Handicapping the field of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship

22 June 2009

The Main Event is the centerpiece of the World Series of Poker each year, but the event that measures the best all-around player in the game is no doubt the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship.

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Scotty Nguyen won last year's $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship and the new Chip Reese trophy. (photo by IMPDI for the 2008 WSOP)

In fact, it's probably safe to say that a lot of players would rather win this year's H.O.R.S.E. Championship – which begins on Friday with the final table scheduled for Tuesday, June 30 – than the Main Event. Sure, the field at the H.O.R.S.E. Championship is less than two percent of what the Main Event typically draws, but that's exactly the point. Poker pros see the Main Event as a high-profile "amateur hour" where you will more than likely get bounced by a player who has nowhere near your career earnings and half your talent. The H.O.R.S.E. Championship, meanwhile, draws a select group of around 150 or so of the best "true" poker players on the planet. If you win this event, you will have to earn it.

Making the H.O.R.S.E. Championship even more prestigious is the history that it has been able to build in just three short years. The ball got rolling in a big way at the inaugural event in 2006 when it drew the kind of final table that would give ESPN producers instant goose bumps. The final nine players seated at the 2006 final table were Chip Reese, Andy Bloch, Phil Ivey, Jim Bechtel, T.J. Cloutier, David Singer, Dewey Tomko, Doyle Brunson and Patrik Antonius.

At the time, those nine men had a combined three WSOP Main Event titles, two WPT Championships, 27 WSOP gold bracelets and 116 WSOP final table appearances. Not to mention, three of them (Reese, Cloutier and Brunson) were already Poker Hall of Famers. And not only was the final table star-studded, but the play leading up to it was dramatic as the final nine players weren't decided until 9:15 a.m., the morning after Day 4 began. That's right, it was a 19-hour poker marathon.

In the end Chip Reese, prevailed in an epic heads-up battle against Bloch that lasted seven hours, which was at the time was the longest in WSOP history.

"This tournament was really important to me and all my friends," Reese said after his historic victory. "We all talked about what a great test of poker skill it would be, and it's an honor to come out on top."

Sadly, the H.O.R.S.E. bracelet would be the third and final of Reese's career since he passed away in late 2007. In a touching gesture, the WSOP renamed the event's trophy as the David "Chip" Reese Award beginning last year. The trophy is crowned with the gold-embossed winning hand (4-4-7-7-A) from Reese's victory in that inaugural event.

In 2007, Freddy Deeb captured the event and once again it was a glitzy final table with the likes of Kenny Tran, Singer, Barry Greenstein, Thor Hansen and Gabe Kaplan making the final nine. And last year in one of the more memorable final tables of the 2008 WSOP, Scotty Nguyen joined an exclusive club of five-time bracelet holders by winning the event, although his drunken behavior at the table didn't win him many fans. Other members of last year's final table included 2008 WSOP Player of the Year Erick Lindgren, Lyle Berman, Greenstein and Huck Seed, who, like Nguyen, is a former Main Event champ.

So as we inch closer to the start of the 2009 H.O.R.S.E. Championship, here's a look of some of the favorites, as well as a sentimental choice and a sleeper pick that we expect to make the final table and take a serious run at the 2009 title.

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The favorites:
Phil Ivey: Not only is Ivey running hot after already winning two bracelets this year, but he's also considered one of the best mixed event players in the game. Six of his seven-career bracelets have come in events other than Hold'em. He was third in this event in 2006 and 12th last year. He has to be the odds-on favorite going in.

Barry Greenstein: Another great mixed event player, Barry is the only player to finish in the Top 12 of all three of the $50k H.O.R.S.E. Championships, finishing 12th in 2006, 7th in 2007 and 6th last year. He also has already cashed in a H.O.R.S.E. event during this year's Series.

David Singer: The majority of Singer's WSOP cashes have come in Limit games and he's considered a Stud specialist, but he's been outstanding in the H.O.R.S.E. Championship with two 6th-place finishes. He was also 41st in another H.O.R.S.E. at this year's Series

Andy Bloch: Despite 21 WSOP cashes, the MIT grad is still searching for that coveted first bracelet and it would be fitting if he won it here considering how close he was to capturing the inaugural event. In addition to that runner-up finish in 2006, Bloch was 15th at last year's H.O.R.S.E. Championship.

The sentimental pick:
Doyle Brunson: Can you imagine the buzz inside the Rio if Texas Dolly wins the H.O.R.S.E. Championship? Not only is he a living legend and a crowd favorite, but Brunson and Reese were dear friends so this would have the emotions running high as well. And the chances of Brunson not only hanging around in this event but winning it aren't as far-fetched as you may think. He finished eighth in 2006 and last year he was 16th.

What's more, good old Doyle is playing well right now. The 76-year-old has already made two legitimate runs at career-bracelet No. 11 this year – which would tie him with Phil Hellmuth on the all-time list – and both times they were in World Championship events. He was seventh in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo over the weekend and 15th in the $10,000 Mixed Event that ended on June 4. With Reese watching from way up above in the giant poker room in heaven, a Doyle Brunson victory here would rank as one of the greatest moments in WSOP history.

The sleeper:
Yuval Bronshtein: Bronshtein's poker claim to fame came last August when he not only became the first player to win consecutive FTOPS events, but he did so in a span of less than 12 hours by multi-tabling the two tournaments. He got his start in poker online when he dropped out of the University of Maryland two weeks into his senior year to go pro, but he's been quietly making a name for himself on the live circuit as well.

He placed 13th in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo over the weekend for his sixth-career WSOP cash and two of those have come in the WSOP Europe's H.O.R.S.E. tournament where he was 10th last year and 6th in 2007.

"I think I can win [the H.O.R.S.E. Championship]; otherwise I wouldn't be playing in it," Bronshtein told us on Monday as he was getting ready to head down to the Rio for the continuation of the $2,500 Mixed Event where he was 16th on the chip count list with 412 players remaining. "The key to H.O.R.S.E. events is to not have a weakness in any of the games. I don't think I have one."

Cards go in the air for this year's H.O.R.S.E. Championship on Friday and Casino City will be inside the Rio providing live coverage.


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