My parsimonious "editor," being typical of the new breed of poker voyeur who barely knows a river from a flop, asked me who are the top 12 pros I would be looking out for in Vegas. Well, the obvious answer is that I'm looking out for any pro I happen to be playing against at any point.
Still, picking 12 top pros is an interesting challenge. They're a fascinating often bizarre lot. They have big personalities, sometimes hidden. Here goes:
Phil Hellmuth: The player everyone loves to hate; the "John McEnroe of poker." He just won the heads-up title sponsored by NBC, besting the 64 top pros in the world. He won the championship in 1989 at the age of 24, denying Johnny Chan a record three-peat (Chan had won in 1987 and 1988, beating Eric Seidel in the dramatic hand that is featured in the movie, "Rounders"). Hellmuth holds 9 WSOP bracelets, tying for the record.
Annie Duke: One of the two top female tournament players. She was taught to play by her brother Howard Lederer, another top professional. She's the mother of four; smart (B.A. and Ph. D -- all but dissertation -- from top schools). She's the first female player to win more than $1 million in a tournament.
Howard ("the Professor") Lederer: Annie Duke's brother, he's one of the most successful tournament players around. He's also educated, smart, and a good guy.
Chris ("Jesus") Ferguson: He won the championship in 2000, the year that writer Jim McManus played and wrote his book, "Positively Fifth Street." "Jesus" has a Ph. D. in computer science (specialties: artificial intelligence and game theory). He's also a swing dance instructor and an unassuming, nice guy. He happens to be a great player.
Chris Moneymaker: His unlikely victory in 2003 made him a poker rock star. He earned his chips playing on the Internet, not at the tables of Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
Greg "Fossilman" Raymer: He is the reigning champ, having won it all last year.
John Juanda: One of my favorites. Juanda is quiet, shy, not at all the image of the intimidating assassin stereotype, but one of the most consistent winners on the circuit. He was player of the year two years ago and has been at more final tables in each of the past two years than any other player.
Daniel Negreanu: Maybe the best in the world at the moment. He was player of the year last year -- an amazing talent. And besides, he was featured in The New York Times magazine last week so everyone knows who he is. Also a pretty nice guy.