Later this week, the poker world will come together in Los Angeles for the third installment of the GPI American Poker Awards. The APAs celebrate the most influential and recognized actors of the American poker industry over the last year. The Sofitel in Beverly Hills will again play host, to not only the American Poker Awards but also the American Poker Conference.

Poker Central will be in attendance on Thursday, bringing you exclusive content from the awards show and the conferences but until then, who does Will O’Connor think will take home each American Poker Award? In “Part One” of his APA Predictions, Will OC tackles the five categories that involve “on the felt” awards.

Tournament Performance of the Year

Kristen Bicknell, WSOP No Limit Hold’em Bounty
Ari Engel, Aussie Millions Main Event
Maurice Hawkins, WSOP Circuit Cherokee Main Event
Mike Sexton, WPT Montreal

Remember that guy who won the biggest tournament of the year? It was the World Series of Poker Main Event and he was wearing aviators and a raccoon hat. Since Qui Nguyen is absent from this list, Tournament Performance of the Year goes to the best story from 2016 and that is Mike Sexton going from the WPT commentary booth to the WPT winner’s circle. While all four performances are deserving, those types of performances will happen again. None will ever involve the narratives surrounding Sexton’s victory, unless he wins a second WPT title.

Moment of the Year

Griffin Benger’s AA vs. William Kassouf’s KK showdown in the WSOP Main Event
Jason Mercier goes on a historic one-week heater at the World Series of Poker
David Peters, needing 3rd at EPT Prague to take GPI POY from Fedor Holz, does exactly that
Mike Sexton mounts incredible comeback to win first WPT title in Montreal

Moment of the Year should be just that, a singular moment in time. That eliminates Jason Mercier, as his moment lasted nearly the entire summer en route to WSOP Player of the Year. Mike Sexton already claimed Tournament Performance of the Year, these predictions won’t allow one person or entity to win multiple awards, meaning we are down to Benger vs. Kassouf and David Peters. The former, pictured above, went viral, as their late Main Event confrontation was picked up by media outlets from ESPN to Barstool and everything in between. The latter was the culmination of an improbable six-month run and even though David Peters winning GPI POY might be one of the most impressive feats of the past year, thanks to the stranglehold Fedor Holz had on that leaderboard, the best moment of 2016 was Benger vs. Kassouf.

Breakout Performer of the Year

Ari Engel
Maurice Hawkins
Ankush Mandavia
Sam Soverel

What exactly constitutes a “breakout”? Ari Engel won his first WSOP Circuit ring in 2007 and has crushed tournaments across the globe ever since. Maurice Hawkins won his first WSOP Circuit ring in 2008 and just won his 9th WSOPC ring last week. Despite 2016 being a banner year for both, they’ve been players to watch for the better part of the last decade. The same cannot be said about Ankush Mandavia, pictured below, and Sam Soverel. Each won WSOP bracelets last year, each final tabled two World Poker Tour events and each amassed over $2,000,000 in earnings. Picking one over the other is basically a coin flip but thanks to some slightly better results in bigger buy-in events, the edge goes to Mandavia.

Event of the Year

Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open, Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood, FL
Super High Roller Bowl, ARIA, Las Vegas
WSOP Main Event, Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas
WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic, Bellagio, Las Vegas

To make my job predicting the winners a little easier, we won’t allow a tournament to win two years in a row. That means that this year’s Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open event is ineligible for Event of the Year. The WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic was one of the biggest WPT events in history and the WSOP Main Event had the biggest field in the last five years, with just under 6,750 entrants. Those events didn’t have the same narratives that the 2016 Super High Roller Bowl final table had though. In a clash of New vs. Old, German’s Fedor Holz and Rainer Kempe went head-to-head with two of the most successful players in the history of the game. Phil Hellmuth and Erik Seidel proved that they can still compete at the highest level and on top of that New vs. Old dynamic, the combination of Twitch and network TV coverage of the Super High Roller Bowl remains unmatched in the industry.

Mid-Major Circuit of the Year

Heartland Poker Tour
Mid-Stakes Poker Tour
WSOP Circuit

While all four of these mid-major circuits have seen massive growth over the last few years, the WSOP Circuit has reinvented itself to become the premier mid-major series in the United States. The addition of new markets, most of which are poker crazed regions of the country that have been given their first taste of major tournament series action thanks to the WSOP Circuit, along with the addition of a wider variety of tournament offerings, set the WSOP Circuit apart from the rest. The year-long journey that Circuit Grinders embark on, with the top performers ending with a $10,000 seat in the Global Casino Championship, is just the icing on the cake that makes the WSOP Circuit my Mid-Major Circuit of the Year.

Tomorrow, I’ll give my predictions for the “off the felt” awards, including Industry Person of the Year, Media Person of the Year, Twitch Streamer of the Year and many more. Until then, learn more about the 3rd annual American Poker Awards here