Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bracelet race

Shamus just put up an interesting blog post about the bracelet race between Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey. For me this neatly coincided with having yesterday read an article by Storms Reback in the July issue of All In magazine that gave his rating of the ten greatest WSOP players of all time. In order, he listed Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, Stu Ungar, Ivey, Barry Johnston, Erik Seidel, Scotty Nguyen, and T.J. Cloutier.

As Reback recognizes, overall WSOP performance is about more than bracelets; it also involves cashing and making final tables, and doing so consistently over many years. Although I rather despise Men Nguyen, while preparing the stats below I was impressed to see that he has finished 2nd, 3rd, or 4th in WSOP events an amazing 20 times, in addition to his seven wins. I think he might have a stronger argument for a spot on Reback's list than a couple of the other nominees.

Anyway, I was curious how the bracelet race would look when graphed over the years, since those with the most have been at it for very different periods of time. So I whipped up the following graph of bracelets by years to see how their trajectories looked. I included seven of the eight top bracelet winners (Hellmuth, Brunson, Chan, Ivey, Seidel, Men Nguyen, and Billy Baxter), excluding only Moss. His trajectory is, well, dead; he is unlikely to earn any more bracelets unless the WSOP adopts Chicago-style voting to determine winners.

Brunson's line doesn't really disappear; it's just hiding behind that of Chan, as they coincide for the past several years.

What do we learn from this? Not a lot that wasn't already obvious, I suppose. Baxter has been the longest without notching up; he started off earlier than any of the others and kept a pretty steady pace for a long time, but has perhaps come as far as he is going to go by this metric. (I hope not. I'd love to see him show up the young whippersnappers another time or two before he's done, and yell at them to get off of his lawn during his acceptance speech.)

Brunson started off like gangbusters, racking up six in four years, then has a long stretch of none (I think he played very few events during those years), and just a slow trickle since then.

With one exception, the other lines are rather similar, though with varying degrees of lurching in their progressions. Hellmuth's appears to me to be the most saltatory, Seidel's the most consistently stepwise, with the others somewhere in between.

The striking exception, obviously, is Ivey. He shows up for the first time in 2000, a full eight years behind the most Johnny-Chan-come-lately of the others (Seidel and Nguyen), and rockets up, with the slope of his line, from start to finish, being far steeper than any of the others.

Just for fun, and fully recognizing that it's an utterly meaningless exercise, I wondered how the lines would project into the future, if we assumed that the players would continue racking up bracelets at the same pace as they have since earning their first. Here are their respective numbers for bracelets per year:

Hellmuth: 0.52
Brunson: 0.32
Chan: 0.40
Ivey: 0.80
Seidel: 0.44
Nguyen: 0.39
Baxter: 0.20

You'll notice that one of those figures is far higher than the others, confirming what you would expect from the graph and from just the general knowledge of the relatively short time span in which Ivey has left his mark.

If we project those rates ten years into the future (a completely preposterous assumption for any number of reasons, but bear with me), we would find these rounded totals at the end of WSOP 2020:

Hellmuth: 16
Brunson: 13
Chan: 14
Ivey: 16
Seidel: 12
Nguyen: 11
Baxter: 9

And these for the year 2030:

Hellmuth: 21
Brunson: 16
Chan: 18
Ivey: 24
Seidel: 16
Nguyen: 15
Baxter: 11

So that's my back-of-the-envelope prediction: Ivey catches Hellmuth in 2020, then leaves him in the dust. (Some of the others are, actuarily speaking, also likely to be in the dust by then, in a different sense, but let's not dwell on that.)

You heard it here first.

1 comment:

bellatrix78 said...

What about the fact that Ivey didn't really try and play in tournaments in the years of 2006-2008? It was only the bracelet bet that have motivated him to play a big slew of events. Same with Dolly, he just plays a handful, while Hellmuth plays a ton. I mean, small sample and statistics, schmatistics, but there's so much more going on behind the scenes that I think Ivey catches Hellmuth sooner.