It’s that time of year again. Poker writers throughout the globe are asked to produce a series of ‘Best Of’ articles. It’s one of the most difficult tasks of the year. It’s also one of the most subjective.
For a start, there are so many different forms of poker. How do you differentiate between outstanding live tournament success and online tournament success? What about cash games? What about all the different varieties that poker has spawned?
It’s such a tough nut to crack that I’m not going to even try. If you want to know who the best live tournament players of 2014 are, then check out the Global Poker Index (GPI). If you want to know who the best online players of 2014 are, then head to PocketFives or HighStakesDB.
This is the page where you get my opinion. The headline is deliberately misleading. It’s designed to lure you into my trap. Now that you are here you might as well carry on reading.
In no particular order, here are five poker players who have made me sit up and take notice during 2014.
1# Philipp Gruissem
It’s quite a staggering statistic, but the $1.4m he earned in 2014 live tournament earnings is his lowest haul in the past four years. 45 people have earned more money than Gruissem in 2014, so why have I chosen him in my top five?
Together with Igor Kurganov and Liv Boeree, Philipp Gruissem has founded Raising for Effective Giving (REG). A community of poker players who are making a positive difference in the world by donating a minimum of 2% of their gross winnings to a carefully selected group of charities.
Poker needs this. With gun-crazed misogynists, Danish High Stakes hackers, and dodgy online poker rooms hogging all of the headlines, we need people like Philipp Gruissem. The growth of poker needs more eyeballs, and the only way we are going to attract them is by partnering with mainstream corporations that are not affiliated with gambling. We need a paint job. REG is the glossy finish.
Gruissem has won $9.6m in live tournament earnings and $2.6m in online tournament earnings. He is young, good looking and intelligent. He could be waking up each morning on a bed of satin, surrounded by a bevvy of beauties from every corner of the world, eating lobster and caviar for breakfast. And perhaps he does. I don’t care. What I do care is he has had the foresight, maturity and the emotional traction to stand up and make a difference.
2# Matt Stout
Matt Stout is another player I have chosen for reasons that extend beyond the felt. When Stout is involved in the deep end of a major tournament, I am always willing him on to succeed.
I don’t get angry at the universe too often, but I do when it concerns Stout. Here is a man who puts the consideration of others before his own needs; a man who sacrifices his time and money to help others, and the luck needed to win a major competition still rolls into the fingertips of those far less worthy.
Sort it out God.
Like Gruissem, Stout is a man who believes in a higher purpose. In 2014 he created the Charity Series of Poker (CSOP), a non-profit organization created to help charities such as Three Square Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity. Stout has been involved in the world of charity since he was a teenager and his recognition of the benefit poker can bring to this much needed area of life is worthy of my vote.
It has also been a good year on the felt – the best of his eight-year career. He has won over $700,000 and finished third and fifth in major tournaments at the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour.
He is a great player, but he is an even greater man.
3# Dan Colman
Dan Colman is a creator of headlines. When he wins tournaments he creates them, when he spouts off about his views on life he creates them, and when he stands as solid as a rock, barely opening his mouth to even breath, he creates them.
Let’s forget about Dan Colman the man for a moment and concentrate on Dan Colman the player. Poker is a game where the shit can rise to the top. Ask anybody who plays regularly and they will give you a hundred poker players who have won millions despite not understanding the fundamental basics of this intricate game.
Colman is mustard. Everybody knows it. Nobody denies it. He is one of the most talented poker players to emerge in recent times, and his $22.3m haul in 2014 alone is an amount that has never before been won by any poker player alive or dead.
I know he won the One Drop. Even my Nan’s pet Terrapin knows that. But he also picked up $7m in additional cash beating the living crap out of all and sundry, in all levels of competition. From 17 player Super High Rollers to 1,499 player luckfests – he won them all.
