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Poker is one of the most exciting things you can do by yourself. Besides the mental challenge of the physical numbers in the game, there is a psychological war that goes on with your opponents. Finally, when you make the right moves at the right times, there’s the additional cash you put in your pockets, be it a just a bit or a few million (if you’re in the right tournament).

When it comes to individual pursuits, there are always arguments, however. The question of “Who’s the best?” is the biggest one, but there’s also who has won the most tournaments, has the most money, the most bracelets…there are a litany of things that consistently arises and it becomes necessary to have some way of measuring them. Here are three reasons why poker needs to have rankings.

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How Else Do We Know Who’s “Running Good?”

The different Player of the Year rankings are important for poker because they put everything into context as to who is performing at a peak level. Whether it is a 12-month period – like many Player of the Year races run – or over a longer time span – such as the Global Poker Index’s three-year compilation that is intended to show long term success – these rankings help to identify players that are at the top of the game. That information can come in handy for different things.

For something along the lines of the Global Poker League, it can serve to provide a list of players that are eligible for what they are creating. For poker players who take part in the events on the tournament circuit, it can help to give them a “scouting report” in a sense as it displays who has been fairly “hot” on the different tournament circuits that are available. For the fans, it gives them a way to quantify who is doing well in the tournament poker world and helps to solve some arguments (OK, at least provide evidence towards solving) that come up as to “who is better than who.”

Every Sport Has a History

Let’s put aside the question of whether poker is a sport or not. Such similar activities as chess, bridge, backgammon and even Pokémon have a history behind them. You can look back as far as 1967 to find out who is the World Champion of backgammon (by the way, Tim Holland was the first World Champion) and all the way back to 1886 for the “undisputed” World Champion of chess (Wilhelm Steinitz). It may sound a bit egotistical, but to be considered a true “sport” or “sporting activity,” you’ve got to be able to develop a history around your game.

Poker uses rankings – such as World Series of Bracelets won, who has won the most World Poker Tour championships and such – to be able to demonstrate that there is a history behind our game. Now we can look back and see that Johnny Moss was the first World Champion of our sport (even if it was by a vote, it still counts!), that Gus Hansen, Carlos Mortensen and Anthony Zinno have each won three WPT titles and that there are currently five men who have captured poker’s elusive “Triple Crown” (I could tell you, but let’s test your ability to find poker’s history) or who won it the fastest.

Stimulating Conversations

Rankings are every bit as important in stimulating conversations as they are in potentially solving any arguments. We can look back at someone like the late poker legend Ken ‘Skyhawk’ Flaton and look at his career (over $2.5 million in earnings but never made more than $205,000 in any given year) and ask the question – is he as good as Daniel Negreanu (over $30 million in career earnings)? And who had the more difficult time winning their four WSOP bracelets – Artie Cobb (who won all four of his WSOP bracelets prior to 1998) or Jeff Madsen (who won his four WSOP bracelets after 2006)? As you can see, it opens the doors to a myriad of discussion topics for around the poker table.

Without rankings, poker would still be interesting but it wouldn’t be AS interesting as it could be. Rankings add some spice to any activity, whether it is college sports (why do you think there are so many people that sweat the football and basketball rankings every week?), the race for the Fedex Cup on the PGA Tour or other methods of determining who is the best in an endeavor. Without the rankings, it would just be folks sitting around the table playing cards…and isn’t it better when you’re actually playing poker?

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Earl Burton

Earl Burton has been at the forefront of the poker media for more than a decade. In both print and digital media, Earl is a highly respected voice that has covered the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour and several other poker events across the United States. Whether it entails covering the political side of poker, its tournaments and players, the strategy of the game or its other myriad of nuances, Earl brings an inquisitive mind, a player's desire to learn and a journalist's quest for knowledge and tries to pass that knowledge along to the readers.

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