Green Friday: FTP money returned

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
Editor's note: After an update from the Garden City Group, the number of reimbursed players that was originally reported as 30,000 has since been updated to approximately 27,500. Likewise, payouts have been reduced from $82 million to $76 million.

So who's going to Sizzler?

After 1,050 days, more agonizing to some than others, more than 27,500 American poker players are finally seeing their Full Tilt Poker money in their bank accounts. The Department of Justice made Black Friday a day of infamy in the poker industry, but on this Friday, we’re one step closer to the end of a dark chapter in the history of the game.

The Garden City Group, hired by the Department of Justice to manage remission payments to those who had money on FTP, made $76 million in payments early Friday morning. Players who received their money today were those who did not contest the account balances declared by the Garden City Group as part of the petitions for remission. Players who were designated as affiliates for the site or who disputed their balances will continue to wait for remission until their cases are resolved. Additionally, those who didn't provide correct bank account information during the remission process will wait until checks are sent out in March.

The balances among today’s recipients varied greatly, from a couple of dollars to tens of thousands, but for two of the online game's most visible players, Mike Sowers and Blair Hinkle, the return of this money should be a significant boost to their bank accounts. Sowers, who earned more than $500,000 by winning one of Full Tilt's largest tournaments just weeks before Black Friday, shared his relief on Twitter and thanked PokerStars, whose settlement with the Department of Justice paved the way for the Full Tilt Poker money to be returned.


Hinkle has spoken often about his frozen million, which primarily came from his chop in the FTOPS XIX Main Event, and he is thrilled to see his money once again.

"I'm just glad that everyone is finally getting paid out," said Hinkle to ESPN on the Poker Edge. "It's finally all over."

John Pappas, executive director of the poker players alliance, estimates at least another $50-60 million remains in accounts designated for reimbursements.

Today’s rejoicing is in stark contrast to the despair that set in for most American online poker players in September 2011, when the government labeled Full Tilt a Ponzi scheme. Some professional online grinders left the game for good due to the inability to pursue their passion. Others relocated abroad to continue their playing careers, while some entrepreneurs sought the seized funds, buying them up for a reduced rate from distraught players who believed they’d never see their money again.

"My thoughts on [April 15, 2011] were never that I wasn't going to get my money," Josh Brikis said. "It grew [to that fear] over time ... Like everyone else I just wish that day never happened and I could just sit in my house and not leave my son to go play online poker. And today ... well now I wish I bought all the FTP money everyone was selling."

Brikis woke up this morning with a sense of relief and five figures added to his bank account.

"I'm happy to have my money returned," he said. "I'm also very happy for friends with tons more."

Once Full Tilt repayments are complete, only balances on Absolute Poker, the third site seized, will remain outstanding, with little progress on that front. PokerStars repaid its American players shortly after Black Friday.

With this influx in the poker economy, will there be greater attendance in upcoming tournaments, especially the WSOP? Will players return to the online scene in greater numbers in the three regulated and legalized states (New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware)? Can the return of this money engage those who want to play again to lobby their state legislatures to approve a regulated online game? Will brick-and-mortar casinos see a boost in their offerings?

The return of this $76 million won't do much for the general American economy, but for the poker economy, this could be the beginning of a new chapter in one of the country's greatest hobbies.
Nevada and DelawareThinkstockNevada and Delaware will offer a co-mingled online poker player pool in the near future.

Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware signed an agreement Tuesday that would allow poker players from both states to participate in a combined player pool -- potentially the first step in recreating a true American online poker market.

The legislation allows the two states, which currently offer limited potential player pools, the ability to create a larger marketplace and add to the player liquidity that online poker sites rely on for continued success.

"This multi-state Internet agreement is the first ever of its kind," Sandoval said during Tuesday's news conference. "I consider this a landmark intersection in the road of gaming history. ... [Nevada is] proud to have the first state as our first partner."

