How I won WSOP Player of the Year
What a great fight! And I'm still coming to grips with the fact that I came out on top!
After such a great summer at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, it's hard to describe how happy I am that things went well at the WSOP Asia-Pacific in Melbourne and I managed to win the WSOP Player of the Year.
I'll give it a try, though.
You might have been following the WSOP POY battle between myself and Brandon Shack-Harris that lasted all of the way through the 10-event schedule in Melbourne.
Brandon started the WSOP APAC with a small lead over me in POY points (752 to 745.2) -- less than one min-cash -- which I figured gave him about a 50% chance to win POY, me about a 40% chance, and the rest of the field around 10%. Some were talking about Daniel Negreanu coming back to catch us, but he was going to have to win a couple of events to do that which is very hard to do, even for Daniel Negreanu.
Brandon had a small problem at the beginning of the series. His luggage got lost or something and so he missed the first flight of Event #1, the A$1,100 NLHE Accumulator event for which you could play all three of the Day 1 flights and accumulate chips. Meanwhile I had a good Day 1a, building up from 3,000 to 24,000 chips. But then he arrived on Day 1b, spun his stack up to 20,000, and I didn't get any more.
After that we both ended up making small cashes in the event, but I finished one pay jump ahead of Brandon and so after that first event I barely had the POY lead (762.2 to 760.5). I thought then that I was the favorite to win Player of the Year, but I hadn't prepared for the back-and-forth dueling that was to come.
Just a couple of days later Brandon and I were sitting at the same table in Event #4 (the A$1,650 NLHE Terminator event), and we got it all in against each other in a coin flip situation. I had A♣K♣ and Brandon had [10s][10h], and I bricked. He got all my chips, then went deep and finished sixth to retake the POY lead (806.7 to 762.2).
Then it was my turn in Event #6, the A$1,650 8-Game Dealer's Choice. In that one I got deep after he busted, and I needed to finish fourth to pass him in points. I made the final table, but couldn't get things going there and ended up going out in sixth and so once again I was just behind him (806.5 to 798.5).
Then came the bigger mixed event, the A$5,000 8-game event (Event #8). I thought that would be a good one for me to catch him again, but after the first day I had 9,000 chips (from a starting stack of 15,000) while Brandon had 50,000. It was about as bad a start as I could have imagined.
I was staying in an apartment with my buddy, Ismael Bojang, who is a great player and who also did very well at the WSOP APAC this year. He was still in Event #8 as well, but I remember a friend coming by and asking us "How are we feeling? Are we gonna win this thing or what?" And Ismael and I both chuckled and said, "Nah... it's not going to happen with this one."
But then Ismael and I both ended up getting off to good starts on Day 2, and after doubling up a couple of times I was up to 50,000 and got moved to Brandon's table where he was down to 10,000. He busted soon after, I continued to build my stack, and as the day wound down I was getting close to making the final table.
Actually in this tournament the money bubble was the same as the final table bubble, as only the top six finishers made the cash, and I needed to make the money in order to pass Brandon again. So it was a very big bubble for me -- the final table bubble, the cash bubble, and (in my mind) the Player of the Year bubble, too. There was only the Main Event and High Roller left, so I felt like if I could pass him there I'd have a very good chance of winning.
We got down to eight players and I had about 100,000 chips. I had to tighten up considerably, and after a while one player busted but I'd lost enough blinds and antes to go all of the way down to 30,000 -- about one-fifth of the average.
Then I got lucky. Brian Rast was short also and he got it all in with A♣K♥ versus Jonathan Duhamel's 4♠4♣ during the NLHE round. I don't like to root against anyone in those spots, but I'll admit I was pulling for Jonathan's hand to hold up -- and it did. I'd made the money and the final table, and I was going to pass Brandon again in the POY race.
I was very short on chips to start that final table, being the short stack with less than one-third the stack of the next person in the counts. But I ran really well the first couple of orbits, doubled up a couple of times, then tripled up in a razz hand and just like that I was average in chips. Then I went on to win the event -- my third bracelet -- while my buddy Ismael finished fourth.
After that I had a big lead over Brandon (923.5 to 806.7) and felt like I was in very good shape to win Player of the Year. But I'd seen Brandon come back before, so I was hardly relaxed about the whole thing. I knew he was more than capable of making another deep run and getting the points to pass me at the finish line.
In the Main Event I had a big hand early where I had to gamble and I busted. Then in the High Roller I had a horrible Day 1, getting knocked out within about three levels, I think. I was left watching the updates to see how Brandon was doing, and he gave me one last big sweat when he got deep in the Main Event. But after he busted in 17th there and then didn't cash in the High Roller, I'd won the POY (923.5 to 829.5).
Here's a graph that kind of gives you an idea of how Brandon and I were taking the lead from each other during the WSOP APAC:
Brandon's a great player and a friendly guy, too. We went to dinner a couple of times during the series, and even discussed strategy some. It didn't feel like a hard fight, but it was a friendly and focused battle and I think we both enjoyed pushing each other like that.
In the end it was so satisfying. It was one of those things where I felt like I could do it, probably because I'd won the two bracelets during the summer and so my confidence was high. I'm sure Brandon was feeling the same way, though, and in the end both of us couldn't win.
What a fight it was. And what a year, too -- a once-in-a-lifetime kind of year, I'd say. Unless you're Daniel Negreanu.
George Danzer is a member of Team PokerStars Pro