completely different games (Hold'em, Omaha High-Low and Seven-Card Stud High-Low), and while both his bracelets came in No Limit Hold'em tournaments, one was a shorthanded tournament. His ability to mix up his game to excel at each variation puts him ahead of Hellmuth for this year's MOP award.

Don't get me wrong, Hellmuth is great and he had a great year, but seven of his eight cashes were in Hold'em events. He had the best moment of this year's WSOP, but when it comes to the MOP of the series, he is at best third.

McLane:

Now that I've gotten Cunningham and Chen out of your system, let me work on Madsen. Don't get me wrong, Madsen has my unanimous vote for third place in our MOP race. But conveniently, you've ignored my bullseye point.

By the time the poker world realized that Madsen was a feared player, it was too late; he'd already won his bracelets. He didn't have to endure the chuckling amateurs who call their buddies over when they re-raise a Cunningham or a Hellmuth. He didn't have to endure the ESPN cameras in his face every time his tournament was on the line. If you need further proof, ask yourself - how many people were wearing "Kill Phil" gear?

Simply put, Madsen, who is a very good poker player, was able to play without the distractions that the known pros face on every decision, allowing him to maximize his talent under optimal conditions. I can't deny Madsen's credentials. His mixed game prowess is your strongest argument and honestly that puts him above Chen, but he didn't win a mixed game bracelet and both Cunningham (1) and Hellmuth (1) were able to make mixed game final table appearances with Hellmuth's close call coming in an Omaha High-Low.

Your point about Hellmuth cashing in mostly Hold'em events is good, but lessened by the fact that the World Series was made up if mostly Hold'em events. To be the 2006 MOP, you had to be a master of Hold'em and Hellmuth reigns supreme in that discipline. Consistency is the key to being outstanding and no one was more consistent than Phil.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Todd:

Your point about Madsen flying under the radar; a decent one, but it falls apart when you consider that he became the youngest player to win a bracelet. While he wasn't a known entity before that, as soon as it happened a bullseye appeared on his chest as well. How many times do you think the tournament director mentioned that he could become the youngest bracelet winner in WSOP history during his first final table? How many times do you think he mentioned it when he won less than two weeks later? Finally, how many times do you think it was uttered when he won his SECOND bracelet just six days later? Madsen was the early buzz, and it didn't take long for the 21-year old to be noticed by everyone in the Amazon Room.

Hellmuth had an amazing run this year, and he has proven over time to be the best poker player in World Series history. Seriously, better than Brunson, better than Chan, and better than Stu Ungar (if only because he's had more time to establish records since Ungar's death). Hellmuth owns the lifetime achievement award, but Cunningham and Madsen were still slightly ahead of him this year. I WIN.

McLane:

I'm going to ignore all that bumbling and get to the point. Ok, I can't. Hellmuth better than Dolly? Sounds like an argument for another day, but can I really take the rest of your comments seriously now?

Here's the bottom line. If this was a horserace, it would be too close to call. Chen, Madsen, Cunningham, and Hellmuth all played well enough to earn the MOP honors, therefore, we have to look beyond the things they did the same. They all won at least a bracelet, they all made a bunch of final tables, and they all raked in more money than I'm scheduled to make this decade.

But Cunningham and Hellmuth did it under pressure. Chen was a huge surprise and although Madsen got some attention for being the youngest champion ever, I believe players still felt he was a fluke and didn't take him seriously until he won his second. That won't happen again by the way.

So it comes down to what you value more: Cunningham's Main Event finish or Hellmuth record-breaking streaks. I vote for the records. I'm not saying it's a lifetime achievement award. What I am saying is that winning your tenth bracelet is harder than winning your fourth because everyone in the poker world is watching. Every times Hellmuth enters an event, the cameras are right in his face and he knows some players are trying to just get lucky on him so they can have their moment on ESPN. That makes his eight cashes and four final tables a ridiculous accomplishment. Not taking away from Cunningham, but Hellmuth's star power is a detriment at the poker table and his ability to win despite the distractions breaks the stalemate for me.


AT OffSuite

Mucking McLane

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