Talk to world-class poker players, and I'm sure most of them would tell you that they are the best in the world. Confidence is a pretty big part of being a great player, so I can't blame them for holding that opinion. Most of them, however, would be wrong.
Measuring the game's greatest isn't easy. Should "Fossilman" Greg Raymer be considered the world's best until he gets knocked out in next year's WSOP? I don't think so. After all, the poker world hardly considered Chris Moneymaker the world's best during his 12-month reign.
If you go by career WSOP winnings, it's Greg Raymer again, but besides his $5 million check from the Main Event, he's won just $5345. And third place on the career money list? David Williams, who has cashed just once in the WSOP, finishing second to Raymer. Obviously that can't be a barometer.
Phil Helmuth and Johnny Chan each have 9 WSOP bracelets and Chan sports the most recent back-to-back titles in the Main Event. But neither of these world-class players have made much noise in recent years.
Of course, with the proliferation of poker, we now have to consider the influence of the World Poker Tour and other major tournaments. Gus Hansen has certainly proven to be the most feared player on the WPT, but is he the best player in the world?
Perhaps it's a bias of mine, but I still come back to the WSOP, and more specifically, to the big $10,000 NLHE tourney. It's the place where everyone comes to play. In 2004, 2576 players signed up for their chance at the bracelet. In 2003, just 839 people entered, and that was considered a huge field. In 2002, there were 631.
So what is this all leading to? "Action" Dan Harrington, the world's best poker player.
I'll let that sink in.
I know I'm not the only one who believes this. In 2004, Harrington topped 2572 players to finish 4th. In 2003, he beat 836 players to finish 3rd. In two years in the Main Event, Harrington has watched 3408 players get up and walk away as he kept playing. Can any feat in poker match that?
Was it really harder for Johnny Chan to win back to back in 1987 and 1988? He won a total of $1.325 million for those wins (anyone know how many players he bested?). Harrington won $1.5 for his 4th place finish this year. I don't mean to disparage Chan's accomplishment, because no one has really come close to matching it. When you win, everyone is gunning for you.
By the way, it's not like Harrington lacks the ability to close. He won the Main Event in 1995, the same year he won the $2500 NLHE tourney. He's been at the top before, and now he's poker's biggest threat to get to the final table every year.
In today's game, no one has accomplished as much as "Action" Dan on poker's biggest stage, and that makes hi mteh world's best.