As another year comes to end, let's reflect on the extraordinary moments that made 2012 another memorable year for the poker industry.
Off the felt, the world of poker was filled with drama. In February, the Epic Poker League officially filed for bankruptcy and was eventually bought by Pinnacle Entertainment. In May, the World Series of Poker announced expansion to the Asia/Pacific region in April 2013 at the Crown Melbourne, where five bracelet events will be held. In July, PokerStars reached an agreement with the United States Department of Justice to purchase Full Tilt Poker, and in November, PokerStars reopened the site outside the U.S. In September, Howard Lederer came out of self-imposed seclusion to tell his version of the Full Tilt debacle and recently announced a settlement with the Department of Justice.
On the political front, individual states began to investigate giving online poker licenses within their boundaries. Nevada led the way by granting South Point Poker its first license in August, and more have followed with an estimated industry launch in the state in early 2013. The poker world also mourned the passing of poker legend "Amarillo Slim" Preston (April), poker pro Ryan Young (July), WSOP supervisor/dealer Casey Jones (August) and poker author Lou Krieger (December).
The action on the felt this year was truly unforgettable.
Here are my top 12 on the felt poker moments of 2012 (in chronological order):
John Dibella wins PCA main event, but Duhamel takes spotlight
By outlasting a field of 1,072 players, Dibella captured the first major title of 2012, worth $2 million. However, the New York stock trader's achievement was eclipsed by an incredible week by the 2010 WSOP main event champion. Still recovering physically and mentally from a robbery in his home in December 2011, Duhamel tore up the PCA, reaching the final table in four events: $100,000 super high roller no-limit hold 'em (fourth place), $5,000 no-limit hold 'em turbo (fifth), $5,000 no-limit hold 'em (first) and $25,000 high roller no-limit hold 'em (second). In all, Duhamel took home more than $1.2 million for his incredible week in paradise.
Ivey fittingly captures super high roller event in first victory since return to poker
Taking a self-imposed hiatus after the Full Tilt scandal, Phil Ivey returned to the poker world with a vengeance. Ivey outlasted an impressive field of notables, including last year's champion, Erik Seidel, to capture the $250,000 super high roller buy-in event at the 2012 Aussie Millions. This was Ivey's first title since his return to the tournament scene in November 2011. Ivey also attempted to make it an impressive double with a deep run in the main event. He fell short of that honor, finishing 12th out of a field of 659 players. The Las Vegas pro followed up this run with five final tables in less than two weeks in his return to the WSOP. Unfortunately, he could not add any hardware to his collection of eight bracelets.
Mohsin Charania wins EPT Grand Final, but upstaged by Justin Bonomo
Mohsin Charania captured the most impressive title of his career in April at the EPT Grand Final main event in Monte Carlo. The Chicago native outlasted a field of 665 players, capturing $1.7 million. However, Justin Bonomo upstaged this performance with an incredible three-tournament run in the EPT Monte Carlo high roller events within a week. Bonomo's run included a win in the 100,000 euro event, a fourth in the 25,000 euro event and a 28th-place finish in the 10,000 euro main event. His earnings totaled $2.5 million during the weeklong festival.
Dan Smith's triple crown at EPT Monte Carlo
Winning a poker tournament is never easy. Many professional players can play the entire year without a victory. During the European Poker Tour stop in Monte Carlo, Dan Smith captured not one, not two, but three $5,000 tournaments in one week. More impressively, he won them back-to-back-to-back. In a matter of days, Smith impressively won the events, against some of the best players in the world, earning almost $700,000 in the process. Since this trifecta, Smith continues tearing up the tournament world. In August, Smith captured the EPT Barcelona 50,000 euro super high roller event for $1.1 million. In October, he won the prestigious PokerStars Sunday Million and unbelievably cashed for more than first-place money due to a chop deal that left additional money to the winner. Most recently, he won another 5,000 euro turbo event at EPT Prague. Having cashed for more than $3.5 million in live tournaments during 2012, Smith is definitely one of the rising stars in the poker world.
Shaun Deeb wins an unprecedented four SCOOP titles in one series
During an online series in which Victor Blom won back-to-back titles -- $215 no-limit hold 'em event (8,240 players) and $530 six-max no-limit hold 'em event (486 players), earning $407,000, Shaun Deeb upstaged the Swedish phenom with an unprecedented run of his own. The New York native captured four PokerStars SCOOP titles, all revolving around stud events, a la Jeffrey Lisandro's WSOP bracelet run of 2009. With a record five career SCOOP titles, Deeb captured the $2,100 seven-card stud, $2,100 triple stud, $2,100 stud eight-or-better and $2,000 HORSE event in just a matter of 10 days. Although his achievement occurred on the virtual felt and had relatively small fields (all under 100 players), it was still heralded as an incredible accomplishment in the poker world and earned him more than $172,000.