Markell stressed three key points to this agreement:

  • It authorizes online poker operators in Delaware and Nevada to open up their games to players in both states. Revenue will be distributed evenly based on the location of the player that generated the rake.

  • Players from Delaware will be subject to its state laws and regulations and players from Nevada will be subject to Nevada laws and regulations.

  • It has created a structure that makes it easy to add additional states.

Both governors said they want additional states to participate. New Jersey is the only state which offers legal online poker not included in this agreement.

Sandoval stated that he has had conversations with New Jersey officials.

"We hope additional states do participate," Markell said. "We all benefit if more states participate."

States that join the partnership will be able to select which games they will offer. Delaware currently offers casino games and online poker, while Nevada offers only online poker.

While the agreement has been signed, questions remain about what the actual providers and procedures will look like. Both Delaware and Nevada have three legalized online poker sites currently running, but there is no overlap. In Delaware, Delaware Park holds the biggest share of the market, followed by Dover Downs and Harrington and combined the trio only brought in $88,390.48 in revenue in January. In Nevada, leads the market over Ultimate Poker and the recently launched Real Gaming, but even with their larger potential player base, according to Howard Stutz of the Las Vegas Review Journal, are estimated to bring in only $200,000 to $500,000 in revenue per month.

"We are very pleased with agreement between Delaware and Nevada," said Seth Palansky, vice president of corporate communications for Caesars Interactive Entertainment. "It's another case of forward thinking and an endorsement of the importance of pooled liquidity especially for lesser populated States. As Nevada set the blueprint for regulation, they now are setting the blueprint for inter-state collaboration."

At the time of the signing, Palansky was unaware of the next steps for each of the currently licensed and regulated online sites in each state.

"It is terrific progress and hopefully can serve as a model for future Internet poker partnerships as more states regulate the industry," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance.

Both governors reiterated that there should be no further regulations or necessary legislation and that the agreement has the "green light" once the technology is in place.

The Nuts is a recurring feature that takes a look at the best poker players in the world. This feature aims to produce a list of the best players at the moment. Our panel of 10 is composed of's poker contributors (Bernard Lee and myself); Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley, senior writer Tim Fiorvanti and information manager Kevin Mathers; managing editor Jessica Welman; PokerNews editor-in-chief Donnie Peters; World Poker Tour's Eric Ramsey; PokerStrategy's Barry Carter; and PocketFives' Dan Cypra.

With the conclusion of the Aussie Millions, 14 players have already earned at least $1 million from the tournament felt this year. Daniel Negreanu isn't at the top of that list (he's seventh), but he is at the top of these rankings, holding off Phil Ivey and Vanessa Selbst. It was far from unanimous, but Negreanu's $1.7 million in earnings and deep runs in the High Roller events at both the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and Aussie Millions were enough to retain his place. He may be confident about his game, but his ranking will continue to be in jeopardy with Ivey, Selbst and Mike McDonald thriving.

That's right, I said Phil Ivey. After months of wondering if one of the all-time greats would return to the tournament felt, he made an appearance at the Aussie Millions and cashed in for AU$4 million with a victory in the AU$250,000 Challenge. That wasn't it. Ivey also found success in the Aussie Millions cash game. Ivey was No. 2 in the last set of rankings and despite the massive score, he fell to third because Selbst's consistency is simply too much to deny.

While Ivey makes his living with an occasional poker appearance, Selbst is always on the trail and had one of the most memorable PCA's we've ever seen. She finished third in both the $100,000 event (Fabian Quoss first) and $25,000 event (Jacob Schindler first), and finished 42nd in the main event for a total of $1.3 million. The only player who found more success than any of the aforementioned trio is Mike McDonald, who makes his return on this list at No. 4.

