Aussie Millions: Welcome back Phil Ivey

The Aussie Millions has always been known for its offering of eye-popping high-roller events, but even with that precedent established, the prize pools during their 2014 festival were simply staggering. From the AU$10,000 main event to the LK Boutique $250,000 Challenge, the Crown Casino offered a great venue and year-over-year growth in each of their four biggest events. So much for a struggling poker economy.

The first of the four majors was the AU$25,000 events which fielded 65 entries, up from 30 a year ago. After the eliminations of Dan Shak, Marvin Rettenmaier and Tobias Reinkemeier in sixth through eighth, respectively, a five-way chop resulted in payouts of at least $241,785 for each of Max Altergott, Dan Smith, Jason Mercier, Marin Jacobson and Scott Seiver. Altergott came away with the title and his third victory over the past nine months.

The Aussie Millions main event, now part of the PokerStars-owned Asia Pacific Poker Tour, boasted a 6 percent increase of attendance and featured one of the most star-studded final tables we've seen in a major. If there's ever a final table that can single-handedly take care of the skill-versus-luck argument, this might be it. Fresh off a 19th-place finish in the High Roller event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Canadian Ami Barer continued his run and earned the AU$1.6 million first-place prize as he held off Sorel Mizzi, Jake Balsiger, Darren Rabinowitz, Vincent Rubaines, Andrew Phaedonos, Seiver and Eoghan O'Dea.

Mizzi's track record in this event is incredible with two second-place finishes and a third-place, a ninth-place and a 16th-place finish since 2009. He is currently third on the Canadian all-time money list. Balsiger, third-place finisher in the 2012 WSOP main event, earned his second-largest live score in this event and can keep his Twitter profile description as "I make a living by almost but not quite winning poker tournaments." Seiver (seventh), has a streak of six consecutive cashes worth at least $100,000.

As the main event wound down, the AU$100,000 Challenge shocked everyone with 76 entries (39 unique players), up from 22 last year. The tournament also offered a unique twist in the form of a 30-second "shot clock." Tournament players love to take their time making decisions and one of the most deliberate players in the poker world is Yevgeniy Timoshenko, who tweeted, "Register AM 100K. Find out it has a shot clock. While I'm in the tank on whether to unregister or not tourney starts and it's too late."

Timoshenko didn't unregister and went on to win the event for his first title since 2011 and an AU$2 million top prize. Mike McDonald, Erik Seidel, Doug Polk, Patrik Antonius, Daniel Negreanu, David Steike and Martin Jacobson also cashed for at least AU$350,000. While Negreanu's sixth-place AU$550,000 payday might seem nice, he entered the event five times.

"This event caters to a specific type of player," said Negreanu to BLUFF. "People with way too much money and lots of gamble."

Negreanu also said that entering these tournaments is a business decision and it's 100 percent of his own money.

The biggest buy-in on the schedule concluded on Monday with one of the world's best finding his way back to the winner's circle. Phil Ivey hasn't been around the tournament felt much over the past year (only five cashes in 2013), but he's often found and thrived at the Aussie Millions. Ivey won the AU$250,000 LK Boutique Challenge, topping the 46-entry field for AU$4 million. Many players, Issac Haxton (second), McDonald (third) and Negreanu (fourth) fired multiple bullets while Ivey made it through with a single entry. He battled back from a 4:1 heads-up deficit against Haxton to record the biggest single tournament cash of his career.

(Ivey's tweet references Sam Trickett, who won this event a year ago but didn't participate in 2014.)

As for Ivey, he lost his place as the No. 1 player in ESPN's poker rankings, but his efforts in Melbourne may bring him closer to overtaking Negreanu once again. Ivey, along with many of the other high rollers, now heads to South Africa for the World Poker Tour's Alpha8 stop, which features another six-figure buy-in.

Small blinds: Mike McDonald has three cashes worth at least $1 million in 2014. It's February. … It's important to note that while the Aussie Millions thrived, the World Poker Tour stop in Florida managed to put up a seven-figure prize pool at the same time. The WPT's Lucky Hearts, a $3,500 buy-in, managed 415 entries, up from 369 last year. … For all the talk about the poker economy struggling, the turnouts have been strong through the first five weeks of the year. … PartyPoker made a few adjustments to their Sunday major in New Jersey and gets a site-best 378 players to easily top their guarantee. … Anthony Merulla defeated David Paredes to win the Borgata Winter Poker Open main event title and $842,379. Paredes was unable to put one of these moments together this time around. … Former NFL defensive end Jevon Kearse is planning to participate in the PPC's Puerto Plata Poker Open. … 2005 WSOP champion Joe Hachem says poker is dying and two former champs destroyed the game's legacy. Agree? The game's longest ambassador, Mike Sexton, shared his thoughts on Hachem's opinion on the latest Poker Edge.