The first quarter of the year is now in the books, and the early list of top contenders is starting to take shape in the 2021 Card Player Player of the Year race. This article will take a closer look at the players who made the biggest moves over the past month in the POY standings, which are sponsored by Global Poker.
1st Place – Qing Liu (3,271 points)
Qing Liu surged into the outright lead in the POY race after a red-hot month of March in Las Vegas. He was the first player to surpass $1 million in live tournament earnings in 2021, and has also made the most POY-qualified final tables of any player yet with eight.
Liu had already made four final tables and won a title through the first two months of the year. In March alone he added four more POY-qualified final-table showings, including winning the 2021 World Poker Tour Venetian $5,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event. He outlasted a record-setting field of 937 entries (the most in WPT history for that price point) to earn $752,880 and 1,824 POY points.
Incredibly, Liu’s wild ride was not yet done, as he was among the final six players at the WPT Gardens Poker Championship $10,000 buy-in main event final table that was set in January of 2020 but could not play out during the COVID-19 shutdown of live poker. The event finally resumed 422 days after the final table was set, with Liu as one of the short stacks when play got back underway just one day after he had won the title at Venetian. Liu went on to finish sixth for $111,795 and 340 points. With a pair of fifth-place showing in $1,100 buy-in events at the Venetian bookending his two massive scores in March, Liu has cemented his hold on the top spot in the rankings. He now has two titles, eight final tables, $1,038,007 in year-to-date earnings, and 3,271 points to his name heading into the second quarter of the year.
2nd Place – Sung Joo Hyun (2,172 points)
South Korea’s Sung Joo Hyun emerged victorious in the 2021 Wynn Spring Classic $3,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em championship event, earning $323,409 and his second big title of the year. Hyun had come out on top in the WPT DeepStacks Venetian $1,600 buy-in event just six weeks earlier for $208,335. The two scores are the largest of his career, collectively making up the majority of his $1,033,602 in lifetime earnings.
Hyun had won his first World Series of Poker gold bracelet during the 2020 WSOP Online series last summer, overcoming a field of 2,307 entries to win the $500 buy-in event for $161,898.
Hyun earned 1,260 POY points for his latest victory. When combined with the 912 points he was awarded at Venetian in February, Hyun he now sits in second place in the 2021 POY race standings with 2,172 total points and $531,744 in year-to-date earnings.
3rd Place – Joe McKeehen (2,000 points)
Joseph McKeehen finished as the runner-up to Qing Liu in the WPT Venetian $5,000 buy-in main event for $491,960 and 1,520 points. Incredibly, the 29-year-old poker pro from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania once again managed to make it down to heads-up play in another major event just two days later.
The three-time WSOP bracelet winner and 2015 world champion navigated his way through a field of 83 entries to win the Wynn Spring Classic $10,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em high roller event, beating Shawn Daniels heads-up to secure the title, the $224,100 top prize and 480 POY points.
McKeehen now has 2,000 total points and $716,060 in POY earnings, which locks him into third place on the 2021 leaderboard.
4th Place – Ali Imsirovic (1,654 points)
Ali Imsirovic dominated the four-event high roller series held at ARIA Poker Room in Las Vegas over the final weekend of March and spilling into the first few days of April. The 26-year-old poker pro made it down to heads-up play in three consecutive events, facing Sean Perry for the title each time (more on Perry later in this article).
Imsirovic won two of the three heads-up showdowns, cashing for $721,300 along the way. The Bosnian-born American accumulated 922 POY points across his three cashes during this series. He has now made seven POY-qualified final tables so far in 2021. With 1,654 total points and $1,380,610 in total cashes up to this point, he has surged into fourth place on the POY leaderboard for the time being.
Imsirovic kicked off his spree with a runner-up finish to Perry in the second of two $10,000 buy-in high rollers on the schedule, earning $111,300. The following day he came out on top in the first of two $25,000 buy-in events to secure the title and the $310,000 top prize. He closed out the series by winning the final $25,000 buy-in for another $300,000.
6th Place – Tuan Mai (1,536 points)
Tuan Mai is one of just three players to have made eight POY-qualified final tables so far in 2021, joining POY race leader Qing Liu and David Larson.
Mai had made six final tables through the first two months of the year, and then added two more big scores in March. First, he finished as the runner-up in a $1,100 buy-in no-limit hold’em ‘DoubleStack’ event at the Venetian DeepStack Showdown. He navigated his way through a field of 336 entries in that event to earn $55,066 and 400 POY points. This was the largest score of his 2021 campaign.
Just ten days later he came out on top of a 507-entry field in the $400 buy-in no-limit hold’em event at the same series to add another $37,315 and 336 points to his totals. It was his first title of the year. Mai now sits in sixth place in the standings, with 1,536 points and $184,213 in cashes so far.
9th Place – Artur Martirosyan (1,396 points)
Artur Martirosyan emerged victorious from a field of 852 total entries to win the 2021 PokerStars European Poker Tour Sochi 175,000 RUB ($2,352 USD) buy-in no-limit hold’em main event. The 23-year-old Russian poker pro secured his first EPT main event title in the process, becoming just the sixth player from Russia to win a main event on the tour. He also took home the top prize of 24,633,000 RUB ($325,370 USD), which increased his recorded tournament earnings to just shy of $1.5 million.
In addition to the title and the money, Martirosyan was also awarded 912 POY points for his second title of the year. Both of his wins took place at the same venue: Casino Sochi. Just over a month prior to his EPT victory, Martirosyan won a 57,750 RUB ($762 USD) buy-in no-limit hold’em event during the WPT Russia festival to earn $41,417 USD and 228 POY points. With these two titles and another final-table finish under his belt, Martirosyan now sits in seventh place in the rankings with $416,550 USD in POY-qualified earnings and 1,396 points.
11th Place – Sean Perry (1,370 points)
The ARIA April High Roller Series consisted of four high-stakes events held on consecutive days, starting on the final day of March. Sean Perry cashed in all four events, finishing in the top two places in three of four and winning one title along the way. Perry accumulated $601,300 in earnings across those four final-table finishes, adding 985 POY points as well.
Perry, the son of WSOP bracelet winner Ralph Perry, also cashed in three of four of the ARIA’s high roller series held in early March for another $160,798 and 368 points. Perry’s small-field, high-buy-in success in 2021 has catapulted him into 11th place on the POY leaderboard.
Perry now has over $1.6 million in career live tournament earnings, with $731,700 of that being earned in just the past two months.
Here is a look at the current top 20 in the POY race standings:
|Rank||Player||POY Points||2021 Titles||2021 Final Tables||Year-to-Date POY Earnings|
|2||Sung Joo Hyun||2,172||2||2||$531,744|