In this final part of a look back at the 2011 tournament poker season, there is a logical choice as to who will be the top money winner. But it is who is in some of the other positions that may surprise the casual poker fan.
#5 – Sam Trickett (United Kingdom), $4,598,039
The year for Sam was marked by big time scores that any poker player would be proud to have on his resume. It also marked his best year ever as a tournament professional, setting himself up for potentially more titles in major events in the coming year.
The 2011 tournament poker season got off to a fast start for Sam. At the Aussie Millions, the High Roller events were where Sam would make his mark. In the first – “only” a $100,000 buy in event – Sam would end up as the champion of the tournament, defeating countryman Tony Bloom during the heads up play. Just a few days later, Sam would step up to the Super High Roller tournament (with a massive $250,000 buy in), ending up in the runner up slot to Erik Seidel (more on him in a minute). By the end of January, Sam had racked up almost $2.9 million in earnings.
This wasn’t to be the only time we would hear from Sam. He picked up a couple of small cashes during the World Series of Poker, but the Partouche Poker Tour’s Main Event in Cannes – and the French version of the “November Nine” – would be his last big score of 2011. Sam outlasted the 579 player field and defeated Salman Behbehani to take down the €1 million first place prize.
As he sits back in England reflecting on his season, Sam has to be proud of his performance; nine cashes, six final tables and two wins is, for many players, a career. With that said, there wasn’t a major tournament circuit title among his finishes; expect that to change in the coming year.
#4 – Ben Lamb (United States), $5,352,970
What is stunning about Ben’s year is that, while it seemed he was raking in the money during the entirety of 2011, he would earn only five cashes and didn’t get his first cash until June. When he did get on a streak, however, Ben demonstrated his vast skills on the felt.
During the WSOP, Ben would take down his first major championship of his live tournament career. In the $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha World Championship at the WSOP, Ben bested an international final table that included the U. K.’s John Shipley and Finnish Omaha wiz Sami Kelopuro to capture the title and its $814,436 payday. This came after a second place run in the $3000 Pot Limit Omaha event, but the best was yet to come for “Benba.”
Two more cashes, a twelfth place in the Six Handed World Championship and an eighth place run in the $50,000 Poker Players’ Championship, set Ben up for an exemplary performance during the Championship Event. Ben would make the “November Nine” and perform well at a final table that many believe was his for the taking. Save for perhaps some over-aggressive play on the final day of the Championship Event final table, we may be talking about Ben being the World Champion.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. For the WSOP, however, his performance (five cashes, four final tables, one win) earned Ben the Player of the Year award. Those five cashes also were enough to push him into the Top Five for the 2011 poker tournament season.
#3 – Martin Staszko (Czech Republic), $5,462,876
Martin drew little attention during the preliminary events of the WSOP but, for a close observer, he might have warranted a look. He pocketed three cashes during the run-up to the Championship Event, then parlayed a deliberate, conservative style to push his way to the chip lead in the Main Event. Once there, he didn’t divert his game; he kept the same approach as he made the three handed play on the final day, albeit with about the same number of chips he started the final table with.
When he eliminated Ben Lamb in two key hands during the early moments of the final day, many expected Martin to get run over by his opponent. Instead, Martin put on a display of “changing gears” during the heads up action that sometimes baffled his opponent. Although he would eventually be eliminated in second place, Martin was able to take advantage of his finish in signing a sponsorship deal with PokerStars.
The one thing that Martin lacked in 2011 was a championship, the only player in the Top Ten who didn’t win anything during the year. When you’re the runner-up in the World Championship, however, that’s pretty good!
#2 – Erik Seidel (United States), $6,530,154
For much of the 2011 season, Erik was the unsurpassed leader in earnings in the tournament poker world. There’s a simple reason for that: it seemed that Erik won everything through the first half of 2011!
In just the first thirty days of 2011, Erik made four final tables in two of the major events on the tournament poker calendar. A third place finish in the $5000 Six Handed NLHE and a fourth place finish in the $25,000 High Roller at the PCA didn’t satisfy Erik as he jetted off to Australia. At the Aussie Millions, Erik added two more cashes, a third in the $100K High Roller and a victory in the $250,000 Super High Roller. By the time February rolled around, Erik’s bank account was over $3.3 million richer.
In February, the Seidel Train rolled along, winning the $25,000 High Roller at the L. A. Poker Classic, then taking down the (final?) NBC National Heads Up Poker Championship in March. Finally, in May, Erik emerged as the champion of the $100,000 Super High Roller at the Five Star World Poker Classic at the Bellagio.
Many thought that Erik cooled off after this, but nothing is further from the truth. Seven cashes (five in Vegas, two in Cannes) during the WSOP were impressive, as were his efforts on the burgeoning Epic Poker League. In the EPL’s first two events, he finished in second and fourth place to earn another $688,430.
It is mind boggling to look at Erik’s results for the year: eighteen cashes, eleven final tables and four championships over the span of 2011 are unequaled by any player. If not for the WSOP Championship Event, Erik would be able to claim the #1 spot on this list.
#1 – Pius Heinz (Germany), $8,830,087
Yes, it is logical that the winner of the third largest Championship Event in the history of the WSOP would sit atop the leaderboard for earnings. Pius, however, has embraced his role as the newest ambassador for the game and the future looks bright for the German.
His play at the “November Nine” was stunning as he climbed from the second shortest stack through aggressive attacks against his opponents. Although Martin Staszko would give him fits at times during heads up play, he continued his assaulting style which drove him to the title. Following the WSOP, Pius has made two appearances on the EPT, winning a Turbo Bounty event at the EPT Barcelona and finishing in the money in a side event at the EPT Prague.
2011 marked Pius’ debut on the tournament poker scene and, if the poker world is fortunate, we will continue to see him become the next great poker star.
So there you have it…the top ten money winners for the 2011 tournament poker season. As we get ready to toast in the New Year, what excitement will 2012 bring? We’ll learn that soon enough as the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure kicks off on January 5, along with several other high profile events.