The year 2016 had it all, big names disgracing themselves at the table, humiliating prop bets, high- profile spats and record-breaking events. PokerPlayer takes an irreverent look back at the poker year that was…
The PCA led to the Bahamas being infested by 19-year-old geeks, more interested in laptops than surf, but the final table delivered with a host of big names battling it out for the massive first prize. It came down to end bosses Michael Watson and Anthony Gregg, who intimidated each other enough to do a deal. Watson won the trophy and $728k, while Gregg had to make do with no trophy and $612k. It’s a tough life.
The poker was overshadowed by the antics of Antonio Esfandiari though, who decided to whip his old chap out at the table and empty his bladder into a bottle.
He hadn’t completely lost his mind, just the part that makes rational, common-sense decisions. After being disqualified by the TD, effectively losing a big stack because of his short stack, The Magician lunged slowly out of the room – something which did little to repair his shattered dignity, but which did help him secure victory in a prop bet with Bill Perkins. They’d bet $50k that Esfandiari couldn’t lunge everywhere for 48 hours and he was halfway through when nature called. Esfandiari won the bet, but donated the full amount to charity. Talking afterwards, Esfandiari said, ‘I am embarrassed of the actions I took to win that bet. On paper I won, but in life I lost.’
Elsewhere the Global Poker League was announced as part of Alex ‘Entrepreneur Life!’ Dreyfus’ bid to sportify poker, something only he actually understands. As it transpired it meant persuading famous poker players to commit to a season of play-money games in a cheap-looking plastic cube, and the world hurriedly searched for memes of famous people shrugging their shoulders.
Over at the Aussie Millions, local knucklehead Mikel Habb thought it was a good idea to slowroll the most attractive lady in the room in the Main Event, complete with comical pre-roll theatrics and post-roll poses. Jason Somerville gave him the benefit of the doubt on comms, before he slammed his cards down, eyeballed Samantha Abernathy and started fist-pumping his imaginary friends. As he applauded himself and even kissed his fingers and raised them to the sky, the dealer gave Abernathy a set on the river, leaving him to slink out of the cardroom like the pillock he is.
In a report from EPT Dublin PokerPlayer magazine said, ‘Poker has a habit of uncovering new sensations at intervals of about 12 months.’ If they weren’t paying my wages I’d ask them if they’d heard of variance… The latest ‘fish on a heater’ was Dzmitry Urbanovic, who exploded onto the poker scene (not literally) at EPT Malta in 2015, where he binked four side events. Urbanovic kept up the run-good when he took down the EPT Dublin Main Event, triumphing against Gilles Bernies, who spent his entire time at the feature table shitting himself (not literally). Bernies’ breathing was so heavy, several players, and a few thousand EPT Live viewers, had to enquire whether calling an ambulance might be wise. Bernies proved he had balls by attempting a massive bluff, but didn’t get it past Urbanovic, who, finally convinced his opponent wasn’t dying, accused him of playing too slowly.
One man you can never accuse of playing too slowly was a Russian who played as Rainman751, the recipient of the first $1m Spin & Go jackpot. The Russian took just four hands to wipe out his opponents, before exclaiming, ‘Wow!’
Meanwhile the Global Poker League held its draft, where Liv Boeree picked her boyfriend and the other regional managers picked the best players they could, regardless of birthplace. Only Celina Lin bucked the trend by assembling a team of relatively unknown local players for her Hong Kong Stars. Which didn’t really seem in keeping with the spirit of things.
Poker played second fiddle this month after it was announced that David Baazov was being indicted for Insider Trading. After pissing off the entire poker community with changes to the PokerStars VIP scheme, it wasn’t too surprising that the ever-vocal 2+2 poker forum held a party to celebrate. Baazov insisted he was innocent while also announcing he would step down and take an indefinite leave of absence from Amaya. Rumours that his brother and close friends were seen throwing their mobile phones in the sea and deleting their internet history have not been corroborated.
PokerStars wasn’t the only company shitting on players though. Much to Main Event champ and poker ambassador Joe McKeehen’s disgust, the WSOP announced it would be starting some tournaments at the ungodly hour of 11am. McKeehen was disgusted at the thought of getting up before midday and blamed ‘the media’ before comparing poker players, perhaps unwisely, to slaves.
Bill Perkins was back in the headlines after betting professional chin strap Dan Bilzerian $600k he couldn’t cycle from LA to Vegas in 48 hours. Bilzerian drafted in drugs cheat Lance Armstrong to help and spent a substantial portion of the ride ‘drafting’ behind a van, before the world went about its business and tried to forget what people with too much money do.
Better people in the poker community headed to Dublin for a fantastic Irish Open, which attracted a stonking 802 runners after dropping its buy-in to €1,025. Dan Wilson won the trophy and €150k.
