First Rounders: 2023 WSOP Player of the Year

In this edition of First Rounders we’re taking a look at a handful of potential favorites to win the 2023 WSOP Player of the Year.

Jeff Walsh
May 29, 2023

The 2023 World Series of Poker schedule is a behemoth. With 95 live events and another 20 online tournaments taking place during the summer series in Sin City, even for the most dedicated of grinders that’s a lot of shuffle-up-and-deals. Case in point, if one were to fire a single entry into every available flight on the schedule, they’d spend just under $1,000,000 in buy-ins.

That’s what makes picking players for the 2023 WSOP Player of the Year unique. It takes a certain kind of very motivated player to will themselves to this particular title and they usually come in two varieties. The first, and the players with the highest upside perhaps, are those who covet the title of WSOP POY from the outset and they are willing to do whatever is necessary to put themselves in position to win. From firing entries into the super high rollers to mixing it up with the recreational in the $1Ks, every tournament in every poker discipline is on their personal calendars. It’s a “no days off” situation.

The second set is a little harder to predict. It’s the players who are capable at most of the games but also get off to a fast start by picking up significant POY points early. After that, they look to ride the heater and make a hard charge for the title mid-series. Josh Arieh in 2021 is a good example of someone who, in a sense, found himself in the middle of the race with a legit shot at the award and played events that he might not usually have in order to pick up critical POY points. And it worked, Arieh denied both runner-up Phil Hellmuth and third-place finisher Daniel Negreanu to claim his POY banner.

So, with all of that in mind, let’s get into it. Here is our First Rounders for the 2023 World Series of Poker Player of the Year.

#1. Daniel Negreanu

There’s just no way around it, the chalkiest of chalk picks and the undeniable favorite in the WSOP POY race has to be Negreanu, right? The only player to have won the title twice (2004, 2013), Negreanu has no qualms about stating his intentions and that is to become the first three-time WSOP POY winner before anyone is able to join him in the two-timer club. He watches the entire Rocky saga to hype himself up, unlocks a multi-million dollar bankroll, and puts the rest of his life on pause to continue to chase his POY dream, bracelet #7, and a potential $50K Poker Players Championship title.

His strategy has shifted a little in recent years to where he’s willing to sacrifice potential POY points from the lowest buy-in events, like the $300 Gladiator this year, in exchange for time to recuperate and be ready for the bigger buy-ins. But ultimately, there’s no worthwhile event that Negreanu won’t be firing in as many times as necessary. This is what makes him, very likely, the top paid-for pick for his own $25K fantasy draft.

Here’s one more thing to know about Negreanu: if things don’t go his way early, and it’s looking like he doesn’t have a shot – Kid Poker simply will not quit. Even if he’s bricked 45 events at the halfway point, he’ll be vlogging his breakfast, his car ride to The Horseshoe, and his walk to the cashier cage with his very next buy-in. Negreanu is always all-in on the WSOP and, even if he’s not the favorite in every field he plays in, how do you bet against his potential?

Dan Zack.

#2. Dan Zack

Back-to-back Zack has a nice ring to it, yea? Dan Zack, the reigning, defending WSOP Player of the Year, will be looking to make history this year by not only becoming just the second player to ever win the award but being the first to do it in subsequent years.

Zack, a three-time WSOP gold bracelet winner, has 91 lifetime cashes at the series for roughly $2.7 million. It may be asking a lot of Zack to try and match his 2022 campaign where he scored two first-place wins and a third-place finish, but one would be surprised what can happen when a player of his caliber asks for lightning to strike twice. Here’s the most important thing (in this context) to know about Zack: he’s a mixed-game master. In fact, all of those above accolades were awarded in vastly different disciplines. He locked up a victory in the $10,000 Omaha 8 Championship, a victory in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship, and a bronze in the $10,000 Limit 2-7 Championship. There’s apparently no game he’s not good at, and that’s a massive edge when WSOP POY hunting.

Last year, in an effort to seal the deal Zack did play higher than he normally would – finishing 8th in the $250,000 Super High Roller for $488,095 – but by the looks of it, he’s already looking ahead to possibly selling action for some bigger buy-in events. If that’s the case, then it would be fair to assume that Zack is looking to run it back.