Both Philipp Gruissem and Matt Stout were chosen because they have done so much to promote a great image for our game. But there is another side of our game that needs to be promoted. The part with the label marked ‘skill.’ The one that tells anyone willing to listen that poker is a serious sport. A game of skill. One where the cream rises to the top at a far greater frequency than the shit.
Colman was in more national headlines than Dan Bilzerian. Granted, it was because he stood stoically over a massive amount of dosh, after winning the biggest poker tournament of the year – but it was still news. It still promoted the game to a wider audience – and not even necessarily in a bad way. So he didn’t speak, so he didn’t want his photo taken – big deal.
What Colman has proven in 2014 is he has strong beliefs and values, that he stands by these beliefs and values, and isn’t afraid to express his opinion, albeit in the written form. Today, he writes on 2+2 and calls Phil Hellmuth a whore, tomorrow he will do the same whilst standing in front of a camera. He is young, and like any youngster, he will mature.
The game needs characters like Colman. Strange characters. Gnarly characters. The type that make plots into plots. The type that make you sit up and take notice, and in 2014, a lot of people were taking notice of Mr. Green.
4# Martin Jacobson
When it comes to selecting the most technically gifted players in the game, I am no expert. I know this because each time I single out a particular player and sing their virtues to my professional poker chums they call me a Muppet. I didn’t get Martin Jacobson wrong though.
You couldn’t wish for a better World Champion than the good-looking, smooth talking, level-headed Swede. It was also a well-deserved victory. Talk about getting your head down, dealing with the knocks and keep on plugging away.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand all the money is in the top three places, and winning a nice glass trophy isn’t really ‘all that,’ but to Martin Jacobson it is. I watched him playing heads-up for a European Poker Tour (EPT) title against a crazy Frenchman swinging a giant rubber rat in his face, and saw the deck rip his heart to pieces. The rat gleefully eating every single cell.
Jacobson had won close to $5m before his WSOP triumph. It wasn’t as if he was back in the kitchens from whence he once came, washing dishes to get his grinding money. This wasn’t about the money. It was about the recognition, the memory, and the legacy.
His final table performance was one of mastery. And what of his $10m? Part of it will be safely stowed away for the Jacobson family future, but most of it will be invested back into the game he loves. We will see him mixing it up in more High Rollers. Better for the $10m to go to a pro than to be given to a random nobody. Fairytales are nice and all of that, but they don’t pay the bills do they.
5# Davidi Kitai
My final vote goes to the Frenchman who isn’t really French at all. For years I thought Davidi Kitai was all garlic, arrogance, and il s’en fout! Then I realized he was Belgian. It only took me five years. What a great poker writer I am.
The first time I met Kitai I didn’t even know who he was. I was playing in a World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE) £1k event in London. PokerNews said I was sitting at the ‘Table of Death.’ I didn’t feel very deathly. It was quite nice being in the middle of Chris Ferguson and John Juanda, and I thought Liv Boeree was a great thing to look at if I’m being honest. I eliminated Kitai and I remind him from time to time. In Belgian of course.
I think Kitai is a genius. His hand reading ability, coupled with his obvious strengths in picking up live tells, make him one of the most feared live tournament poker players in the world. OK, so Phil Hellmuth thinks he’s nothing but a crazy Frenchman, but I also made that mistake, so he can be forgiven.
He has so far earned $2.3m in 2014, and I expect that to grow. At the time of writing he is a strong contender in the EPT Prague Main Event. There are 13 players left, he is ninth in chips and by far the most experienced player at the table.
2014 has seen Kitai win another WSOP bracelet (his third), and it’s also the year that has seen him take a punt at the High Roller tournaments that seem to be dominating world poker these days. $1.5m of that $2.3m has been won in these formats.
He is also a delight to work with. He even has language as an excuse. He could fob me off quite easily. But he knows he is an ambassador for the game he loves. He is always available and willing to speak from the heart. He has had a fantastic 2014 and I believe will have an even better 2015.
That’s my top five players of 2014. Who would you choose and why?