Taylor Caby tells the tale of McDonald best:


McDonald, with $10 million in career life tournament earnings, has thrived in the poker world for nearly a decade. His online roots (as "Timex") made him a legend among the young stars of the game, and his knack for competing at the game's highest level is simply enviable. McDonald opened 2014 with four final tables and over $4 million in earnings. What sets him apart from Ivey, Selbst and Negreanu, is that one of his three seven-figure cashes came in the PCA main event, displaying his ability to navigate not only the elite, but the masses as well.

Despite two more final tables for $381,024, Scott Seiver dropped one spot this month to No. 5. Seiver has made six final tables since October, each bringing in at least $100,000. After a quiet PCA, Seiver finished fifth in the AU$25,000 event and seventh in the main event (won by Ami Barer) at the Aussie Millions. He currently has $9.5 million in live tournament earnings in his career. The 2013 GPI Player of the Year Ole Schemion continued his success in January with two seventh-place finishes in the $100,000 and $25,000 buy-in at PCA. He has four tournament victories and 10 final tables since last May.

The final four players all maintained a place on this list since the last rankings, but didn't gain enough support to boost their placement. Philipp Gruissem, Marvin Rettenmaier, Nicklas Heinecker and Mike Watson spent the first six weeks of the year looking for the next game with Rettenmaier being the biggest winner of the bunch for nearly $200,000. Phil Hellmuth and Noah Schwartz fell out of the top 10.

As the industry looks ahead, a quiet final few weeks in February lead into a busy March that includes the L.A. Poker Classic, Bay 101, WPT Venice, EPT Vienna and a number of WSOP Circuit, Deepstacks, UIKPT and Heartland Poker Tour stops.

Did we leave out your favorite player? Who should be ranked higher? Who should be completely off the list? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below. Here's a look at February's top 10:

On the bubble

The number of big buy-in events during the first two months reinforced perceptions (and rankings) of a number of the game's elite. Even with his runner-up finish in the Aussie Millions main event, Sorel Mizzi couldn't crack the top 10. Mizzi has found great success in the event, finishing in the top 16 four times since 2009. He also won the $25,000 event at the Bellagio in January. After Mizzi came 2012 WSOP main event champion Greg Merson who finished second in the $25,000 buy-in and 98th in the main event at PCA. Merson doesn't play many tournaments, but the high rollers have recently piqued his interest. After spending a good amount of time playing in the Macau cash games last year, it'll be interesting to see Merson's tournament schedule moving forward. A third familiar face, Antonio Esfandiari, follow that duo on the bubble. Esfandiari finished fourth in the $100,000 event at PCA and also cashed in the main event. … Fabian Quoss has over $2.3 million in earnings this year, most of which came from the largest win of his career ($1.6 million) in the $100,000 PCA event. Quoss is another talented German who thrives on the High Roller action and has accumulated $5.7 million in tournament earnings since 2009. … Former No. 1 Jason Mercier has four cashes on the year, including a third-place finish in the AU$25,000. … Ben Tollerene, Sam Trickett, Joe Kuether, Dominik Panka, David Peters, Yevgeniy Timoshenko (winner of the AU$100,000 event), Isaac Haxton, Steve O'Dwyer and Victor Blom also received consideration this month.

Final thoughts

Bradley: This might be the competitive we've ever seen the top of this list. I Imagine most voters struggled more with whom to put No. 1 than ever before. If you had $10,000 to invest in one player in one tournament, you couldn't go wrong with any of the top three players. If you wanted to invest in McDonald, you'd probably need to come up with more than $10,000. The Canadian pro traveled all the way to Melbourne to play two super high roller events -- skipping the $25,000 and the $10,000 main event in the process. All he did was cash in both events. If he keeps putting up results like that he's likely to make it even harder on panelists, forcing them to consider him for the top spot.

Feldman: Usually I have a pretty good feel about who is going to take the top spot before the votes come in. However this month, I didn't know if it would be Negreanu, Ivey or Selbst. Each of them has a tremendous track record and recent success to place them up, and I could make an argument for each and every one. To put things simply, If any of those three, or even McDonald, were to grace the top spot, I don't think the panel would have come to the wrong conclusion. That said, no matter who earned the top spot, there would definitely be a strong debate and conversation. Don't forget to add your take below.