#3. Anthony Zinno

Anthony Zinno is often associated with his success on the World Poker Tour as a three-time Champions Club member. But those paying attention know that he’s also a four-time WSOP bracelet winner with more than $4.4 million of his career $11 million in earnings won at the series.

Here’s something else you may not realize, in the past four WSOPs Zinno has been a POY threat in three of the years. In 2018 he finished in 8th place on the leaderboard, in 2019 he climbed to 4th. There was no summer series in 2020 and then he was back in the top-15 with a 12th-place finish in 2021. The reason is, like a number of people on this list, Zinno is a mixed game aficionado with some of the biggest scores of his career coming in non-NLHE events including his 2015 bracelet win in the WSOP $25,000 PLO event for $1.2 million (a year in which he finished 6th on the POY leaderboard).

In person Zinno is as easygoing as it gets, but with cards in his hand, he’s likely to take your tournament life. If he gets early results, and maybe shot takes in some bigger buy-in NLHE events, don’t be surprised to see Zinno once again near the top of the POY leaderboard.

#4. Shaun Deeb

In any other year, Deeb, the 2018 WSOP Player of the Year, would be right next to Daniel Negreanu at the top of this list. Deeb has it all working for him – a true grinder, excellent at all the games, the bankroll to play just about every event, and a desire to win it all. He’s won five bracelets in the past seven years and is coming into the series red hot having won a WSOP Circuit ring in March for $275,000, a victory in The Lodge $5K High Roller for $121,214 and a final table finish in The Lodge Championship Series for another $84,506.

But the one item, which may – emphasis on “may” – hold him back this year is he has much more at stake in his fitness bet against Bill Perkins. For those who missed it, Deeb has until the start of the 2024 WSOP to get to 17% body fat and if he does, he’s going to win $1 million. It’s just a feeling that in the end winning that bet is going to affect Deeb in both time, energy, and attention. Cutting weight is hard work and anyone who has ever really put a grind in can attest that poker is too. Both are draining and clean living in the food department can be trying during the series and all the #positivity in the world may not be able to bridge the gap between the toll of spending extensive time in the gym and on the felt. Something may have to give.

That said, it’s a testament to Deeb’s passion for poker that still makes him one of the overall favorites to pick up his second WSOP POY. But if he decides to focus on getting that million-dollar bag instead, not only will no one blame him but they’ll be rooting him on.

Joao Vieira.

#5 Joao Vieira

Two-time WSOP bracelet winner from Portugal Joao Vieira has, not so subtly, injected himself into the POY conversation over the past few years. In 2019 he finished in 21st place on the POY leaderboard, in 2021 it was 13th place, and last year he wrapped up in 7th place. See a trend?

Vieira has been playing live poker for a decade but really made a name for himself playing online under his handle ‘Naza114’ where he’s accumulated more than $25 million in cashes and was steadily ranked as a Top 5 player in the world. He’s spoken in the past about wanting to be known as among the best poker players in the world and he understands that garnering attention, and a possible POY title, at the WSOP can go a long way to helping him achieve that.

Vieira is adept at all the games with final table appearances in a variety of events. But he’s going to need to pick up another bracelet in 2023 if he wants to continue his upward trend of being a POY contender.

#6 Benny Glaser

Hailing from the U.K., Benny Glaser has cemented his name as one of the best young mixed game players at the WSOP. Three of Glaser’s four WSOP bracelets come in different variants, none of which are No Limit Hold’em.

Unlike the others on this list, in the past five years, Glaser has never really been a massive threat in the POY race with his best finish during that time coming in 2021 where he ended up 25th. And even though Glaser finished fourth in the 2022 $50K PPC, for more than $464,000, his last summer in Las Vegas was likely a little less than he hoped for.

But Benny got a bankroll boost later in the year when he finished 2nd in the $10,400 WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas for a career-high score of $2.8 million which should allow him to head back to the Paris ballroom with everything he needs to make a real run at the 2023 POY.