April got off to a confusing start after it was announced that Aaron Paul had been drafted for Maria Ho’s LA Sunset GPL team. Certain players questioned the ethos of ‘sportifying’ poker with an actor from Breaking Bad, but when it was pointed out Paul only had to play a couple of shove-fest turbos inside a plastic cube, it seemed to make sense.
Meanwhile, high rolling poker pro Olivier Busquet continued his quest for spiritual enlightenment by repeatedly smashing fellow pro JC Alvarado in the face. The two squared off in an MMA match with a six-figure sum up for grabs that Busquet trousered before rebutting claims that he achieved his almost new physique through the use of steroids.
The World Poker Tour attempted to fan its flames by staging a Tournament of Champions event, with $100k and a Chevvy added. The bad news was that only 64 champions entered and 20 of those were bought in as part of their prize for winning a Season 14 event.
The good news is that the trophy was lifted by Farid Yachou who had only one cash to his name before the ToC – the €201k WPT Amsterdam win that enabled him to qualify. Yachou is scared of flying and had never made it across the Atlantic before. He decided to confront his fears and rode his luck all the way to his second WPT title. This time he won $381,600 to leave his astonishing 100% record intact. They are still his only two cashes.
With the WSOP looming, nothing happens in May. Except the second biggest live event and the biggest online poker festival of the year. This time the EPT Grand Final wasn’t just for the elite as PokerStars qualified 121 players through Spin & Gos, with one, Asan Umarov, finishing in fourth for €305k. Jan Bendik beat Adrian Allain after getting lucky heads-up. Mike ‘The Teeth’ McDonald beat Steve ‘No Smiles’ O’Dwyer to the EPT Player of the Year and Justin Bonomo threatened to derail the party by refusing to pose for his winner’s photo over the VIP debacle. Stars threatened to ban him from all future events before relenting. Meanwhile, the pros hit Stars where it hurt by making the 2016 SCOOP the biggest ever with over $90m in prizes.
The WSOP got off to a bang over the road at ARIA, where 49 staked pros and businessmen paid $300k each to play the Super High Roller Bowl. Phil Hellmuth went deep but finished fourth, while serial winner Fedor Holz had to settle for second as Rainer Kempe – dressed as if he was presenting an antiques show in a small village in England – ran off with the $5m first prize. The first open event of the WSOP failed to break records, but the Colossus II was pretty big. 21,653 runners paid the $565 entry and Ben Keeline – down to a single ante on his second and final bullet – came back to win the $1m first prize. The big story of the WSOP though was Jason Mercier. After winning the $10k 2-7 Draw event, details of his prop bet with Vanessa Selbst came crashing out as she tried to hedge her position. Selbst had made two bets, one with Dzmitry Urbanovic ($10k at 200-1 that he wouldn’t win three bracelets) while drunk at the PCA. She regretted this so much she made a similar wager with Mercier a couple of days later while, in her own words, blackout drunk. Mercier refused to let her buy out and hopped straight from that win to final table the $10k Razz as chip leader. Selbst bought out of her position for a significant sum but her status as sensible civil rights lawyer was being seen in a different light.
Mercier ended up coming second, before winning the $10,000 HORSE event for his second bracelet. Elsewhere, pantomime villains Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson came out of self-imposed exile to boos from the crowd, but neither won a bracelet. Ferguson, acting like a WWE heel, came close, baiting the crowd on his $10k 6-Handed nal table, but falling short. Elsewhere in Vegas, crowds grew to watch the demolition of the Riviera Casino. The casino had heavy mob connections and starred in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 epic lm. Many saw the demolition as the final death knell of old-school Vegas, leaving the real villains, the huge corporations, free to clean up.
With the minor events out of the way, the WSOP rolled out the big boys. Brian Rast won the $50k Poker Players Championship, stopping poker jock Michael Mizrachi from winning his third. Fedor Holz won the $111k ONE DROP taking his annual winnings to a miserable $14.6m. It put him ninth on the all-time money list, just behind Phil Hellmuth. And he’s only 22. That just left the Main Event, which became known as the Will Kassouf show, as the jocular Brit wound everyone up at the Rio – apart from ESPN Producers, neutrals and any player with half a brain. Everyone else found his smile and table talk too much to handle, and instead of putting earphones on and ignoring him, decided to abuse him with abusive words for what they saw as abusive behaviour. Unfortunately Kassouf fell just short of the November Nine, which was headlined by former online legend Cliff Josephy (who called Kassouf a clown) and Griffin Benger (who said Kassouf wasn’t a nice person).
There was a shock for players at the start of Season 13 of the EPT as PokerStars announced the death of the EPT. Before the pros had a chance to say, ‘We’re sorry, we didn’t mean it, we take it all back,’ Stars quickly followed up by revealing it was all just a rebranding exercise. Instead of the 347 tours they currently run, all Stars live events would become part of a two-tier system of PokerStars Championship and PokerStars Festival events that would remind all the pros exactly who they were paying their live rake to from 2017. 21-year-old Sebastien Malec became the final ever EPT Barcelona winner after goading his opponent into calling by saying, ‘I need the toilet.’ Despite correctly guessing he must have a flush, Uri Reichenstein called with a straight.