As a whole, the group was on the same page for the top five players. After that, the rankings became a little murky. I could really put in a pretty strong argument for Fabian Quoss and Ben Tollerene and I'm surprised neither of them made it. Mizzi too. I do believe the panelists put a ton of weight on the super high roller events and in reality, that's important because that's where the best in the world compete. If you beat the field of elite players, you deserve consideration here.

Heinecker is going to prove to be a difficult player to keep on the list with his recent opt-out of his performance tracking. Many high stakes cash game players are doing similar things and it makes it very tough to gauge long-term winners and losers online as a result.

Finally, I'd like to welcome PokerStrategy's Barry Carter to the panel, replacing former ESPN Deportes editor Nahuel Ponce. He brings a great perspective to the game and to these players that will definitely make this initiative even better.
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.

[+] EnlargePhil Ivey
Thomas Keeling/BLUFF Phil Ivey won the AU$250,000 buy-in event at the Aussie Millions for the second time in three years.

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.

Around The Felt: Borgata and FTP

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
The poker industry started off 2014 as expected with a well-attended PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, but as soon as players returned stateside or began to make their trek to the Aussie Millions, perhaps through EPT Deauville, things got a little more intriguing.

The Borgata's Winter Poker Open is one of the best domestic stops during the first few months of the year. They have the volume, offer the guarantees and provide a great venue that, despite all odds, brings players to Atlantic City in the middle of the winter.

The masses showed up for the first event, a $560 re-entry event with a $2 million guaranteed prize pool. A total of 4,812 entries was enough to overcome the guarantee, but when the field was down to the final 27 players, play was halted due to the discovery of counterfeit tournament chips. As the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement began its investigation, the tournament was cancelled leaving the final 27 without resolution.

While the remaining players wait to see what will happen to the $1 million-plus prize money that has yet to be handed out, a breakthrough in the investigation came with a clogged pipe at Harrah's and the arrest of Christian Lusardi, who allegedly flushed the remaining counterfeit chips down a toilet. Lunardi did make the money in the event.

The 53-event tournament series continued with no additional controversy and led into a main event that far exceeded expectations. The $3,500 World Poker Tour main event attracted a field of 1,229, up from 1,042 a year ago, and will award a top prize of $842,379.

So … Why?

The most logical place to turn is the return of the online poker market in New Jersey. Party Poker, partnered with the Borgata in the online space, is leading the state in signups and clearly has taken major strides to get poker back on the map through strong promotions and new partnerships. According to a Jeffrey Haas, Director of Poker for the Bwin.Party Group, there were 21 satellite winners who earned their seats online across PartyPoker's .com and .NJ sites. Many others tried to qualify, "resulting in an increased profile" for the event. Additionally, five seats were awarded via the daily fantasy sports site DraftKings and another from

Online poker brings interest back into the game and this is a great sign of what's next in the state. With two more majors planned for 2014, the WSOP Circuit championship and WPT Championship, there will be a focus on Jersey like never before and if it succeeds in generating significant revenue from online play, expect more states to follow suit.

Choice may be another simple explanation and that players simply wanted to go to the Borgata for this televised event instead of going overseas. While we can't speculate on turnout for the Aussie Millions, which begins tomorrow in Melbourne, it's noteworthy that EPT Deauville saw a decrease of 111 players in their main event (671 in 2014).

$82 million coming soon

On Jan. 24, the Garden City Group, the claims administrator for the forfeited Full Tilt Poker funds, announced that $82 million will be returned to approximately 30,000 American poker players in the next 2-3 weeks. According to the GCG, the players that will receive this money were those that confirmed their FTP account balances as part of the claims submission process. According to a representative from the GCG, the number of total claimants "well-exceeds" 100,000.

