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Event #55 of the 2011 WSOP is a unique tournament among the others in this Series not only because of the buy-in level, but also because of the unique format and the unparalleled prestige attached to it.  It is an event that is relatively new to the WSOP menu, and yet has undergone a number of changes in a short number of years.  Originally, the 50K Event was a HORSE Tournament that ended with a NLHE Final Table for purposes of TV ratings.  Then, it went to an exclusively HORSE Format, followed by the introduction of the 8 Game Mix – HORSE, Triple Draw, plus PLO and NLHE.  This year, the 8 Game Format is intact up until the Final Table, at which point we will revert to a NLHE-only format until a winner is crowned.

But no matter how this tournament is structured, it remains the 2nd-most coveted bracelet after the Main Event, simply because of the players that you have to beat in order to win.  It is a murderer’s row of poker’s elite that must be beaten in order to win this event, and anyone who does so has to be automatically regarded as poker royalty.  Case in point – Chip Reese’s name is branded on this trophy because he won the inaugural event, so every winner is reminded of just how much this title means.

So with 29 players to go (as of July 5th and 3 days of play in the books), we thought it only fitting to look a little bit closer at some of the names vying to be the next to take home this coveted prize:

Josh Arieh – He’s the chip leader going into Day 4, and like current 2nd place holder Brian Rast, has shown a propensity to be both consistent and dangerous in mixed game events.  He has experience both in the fixed-limit games and the “big bet” varieties, and will most likely tackle the last 2 days looking to make small moves and stay out of risky spots until the money bubble bursts.  Arieh has multiple WSOP cashes in PLO, Omaha H/L, and 7 Stud, so he remains a threat in any mixed game format.

Phil Hellmuth – If you look at my recent blogs I really look like a Phil Hellmuth promoter, and I do like some things about him, but what I love this year is the predominant attitude of PATIENCE from a man who was branded as a NLHE Tourney specialist who couldn’t play anything else.  Yes, his 11 bracelets are all in Hold Em events, but this summer he’s finished 2nd in BOTH the 2-7 Lowball Championship and the 7 Stud H/L Championship.  He’s more patient, more focused, less prone to blow up, and making terrific reads in this specific event.  I will be surprised to see him finish short of the Final Table, and stunned to see him finish outside the money in this spot.

Gus Hansen – The first man to eclipse the 1,000,000 chip mark in this event has come back to the pack a little bit, although he’s still commandeered 774,000 chips through 3 days of play and is capable of running from that spot all the way to the bracelet.  You can’t instill fear in a fearless man, and Hansen is fearless at the table in any variety of poker.  His chances are strong, even if he has to wade through several others to get there.

There are some in this field, however, who look strong on paper but whose chances are most likely thin.  In particular, some players at significant risk on Day 4 include:

Barry Greenstein: I just can’t shake this feeling that Greenstein has a shelf life on his patience when it comes to tournament poker.  His noted successes in cash games definitely point to a player who is terrifically strong and deceptive with a deep stack, but in this case he has 440,000 chips, or a little below the tournament average at this point.  If he can run that total up early on Day 4, he may have a shot, but otherwise, I just think that the bigger stacks will force him into an impossibly deep corner.  He is seated on Day 4 with both Arieh and Hellmuth, which puts him at a slight disadvantage in a tournament setting such as this.

Ben Lamb: Tough to go against the Player of the Year leader, and Lamb has had a great WSOP run, but this will likely be a spot in which Lamb gets a little bit exposed.  To say he’s run well at the WSOP would be an understatement, and though he is a very gifted player, he showed on Day 3 that he may not have that “other gear” that a few players will need to show today in order to reach the final table.  He does well when front-running, but this will be an interesting spot as he runs with a very average stack against some very above-average players.

Well, I’ve made a few picks and predictions, but ultimately it is up to these players to crown a champion.  Best of Luck to all who are still alive in the $50K Players’ Championship, and Good Luck at the Tables!