Grosvenor’s Goliath tournament broke records again and the GPL announced plans it was scaling back and wouldn’t hold its final at Wembley, but the standout news came on August 31 when Phil Galfond announced he was starting a new poker site to take on the evil empire. Fanboys and keyboard warriors across the poker globe celebrated the news but we haven’t heard anything since. We want to believe Phil, we WANT TO BELIEVE! But give us some evidence and some concrete plans. Please.
Whether it’s players or cash the poker world is obsessed with numbers and no-one does it bigger and with more swing than PokerStars. At the 2016 WCOOP the Super High Roller had a buy-in of $100,000 and a guarantee of $2m. After looking like it was going to miss the guarantee, a load of value hunters jumped in and swelled the numbers to 28 runners. Jason Mercier streamed his two bullets, proving that, no matter how good you are, you can’t cash all the time. Unless you’re Fedor Holz who came second for another seven- figure score. Sweden’s bencb789 took the trophy and $1.17m.
Poker pro David Williams missed out on $250k and a cookbook deal when he just missed out on top prize in the Masterchef finale. He lost out to Las Vegas DJ Shaun O’Neale when he served the judges, including Gordon Ramsey, undercooked guinea hen. File this as just another hidden talent of the multi-faceted player who is also rumoured to have been a fine actor in some super-niche films.
Doug Polk was also laying himself bare to the viewing public this month, breaking his own Twitch record for most money won on stream. He came second in the $10,300 WCOOP High Roller, negotiating a deal for $452,629, and smashing the previous record held by a player called SolidPenis who won €250k in a Spin & Go. Who said Spin & Gos weren’t good for anything? Polk had the chance to win the trophy too, getting it in with A-K against Queens, but he lost the flip. In the $5k Main Event, German player Jonas ‘llJaYJaYll’ Lauck topped the 2,091 eld to win $1,517,541.
Meanwhile Vanessa Selbst got into it with the Godfather of Poker on Twitter after reaching breaking point over Doyle Brunson’s pro-Trump tweets. When she snapped at the OAP, Brunson hit low accusing her of welching on her Mercier bracelet bets. Selbst – a keen advocate of human rights – said, ‘I doubt u want to start a debate about ethics in poker.’ Max Pescatori waded in and suggested she respect her elders but Selbst said she has no respect for insensitive bigots. Longtime buddies Daniel Negreanu and Mike Matusow fell out over politics too, before Trump went on to do a Jerry Yang the following month and win the big one when no-one gave him a chance.
Guy Laliberte successfully kept a string of high-profile poker pros from playing his latest high-stakes tourney, but almost everyone else followed suit too. The €1m ONE DROP boasted a ‘no pro’ policy but ended up with just 26 runners and, ironically, a smattering of players that, if not pro now, could definitely have been called that before. Players of the calibre of James Bord, Andrew Pantling, Tony Bloom and Haralobos Voulgaris thumbed their noses through the glass at the rest of the pro poker world and just two players took advantage of the rebuys – Pantling and organiser Guy Laliberte. Pantling cashed in sixth but lost €500k overall, Bord took €2.1m for fourth and Elton Tsang won the €11m first prize. Who? Exactly, except the third biggest poker prize in history bumped him up to 21st on the all-time money list. What a waste of time. Next year, can we ban Guy Laliberte from organising any more tournaments? Todd Brunson and Carlos Mortensen were inducted in the Poker Hall of Fame, with Mortensen becoming the first European in history to make the club.
The November Nine started playing again on Halloween so the final table didn’t clash with the US Presidential election. If the five eligible players and their whooping friends and family had been unable to vote though it wouldn’t have changed a thing after it was revealed the Russians fixed the vote.
The big question was whether stock trader and all-American hero Cliff Josephy could take his chip lead all the way to the bracelet. Thankfully, the answer was no as Qui Nguyen reminded everyone that it’s possible to play poker and not have everyone hate you at the same time. Nguyen won from the front after taking the chip lead on the very first hand, and we were behind him all the way after getting generous odds of 13/2. Nguyen won $8m although he had to give almost half of that up to the taxman immediately. Land of the free indeed…
Meanwhile, two former teen heroes were spotted around the poker tables as first Justin Bieber at the £1/£2 cash tables in London, and then Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan at a $65k buy-in in Manila were spotted playing cards by members of the general public. Only one was allowed to leave on his own volition after busting out though, if rumours are to be believed.
So, that was 2016. A year similar to many others yet utterly different in almost every way. Some say it was awful but one announcement at the end provided a huge shining light at the end of the tunnel. Phil Hellmuth’s autobiography will be available in all good bookshops in 2017. God help us all.
You can now get a free 1 year subscription to PokerPlayer magazine by clicking here