The question now turns to where this influx of money will go. In the scheme of the American economy, $82 million isn't substantial, but in terms of the poker economy, that's a pretty big number. Plus, as more claims are approved, more money is on the way. Will some players head back to the circuit and grind again? Perhaps. Will some players take the money and put it towards a non-poker lifestyle? Absolutely. After nearly three years, it'll be interesting to see if this money entices the return of those who left the field, or if this "refund" is simply going to serve as the money for a trip to the mall or a vacation. Life changes pretty dramatically in three years and the 25-year-old online poker pro may have found a new profession and lifestyle by now. If all money is returned by the end of March, as they initially stated on its website, the upcoming WSOP could be the biggest one we've seen in years.

One player anxiously looking forward to his FTP money is Blair Hinkle, who has seven figures stuck online. His reaction to this news? Take a look.

Small blinds: The recently launched Ivey League is a new poker training site featuring Phil Ivey and a number of established pros. Subscriptions begin at $9 a month, but if you want to learn from Ivey, it will cost you as part of the "Master's Tier." … In one of the bigger buy-in side events at the Borgata, Matt Affleck defeated Josh Brikis to win the $1,000 six-handed event for $88,643. … On the Heartland Poker Tour, Exequiel Fernando defeated a final table that included JC Tran (eighth) to win $179,020. … Want overlays? Head to New Jersey, according to Bluff. … According to a Dutch court ruling, poker is a game of skill. … Here's a good story on Jamie Kerstetter and how poker brought her back to New Jersey. … Celebs love charity poker events, especially at Sundance. … There's talk of a $50 million winner-take-all event in April. I'll believe it when I see it. Here's PokerNews' take.

Negreanu tops Ivey for No. 1

December, 6, 2013
The Nuts is a recurring feature that takes a look at the best poker players in the world. This feature aims to produce a list of the best players at the moment. Our panel of 10 is composed of's poker contributors (Bernard Lee and myself); poker editor Nahuel Ponce; Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley, senior writer Tim Fiorvanti and information manager Kevin Mathers; managing editor Jessica Welman; PokerNews editor-in-chief Donnie Peters; World Poker Tour's Eric Ramsey; and PocketFives' Dan Cypra.

We have a new No. 1 player in the world, and no, it isn't WSOP Champion Ryan Riess. The World Series of Poker main event final table turned a lot of heads and while many fans and players gained some new respect for the game's most notable finalists, especially Amir Lehavot, zero of the November Nine have found their way onto this list.

The standout performer since the last rankings has been the standout performer for pretty much the entire year … and his career. Daniel Negreanu is the new No. 1 player and really, with his recent efforts in the felt, the only surprise is that it didn't happen sooner. Negreanu capped off a tremendous WSOP season with a 25th-place finish in the main event and a victory in the High Roller. His sixth bracelet victory was his second piece of jewelry this year and along with all those cashes came $3.2 million, his second-best winnings total since 1997.

Negreanu's jump over Phil Ivey was only a matter of time. Ivey hasn't put in the effort on the tournament felt to even sniff a big score and the panel couldn't deny Negreanu's quest any longer. Ivey has played a bit online, but with no tremendous earnings, it's tough to give him the nod. Ivey has $17 million in live tournament earnings, but only a couple hundred thousand in 2013. There's little doubt that when he decides to jump feet first into the action, he'll contend for the top spot once again.

The latest installment of the Party Poker Premier League concluded last week with Sorel Mizzi holding the top spot over the elite field. Mizzi earned $400,000 for the title and quietly put together a 2013 campaign that included $3.8 million in tournament winnings, most of which came from the GuangDong Asia Millions HK$1M buy-in event. In the Premier League, Mizzi battled past ESPN's No. 3, Vanessa Selbst (12th), and No. 4. Scott Seiver (fourth). Seiver's run over the past few months include back-to-back cashes in the Alpha8 series and a sixth-place finish in the WSOP Europe High Roller.

