You can win millions of dollars playing the game of poker, but you can't buy a World Series of Poker bracelet. And, simply put, being able to slip a bracelet on your wrist sets you apart from the rest. It legitimizes your career because you have proven you can "win the big one."
Don't believe us? Ask Dan Marino. Ask Colin Montgomerie. Or how about Karl Malone? Were they Hall of Fame players in their respective sports? Absolutely. But all three of these outstanding careers have an asterisk. There's something missing: a championship, or in Montgomerie's case a major championship.
From a poker player's perspective, look no further than Erick Lindgren. Widely considered one of the game's greatest players, Lingdren was carrying around "The Best Player To Never Win a WSOP Bracelet" title until last year when he finally broke through and won the $5,000 Mixed Hold'em event at the WSOP. If you saw his reaction after he won the event, you know that it was more relief than joy as he pointed to the sky and said, "Thank God, I finally got one."
While Lindgren was fortunate enough to get off the schneid and capture a bracelet last year, there are still many other great players out there without a WSOP bracelet in their jewelry box. Here are 10 that we think are primed to pull a Phil Mickelson, John Elway or Erick Lindgren this summer and finally add that all-important "big one" to their resume.
10. Justin Bonomo
Ironically it was Bonomo that Lindgren beat last year heads-up to win his first bracelet. That's how close "ZeeJustin" has come to a bracelet and he almost pulled himself off this list once again this past weekend when he made the final table of the WSOP's 40th Anniversary $40,000 No-Limit event, but he fell short again finishing in fifth place. But his run in this special event – which marked his sixth WSOP cash and third final table – just goes to show how talented he is, considering this was one of the most impressive fields in the history of the WSOP. It also shows that he is riding a hot hand since he just won the Las Vegas WSOP Circuit event at Caesars Palace last month. Nearly all of his more than $2 million in worldwide earnings has come in Hold'em events so if he does claim that first bracelet this year, you can expect it to come while playing Hold'em.
9. Bill Gazes
It's downright mind-boggling that Gazes doesn't have a big win to speak of during his career that has seen him win more than $2 million during the last 16 years. Think about it: Gazes' 28 WSOP cashes puts him in a tie for 40th on the all-time list, just two behind the great Phil Ivey, yet he has never sniffed a victory. He also has nine cashes and two final tables in WPT play without a first-place finish. If you have any kind of compassion in your bones you're rooting for Gazes to grab a bracelet. Because if he doesn't his legacy in poker may end up being his ridiculous – yet hilarious – field goal attempt during an episode of "The Nuts" on ESPN a few years ago, which would be a shame for such a great player.
Ivan Demidov made a run at a Main Event bracelet last year, but fell short when Peter Eastgate claimed the title. photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City
8. Ivan Demidov
The Russian doesn't have the extensive resume of some of the other players on this list, but he's considered by many to be one of the most talented players in the world. Demidov will be in the history books forever after becoming the first player to make the final table at the WSOP and the WSOP Europe in the same year. And many people forget that during his heads-up battle with Peter Eastgate at the famed November Nine final table in Las Vegas last year Demidov took the chip lead before Eastgate came back to win the title. And even though he didn't win the event, he still picked up $5.7 million, which is why he ranks sixth on the WSOP All Time Money List and is the only player in the Top 10 of that list without a bracelet. In addition to the pair of final table appearances last year, the 29-year-old also earned an 11th-place finish at the WSOP No Limit event with re-buys last year and overall he has earned more than $6.4 million in his career.
7. Gavin Smith
Smith's eccentric demeanor and goofy personality – as well as his penchant for much-publicized prop bets – tend to make people forget that he is one hell of a poker player. Not only does the cab driver-turned-poker-pro have 13 WSOP cashes, but those pay days have come in a variety of events, which proves his versatility. The 40-year-old from Canada has won nearly $4.5 million in his career and he took 11th place in the 2006 $50,000 World Championship H.O.R.S.E. event, which most players feel is the truest test of skill each year. The biggest victory of "Caveman's" career came in 2005 when he won the WPT Mirage Poker Showdown. He's made three other WPT final tables, including last October when he took second at the North American Poker Championship. Smith has also fared very well on the popular "Poker After Dark" TV show. Let's hope for a Smith bracelet win this summer, not just because he deserves it, but because it will certainly be entertaining to watch.
6. Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier
Even though "ElkY" hasn't claimed a bracelet, you could make the argument that he has been one of the better poker players worldwide over the last three years. During that time the Frenchman has won an EPT title, a WPT crown and an EPT High Roller event. In addition he has three WSOP cashes, including a final table appearance and one other Top-20 finish. And just last month he set the world record for most Sit & Go tournaments in one hour, right after placing third in the $25,000 WPT Championship in Las Vegas.
5. Tom "durrrr" Dwan
Dwan is one of the most feared online players in the world, but his live poker tournament skills can not be underestimated. Last year in his WSOP debut he cashed twice and made the final table in both events. He's also made two WPT final tables in his career and he finished ninth at this year's NBC National Heads Up Championship. As long as he doesn't concentrate too much on his online challenge with Patrik Antonius, a bracelet could very well be waiting for Dwan in Las Vegas this summer.
Tom Dwan made two final tables last year in his WSOP debut. photo courtesy of WSOP
4. Gus Hansen
Hansen has fame, fortune and GQ-cover looks that make his female fans on the rail swoon. But the major item missing from The Great Dane's impressive resume is a WSOP bracelet. He won the Aussie Millions Main Event in 2007 and he's got three WPT titles to his name. With more than $7 million in career winnings, Hansen is the highest-ranking member on poker's all-time career money list at 21st without a WSOP bracelet. But he's had limited success in the WSOP with just five career-cashes and the best he's ever done in the Main Event was a 61st place finish in 2007. Considering his immense popularity it would be only fitting if Hansen won a coveted bracelet sooner rather than later.
3. Patrik Antonius
Speaking of good looks, Antonius is a former model. He was also a childhood tennis phenom growing up in Finland, but since turning to poker as a profession he has earned nearly $3 million and that doesn't count his enormous online winnings or the great success he has had in cash games. Oh, and just to add insult to injury for all of us mere mortals out here, Patrik's wife, Maya, is drop-dead gorgeous. So it's safe to say that a WSOP bracelet is probably the only thing this guy doesn't have going for him. But the fact that he's come so close so many times and can play a variety of different games effectively makes us think it's just a matter of time before he gets that coveted piece of jewelry. Antonius has 12 WSOP cashes and has made three final tables, including a third-place finish in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship in 2006. The only serious mark against his game is that he's never cashed in the Main Event in Las Vegas, but he did place 29th at the WSOP Europe Main Event in 2007.
2. Michael Binger
There's a reason why this part-time poker-playing California native is called "The Machine." It's because he has been a money machine in his WSOP career. He burst onto the WSOP scene back in 2006 when – just two days after receiving his PhD in physics from Stanford – he finished third in the Main Event and earned more than $4 million.
Andy Bloch has seen his share of close calls at the WSOP over the years.
In the following two WSOPs, Binger made three more final tables and cashed 13 more times, including seven in 2007, which tied him for the record of most cashes in a single WSOP. The 24-year-old ranks 11th on the all-time WSOP money list, but he has yet to savor the sweet taste of victory. Unlike many of the great players out there without a bracelet, however, for Binger it's not a matter of "if" he will win one, but "when." Trust us.
1. Andy Bloch
Not only does this MIT grad have 20 WSOP cashes to his name, but in seven of those cashes he has placed in the Top-10, including two runner-ups. His most notable "bridesmaid" finish came in 2006 when he finished second to Chip Reese in the inaugural $50,000 World Championship H.O.R.S.E. event, a tournament many people feel would have been won by Bloch if not for some horrible bad luck during heads-up. Outside the WSOP, he had another memorable second-place finish when he lost in the finals of the 2006 NBC Heads Up National Championship to Chris "Jesus" Ferguson. Bloch, who turned 40 on Monday, ranks 56th on the all-time money list with just over $4 million in winnings and is a tremendous mixed game player. One more reason to root for Bloch is that he's been quite charitable with his winnings over the years. It says here that – like Lindgren last year – Bloch breaks through in a big way during the 2009 WSOP.