Ranking the final tables since live coverage began
Over the past few months I have slugged through and watched every hand of all of the final tables from 2011 (when ESPN started live coverage of the final tables) to 2016.
I am rating these on several criteria: Drama, unpredictability, storylines, interesting hands, good play, competitiveness etc.
I rate the most recent final table #1 for a variety of reasons. The drama was on another level. So many dramatic moments and hands, mainly thanks to Qui Nguyen. He lit up the table with his play and guts. The fact that he won in the end adds to the quality of this final table as he was the deserved winner. There were also other good moments besides Nguyen, such as Rusicka's early great play. This table has the most rewatch-ability out of all of them. Several huge hands that are great to watch again and again. Also the competitiveness was very good at this final table. 4 different players had the chip lead at different points (Josephy, Nguyen, Rusicka and Vayo)
This table would have reached an epic conclusion had Vayo called when Nguyen rivered the flush but instead we got the prolonged death by 1,000 cuts ending, which did reduce the climax of this table a bit. Another negative was the short stacks going out fairly tamely early in predictable fashion.
This table had arguably the weakest story lines heading into the final table, following the disappointment of the women busting in 10th and 11th. You did have the potential of Merson becoming player of the year but the table was full of anonymous easily confused young American grinders, not exactly great for the casual fan storylines. But what this table lacked in story it made up for in good play. The play early was solid and had some interesting moments but it was all foreplay for the epic 3 handed action. Merson,Slyvia and Balsiger partook in the most epic 3 handed action ever. The chip counts fluctuated as several big well played hands went down. You would think that over 200 hands of 3 handed action would get boring but it was the opposite. It was very interesting to watch the strategy unfold.
The first year of the live coverage, so many people were nervous as to how poker would come off the viewers when watched live as opposed to the barrage of all ins they had come accustomed to with the edited coverage and this table showed that live poker can be pretty entertaining. This table was made by Heinz. Very similar to 2016 as to how 1 player can make everything exciting. His courageous play early and ownage of O'Dea set the tone for how things were gonna go. Ben Lamb's rather abrupt exit in 3rd looked like it was going to be a damper on the table but that was proven wrong as Stasko vs Heinz became the best heads up battle of the live table era. Several chip swings between two players playing very strong poker with eventually the young German coming out on top besting the impressive Czech chess master.
This was a very strong final table with good storylines heading into it. This was the first table to show hole cards during hands, which added an interesting viewing wrinkle. I believe this table is marginally overrated based on Jacobson's comeback. Jacobson and Heinz are the only ones in the live table era to come from low on the chip totem pole to win and Jacobson did it in impressive fashion. He played mistake free poker, however he definitely was fortunate that none of his opponents never had anything remotely close to a call when he was pushing while the short stack and he also won a coin flip vs Pappas with 5 left. So while it was strong play it was also fortunate. The table started very slow as everyone was seemingly scared to bust but it was launched into life when Mark Newhouse (huge story of being a back to back November Niner) went out in dramatic fashion vs Tonking after Tonking made a great call on a Newhouse push. Van Hoyt was also interesting to watch. Impressive domination of the table early but eventually succumbed to the rise of Jacobson.
This table is rated 5th and that appears to be very low but really it was also a very good table to watch. Big story line going in with well known veteran pro JC Tran leading in chips. However it was his play that ultimately causes this table to be rated fairly low among the other tables. His play at the table was not impressive and was eventually widdled down from chip leader to going out in 5th. 6 handed play was very long at this table, almost 3 hours of nobody being eliminated once they got down to 6. The 6 handed play was very interesting and fun to watch, however this table gets some points taken away because once McLaughlin went out in 6th the bubble cracked and Tran, Loosli and Levahot went out 5th 4th and 3rd very quickly and tamely creating almsot no distinction between finishers 6th-3rd. Reiss and Farber dominated this table, through different ways. Their heads up battle was probably the 2nd best of the live era and it was interesting to watch Reiss eventually out-skill Farber.
And in last is 2015. By far. While the other 5 tables were pretty close and interesting to watch, 2015 falls in a category all by itself in last as "horrendous". The quality of the table play was shockingly bad especially considering the episodes leading up to this table were pretty interesting. The storylines did take a hit when DNegs went out in 11th but there were still plenty left, arguably the strongest pre-table storylines out of any year, with the elder brigade of Blumenfield and Neville, the charismatic Butteroni, well known pros, the comanding chip leader etc. Which just adds to the disappointment.
Play was tight as a drum. Steinberg in particular was playing too tight to breath. Time wasting to the maximum with Stern and Neville taking 3 years to fold pre-flop every time. The obnoxious stares of McKeehen, Stern and Cannuli also made it hard to watch. There was hardly any post flop play, not a single memorable hand and I am not kidding not a SINGLE memorable hand. When I think of memorable 2016 hands I can think of at least 8 but 2015 had none. There was absolutely no doubt that McKeehen was going to win the whole time and while that is a testament to his play at the table it made for awful entertainment and didn't speak too well to the play of the rest of the table. The only positive of this table was Blumenfield's 3rd place finish but even that was spoiled by his post elimination sponsor plug speech.
what do you think of each year's table? where am I right and where am I wrong?