Hellmuth wins 12th WSOP bracelet in $2,500 razz
For years, players were in awe of Hellmuth's numerous bracelets. However, many criticized, unfairly, that all of his bracelets were in no-limit hold 'em. The "Poker Brat" had come close multiple times, including three runner-up finishes in 2011, in non-hold 'em events. In 2012, Hellmuth finally ended the conversation as he won the $2,500 razz event against a 309-player field, earning his 12th bracelet.
Esfandiari wins the Big One for One Drop
With the largest buy-in ($1 million) and the largest first-place prize in poker history ($18.3 million), 48 professional players and wealthy businessmen ponied up the unfathomable amount of money to battle on the felt and help the charity One Drop. The event's organizer, Guy Laliberté was thrilled with the sold-out event and celebrated by making the final table, bowing out in fifth place. This televised broadcast was supposed to be commentated on ESPN by Lon McEachern, Norman Chad and Antonio Esfandiari, but the poker pro suddenly had another priority as he made the final table. Esfandiari dominated the action and outlasted the likes of Phil Hellmuth (fourth place) and Sam Trickett (second place) to make WSOP history. Immediately after his victory, Esfandiari dedicated his victory to his father and presented him with the commemorative platinum bracelet.
Marvin Rettenmaier becomes only player to win back-to-back WPT titles
The industry was well aware of Marvin Rettenmaier's abilities, but when the German pro won the WPT $25,000 championship, the world finally took notice. After an average WSOP (six cashes including one final table, earnings of $125,000), he arrived at the WPT Merit Cyprus Classic and bested a field of 329 to win $287,784. He became the first player to win back-to-back WPTs, and with a victory in the 10,000 euro high roller event at EPT Prague, essentially locked up the 2012 Bluff Player of the Year title.
Stanley Choi wins largest top prize outside of the WSOP in poker history
Based in Hong Kong, the HK$2 million (about $250,000) buy-in did not get much press in the United States, but the turnout was massive relative to the buy-in amount. Numerous big-name poker pros and Asian businessmen came to make up the 73 players who registered, while an astounding 21 players rebought. This impressive number of entrants created a prize pool of $23.5 million and a first prize of almost $6.5 million, the 10th-largest in poker history and the largest outside of the WSOP. With a final table highlighted by John Juanda (fifth), Sam Trickett (seventh) and Phil Ivey (ninth), Stanley Choi came out on top to take this historic Asian poker event.
Hellmuth captures lucky 13 at WSOP Europe main event
No WSOP main event champion had won the WSOP Europe main event until 2012, when Hellmuth outlasted a field of 420 players to earn more than $1.3 million. Following in the footsteps of Esfandiari over the summer, Hellmuth was scheduled to provide TV analysis for the final table, but had to break his commitment in order to play. The final table was headlined by a number of stars including Hellmuth, November Niner Joseph Cheong (fourth place) and Jason Mercier (eighth place). Playing unconventional poker, Hellmuth stated that, "This was the best poker I've ever played in my life, I know that for certain," and added, "I'm humbled by this." After this victory, Hellmuth led the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year race. Only a victory by Greg Merson in the WSOP main event could snatch this coveted title away from Hellmuth.
Merson wins WSOP main event, pulling off rare double
Merson had already won the $10,000 no-limit six-max just prior to the WSOP main event for more than $1.1 million. With about 150 players remaining in the main event, the Maryland native was down to a couple of big blinds, but an incredible run ensued and Merson managed to earn a spot among the October Nine. Merson had a great final-table Day 1 as Andras Koroknai gifted him a handsome amount of chips and handed him the chip lead heading into three-handed play. After an epic 11-hour three-handed battle, Merson defeated Jesse Sylvia to be crowned WSOP main event champion, winning $8.5 million. He also earned the honor of being WSOP Player of the Year.
Fossilman shocks competition by winning four HPT titles in four months
Some cynical poker critics had pushed aside Greg Raymer, citing that he had not won a major poker title since his 2004 WSOP main event championship. The North Carolina native had some impressive runs, including his 25th-place finish in the 2005 WSOP main event and third place in the $40,000 WSOP anniversary event in 2009. Then in 2012, Raymer really quieted his critics by capturing four HPT titles in a span of only four short months -- including the HPT championship. Raymer earned almost $372,000 for this quartet of titles, while making himself a force to watch out for in 2013.
I wish everyone a safe and healthy holiday season, and here's to another fantastic poker year in 2013.