Art Papazyan’s rise to poker prominence is the dominant storyline from Season XVI of the World Poker Tour. Via wins at WPT Legends of Poker and WPT Maryland, Papazyan carries a comfortable lead into the last two events of the season. The WPT Bellagio Elite Poker Championship and Bobby Baldwin Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada offer two chances for the price of $10,000 each for the POY contenders to take their best crack at Papazyan.
Papazyan sits on a mountain of 2,450 points on the leaderboard — 1,200 for each win and 50 points his cash at the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown.
The WPT Player of the Year points formula states that once a prize pool reaches at least $4 million, 1,400 points become available for the winner. Only three events reached that threshold in 2016. Two of them were $10,000 buy-in events, with the L.A. Poker Classic and Five Diamond Poker Classic holding honors.
The points system for top-10 finishers in a $4 million prize pool is as follows:
Assuming at least $4 million is in the prize pool for the two Las Vegas events, below are the rankings for the chances of the players chasing Papazyan to usurp him and win Player of the Year.
1. Eric Afriat (1,750 points)
The WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open champion sits in third place behind Papazyan and Derek Wolters but has some gusto on his side entering the homestretch. Afriat is not going to go down without a fight, no matter entries it takes for him to gain traction.
When Afriat when his title in January at the Borgata in Atlantic City, NJ, he misfired a few entries before he finally spun up a Day 2 buy-in. At the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, the same situation played out for Afriat and he registered for the final time as the cage closed on the second starting flight.
The Elite Poker Championship is listed as an unlimited re-entry event and the Bobby Baldwin Classic offers a maximum of two entries.
Afriat also carries another WPT win from Season XII and has shown a repeated ability to put himself in a position to close when deep.
2. Joe McKeehen (1,650 points)
McKeehen does not plan to play the Elite Poker Championship but is impossible to count out. The 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event winner owns five cashes in Season XVI, more than any other player in contention. McKeehen’s reputation as a closer has not transferred over to the WPT just yet but his ability to go deep over and over again makes him a favorite when play starts in ARIA on May 20.
Afer taking a disappointing fourth-place at Borgata in January, McKeehen fell in third during WPT Rolling Thunder last month. Some would say McKeehen is due for a WPT win to go along with his two WSOP bracelets and there’s no better time for him to break through than in dramatic fashion to close the season.
3. Derek Wolters (1,850 points)
The L.A. Poker Classic and WPT Montreal bronze medalist flies under the radar among the talented group below Papazyan. Wolters did not travel to Florida for the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown but is expected to be in Las Vegas for the two $10Ks.
What Wolters lacks in consistent tournament volume, he makes up for in survival ability. Both Season XVI final tables for Wolters started with him not among the chip leaders. When it comes to folding up the ladder, Wolters has the best shot to sustain a short stack and stick around enough to accumulate enough points to take down Papazyan.
4. Phil Hellmuth (1,300 points)
It only took Hellmuth two cashes to accumulate his points this season. A runner-up finish at Legends of Poker followed up by 15th place in LAPC nets out Hellmuth as needing at least second-place to jump into the Player of the Year lead.
It’s a tall task but Hellmuth welcomes the challenge of having to perform at his best when the pressure is the highest. Who knows what to expect from Hellmuth except his unrelenting desire to capture his first WPT title. That want could be the fuel Hellmuth needs to reach the finish line in one of the two events.
5. Alex Foxen (1,200 points)
If you’re looking for a longshot, Foxen is it. His only cash in Season XVI came from the $1.134 million silver medal he earned at Five Diamond. Foxen is on fire across high rollers in 2018 and the $10,000 price point is right in his comfort zone.
Officially a star by every metric, Foxen has the talent and experience necessary to go and win a title to add to his growing legend.