Who was the best Player of the Year ever? Part 2 – the early years and the reign of Kai by Michael Maxwell

Who was the best Player of the Year ever? Part 1 – The rise of Japan by Michael Maxwell

The second half of this piece looks at the Player of the Year race in each season from 2002-2003 and earlier. I’ll be using the same method as in part 1, which can be found here. It shows that in the last 7 years Tomoharu Saito was the most dominant Player of the Year with a ratio of 0.281 points gained per point available. In this part we will see if anyone can beat this ratio, and we can also compare ratios from earlier seasons to more recent seasons to see if there is a noticeable shift in the ratio needed to become Player of the Year.

Side note: as I mentioned in the first part, information on the early days of the Pro Tour is hard to find, particularly for GPs. Therefore I am going to have to assume that the numbers used in the 2002-2003 season, which were 32 for an individual PT win, 24 for a team win, 6 for an individual GP win, 4 for a team GP win, and 6 for winning team Worlds apply to each of the earlier seasons too. If I later find that the numbers are vastly different I may revisit this article at some point to correct for this.


6 Pro Tours and 21 GPs this season, although 5 weekends had simultaneous GPs taking place. A grand total of 276 points were on offer, and Kai Budde won his 4th Player of the Year title and, incredibly, his third in a row with a total of 80 points. This was 16 ahead of his nearest rivals and gives him a ratio of 0.29.

This season saw a young Masashi Oiso win Rookie of the Year, and also Eric ‘Danger’ Taylor literally eat his hat after proclaiming Kai wouldn’t win PT Chicago, which he then went on to do beating Jon Finkel and Nicolai Herzog in the top 8.


6 PTs and an amazing 33 GPs took place. 8 weekends had 2 GPs, so 338 points were available. Kai Budde won 2 PTs (back to back!), 2 GPs and Team Worlds on his way to a frankly outrageous total of 117 Pro Points for a ratio of 0.346. That’s over one third. 34%. Ridiculous. Jens Thoren was second that year with 75 points, very respectable but 42 points behind Kai. Forty Two!! Kai could have skipped one of the PTs he won and still been Player of Year. Will we ever see this kind of dominance again? I doubt it.


Kai won his second PoY title this year, thus becoming the first person to win the title more than once. 6 PTs and 27 GPs took place, although 7 weekends had 2 GPs. 302 points were available, of which Kai picked up 88 for a ratio of 0.291.

Dave Williams was DQ’d from the top 8 at Worlds that year, and the controversial Katsuhiro Mori was Rookie of the Year. GP Porto saw Antoine and Olivier Ruel meet in the finals, with Antoine emerging victorious.


6 Pro Tours took place this season along with 20 GPs. Only one weekend had 2 events so 286 points were available, of which Bob Maher won 72 for a ratio of 0.252. The race that year was extremely close, with Darwin Kastle on 69 points and Jon Finkel, who beat Bob in the finals of Worlds (his second PT win that year), on 68. Finkel also won Team Worlds that year.

There were 2 Team PTs this year, there would only be one then eventually zero from here on, with the all Hall of Fame team Your Move Games (Kastle, Humphreys, and Dougherty) taking down PT Washington.


5 PTs and only 14 GPs, with no team events, saw 250 points being put up for grabs. Kai Budde won the Worlds Championships (taking only 20 minutes to win the final) to take the PoY title for the first time on the final day of the season. His total of 75 points gives him a ratio of 0.3.

Dirk Baberowski won PT Chicago to prove that the Phoenix Foundation is far from a one man team. Budde made top 8 of 4 GPs, winning 3.

Steve O’Mahoney Schwartz beat long time team-mate Jon Finkel in the finals of PT Los Angeles.


5 Pro Tours and 13 GPs meant 244 points were on offer. Jon Finkel took the title with 87 points for a ratio of 0.357. Finkel made top 8 of 3 PTs this year, winning one. He also won GP Rio and Team Worlds.

Randy Buehler won a Pro Tour on his debut. Currently active Pros Brian Kibler and Raphael Levy both won GPs. Pro Tour New York saw an all-American top 8, and was eventually won by Finkel.

I will stop here, as in 1996-1997 the season was only 6 PTs and 5 GPs, and in the first season in 1996 there was just 4 Pro Tours. The winners were Paul McCabe and Olle Rade respectively. Rade was PoY despite only playing in 2 of the 4 PTs as he won one and came fourth in the other.


So, the highest ratio we’ve seen across all the seasons is Jon Finkel’s 0.357. However, I would argue that as this season only had 13 GPs andattendances were still very low compared to recent years that Kai Budde’s ratio of 0.346 from the 2001-2002 season was more impressive as he kept that ratio up in a far greater number of events.

There are quite a few things that are interesting to note: In the second half of seasons to date, Tomoharu Saito has the highest ratio with 0.281. In the first half of seasons, every single year apart from Bob Maher in 1999-2000 achieved a ratio higher than this, and that season saw one of the tightest races ever. Why is this? Were the best players in the early years simply far above their peers? Possibly, but I don’t think that is the main reason.

In the early years of the Pro Tour the vast majority of points were picked up at PTs, meaning that 2 or 3 decent Pro Tour performances gave you a shot at being PoY. Nowadays GPs are much more important and PTs give out less points than they used to, meaning that consistency across GPs is just as important to a run at the title as Pro Tour performance. Pro Points being given out in Nationals has increased this effect.

For example, in 1997-1998 there were 166 points available at PTs and only 78 at GPs. By 2001-2002 there were 190 at PTs and 148 at GPs. In 2010 there were 106 at PTs and 190 at GPs/Nationals. The increase in the importance of GPs can clearly be seen.

Also, attendance at both PTs and GPs has increased dramatically. In 1997-1998 the average attendance at a Pro Tour was 290. In 2001-2002 it was 331. In 2010 it was 405. Most European GPs are now approaching or exceeding 2000 players, with US ones commonly being over 1000. Weight of numbers makes racking up the points more difficult than it used to be – players can go 12-3 at a GP and still not make top 8.

Gabriel Nassif, in 2003-2004, was the first player to become PoY without winning a Pro Tour that season. I wonder how long it will be beforesomeone becomes Player of the Year without even making top 8 of a Pro Tour? As I mentioned in part 1, Martin Juza and Shuuhei Nakamura both made level 8 this year without making top 8 of a PT, so it is conceivable.

Thanks for reading,

Michael Maxwell

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