As the 2023 World Series of Poker moves further into the rearview with each passing day, here at PGT headquarters we've got our eyes set on the next stop for the PokerGO Tour. That's the 2023 Poker Masters scheduled to take place September 14-26 at the PokerGO Studio in Las Vegas. As a result of the high-stakes action during the summer, both at the WSOP and in a handful of ARIA High Roller tournaments, there were many movers and shakers on the PGT leaderboard.
Here are five players to watch for when the PGT resumes play with the 2023 Poker Masters in September.
After a successful 2023 U.S. Poker Open that saw Phil Hellmuth get his first PGT major tournament win, Hellmuth secured six WSOP cashes in PGT-qualifying events to add 1,009 PGT points to his position. One of those WSOP cashes turned into his record 17th WSOP gold bracelet. Now in August with Poker Masters just over a month away, Hellmuth occupies the 11th spot on the 2023 PGT leaderboard with 1,304 points. He's 27 points behind Jeremy Ausmus and cracking the top 10, and four points ahead of WSOP Main Event fifth-place finisher Ruslan Prydryk.
So why are we keeping our eyes on Hellmuth? He's already earned more PGT points this season than he did in the whole of each of the 2021 and 2022 seasons, when he earned 856 points and 528 points, respectively. In fact, with 1,304 points this season, Hellmuth has almost already eclipsed the total PGT points he earned entering this year (1,384). Hellmuth did not qualify for the PGT Championship last year and has never really been in contention at the top of the PGT leaderboard.
Now with 1,304 points and sitting in 11th place on the leaderboard entering the second half of the 2023 PGT season, Hellmuth is firmly in contention to not only qualify for the season-ending PGT Championship $1,000,000 freeroll, but he's got a shot at challenging for PGT Player of the Year honors if he puts in the volume needed starting with the upcoming 10 events at Poker Masters. Looking a little further down the road, it will be exciting to see Hellmuth put in volume during the second editions of the PGT Mixed Games and PGT PLO Series that are happening back-to-back in October.
Before you go too far down the road of, "Oh, they're only selecting the biggest names," for this list, hear us out. Daniel Negreanu had 1,983 PGT points in the tour's first season in 2021. In the PGT's second season in 2022, he had 1,701 points and qualified for the PGT Championship. This year, Negreanu has 811 points and is currently 36th on the leaderboard. This standing is important because the top 40 players as ranked by the PGT leaderboard will qualify to compete in the season-ending PGT Championship $1,000,000 freeroll. If you're outside the top 40, you won't have eligibility to play unless you win one of the select Dream Seats offered through a handful of promotions. What we're saying is, Negreanu has some work to do.
Despite ranking 36th on the leaderboard, Negreanu is leading the way with the most PGT cashes this season. He has 19 PGT cashes in 2023 for $994,854. Sam Soverel and Sean Winter have the next highest number of cashes with 16 each, but they're up in seventh and 19th on the PGT leaderboard, respectively.
It can of course be expected that Negreanu will put in a full volume of PGT events for the remainder of the season. The record for most cashes in a season belongs to Ali Imsirovic from the 2021 PGT season. There are at least 30 PGT events to come from Poker Masters, Super High Roller Bowl (an event he won last year), PGT Mixed Games II, and PGT PLO Series II, and we certainly expect Negreanu to pick up a healthy chunk of points from those series, but we're still keeping a close eye on his leaderboard standing as it pertains to the top 40 from here on out.
If you listen to the PokerGO Podcast and watched some of the PokerGO livestreams, then you may recall Anthony Hu being pegged as a player expected to break out on the PGT. To start the 2023 PGT season, Hu was in contention for the PokerGO Cup leaderboard title. He won a PokerGO Cup event for $268,800, had a runner-up finish, and another seventh-place finish during that series, so things were pointing in the right direction for Hu's PGT breakout.
Things have since cooled. Hu had no U.S. Poker Open cashes and then just three WSOP cashes in PGT-qualifying events. Entering the second half of the 2023 PGT season Hu has 529 points and is ranked 66th on the PGT leaderboard. He's going to have plenty of work cut out for him if he's going to finish inside the top 40 of the leaderboard and qualify for the season-ending PGT Championship $1,000,000 freeroll. Let's see if Hu can do it.
It's been "The Year of Nacho" but we're admittedly being a bit selfish here with this PGT player to watch because we would like "The Year of Nacho" to also continue on the PGT. Barbero has been crushing in 2023, including finding success in PGT events. After cashing in the PGT Mixed Games $25,500 10-Game Championship event, Barbero had three PGT PLO Series cashes including a $234,000 win in Event #3: $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha. As he did in the PGT Mixed Games Championship event, Barbero cashed the PGT PLO Series Championship event. Then at the 2023 U.S. Poker Open, Barbero made the final table in each of the first three events.
The World Series of Poker didn't turn out so hot for Barbero. He only cashed twice in PGT-qualifying events. He did, however, win a $10,000 buy-in ARIA High Roller during July when he topped a field of 130 entries for $235,492 in prize money. Since the WSOP, Barbero looks to be right back on the horse with some big Triton Poker Series results.
Barbero sits with two wins and 10 cashes entering the second half of the 2023 PGT season, and he's 27th on the leaderboard with 982 points. Similar to Negreanu, we'll have our eyes on Barbero for the rest of the season to see if he's able to maintain his spot within the top 40 of the leaderboard and qualify for the season-ending PGT Championship $1,000,000 freeroll.
Jason Koon won the 2022 PGT Championship event, but he hasn't made much noise in the 2023 PGT season. He's only cashed in two PGT-ranked events this season and both of them came from the 2023 WSOP. Koon placed in the money in the 2023 WSOP Main Event and also cashed in 15th place in WSOP Event #84: $50,000 NL Hold'em High Roller. To date, Koon has just 99 PGT points this season.
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that Koon is one of the game's top players. Heck, he might even be the best player in the world as we write this. If Koon is going to defend his PGT Championship victory though, he's going to need to pile up a bunch of PGT results in the back half of the year.
We know Koon loves the high buy-in tournaments, and he performs exceptionally well in them. Poker Masters has a trio of $25,000 buy-in events before the $50,000 buy-in finale, there is a pair of ARIA High Roller $25,000 buy-in events leading into the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl VIII, and then the PGT PLO Series has a $25,200 PLO Championship right before a brand new Super High Roller Bowl $100,000 PLO event. These are all events we could see Koon compete in. If he does, we'd peg him as one of the favorites in each.
In the second half of the 2022 PGT season, Koon took sixth in a $25,000 buy-in event and won the $50,000 finale at the Poker Masters before going on to win the PGT Championship event. We'll be keeping an eye on Koon to see if the 2022 PGT Championship winner can pull off a late-season run that gets him back in the dance.
For full PGT schedule information, check out pgt.com/schedule.