Marvin Rettenmaier's run on the World Poker Tour continued over the past month with two deep runs (10th in Paris, fourth in St. Maarten). Derrick Rosenbarger's managed to avoid Rettenmaier's success on his run to the title at WPT Montreal, but those instances come few and far between for one of the most consistent no-limit hold 'em tournament players in the world.

Consistency means a different thing to Philipp Gruissem, a player that panelist Eric Ramsey says is "impossible to ignore." Plain and simple, Gruissem owns the high roller scene around the world. The German superstar has won three high roller events in 2013, including back-to-back Alpha8 titles. In the two WSOP high rollers, Gruissem finished first and third and at PCA, he finished fifth. Gruissem, with his $4.6 million in earnings this year, makes his debut at No. 6. For those that are wondering, his quest at an Aplha8 three-peat will take place in South Africa in February.

Mike Watson, No. 7, added another WSOP final table to his resume at WSOPE and continued to coast throughout a year that made him stand out from the masses and at No. 8, Phil Hellmuth captured his 100th career WSOP cash, continually keeping him part of this conversation.

The name Niklas Heinecker probably isn't one that rings a bell, but he's immersed himself in the conversation of best online cash game players around very quickly. Heinecker has more than $9 million in earnings in 2013, with a pretty even split between live and online action. His recent successes have come against online legend Victor Blom in the high stakes games on Full Tilt. The final spot belongs to Noah Schwartz who captured his first bracelet at WSOP Europe and has been a stalwart among the tournament scene for years. Schwartz also received plenty of air time during this year's WSOP broadcast when he finished 52nd.

Players have a few more majors to attend in 2013 including the WPT's Five Diamond in Vegas and the Prague Poker Festival. They're all chasing Negreanu, but really, the race is over. Congrats on an incredible 2013 Daniel and your new No. 1 ranking.

Did we leave out your favorite player? Who should be ranked higher? Who should be completely off the list? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below. Here's a look at December's top 10:

On the bubble

The bubble boy this month was Ole Schemion who pocketed another two five-figure scores over the last two months. The German 20-year-old had his second consecutive year of at least $1.3 million in tournament winnings and continues to thrive online as well. … WSOP champion Ryan Riess did receive some consideration, but he was far from the top of the list in anyone's rankings. He may have beaten the biggest field of the year, but he'll need to do more than just that to say he's the best in the world right now. … Many of the players on this list have found great success in high roller events and Jeff Rossiter is another name that panelists were considering to add to the collection. Rossiter's recent fourth-place finish in the ACOP Macau was his latest six-figure score in a career that's included many. … Jason Mercier was back into rankings consideration after his WSOP Europe final table as well, but it seemed like too little, too late for the former No. 1. … David Benefield, Jason Koon, Tobias Reinkemeier, Steve O'Dwyer, Justin Bonomo, David Peters, David Baker, Martin Finger and Chris Moorman also received consideration this month.

Final thoughts

Bradley: In the four years we’ve been putting The Nuts together, this is by far the one I agree with the most. Sure, I’d move a few people up or down a spot or two, but there’s only one egregious inclusion and that’s Phil Hellmuth. I say that because he hasn’t really been on top of his game since January when he finished runner-up in the NBC Heads-Up event. The only real omission for me is that of David Peters – he’s probably the least hyped tournament killer on the planet but yet he’s fourth in BLUFF Player of the Year race

Feldman: Negreanu finally gets his due. Is there much more to say than that? The challenge with removing Ivey is that if he's able to put something together ... anything ... he probably jumps back into No. 1 since he'd be "back." For now, and probably as long as he's able to continue to put up numbers, Negreanu will hold onto that spot. He's a focused and determined player when there's something he wants and his motivation this past year is pretty clear. He wanted to be the first player to win the WSOP Player of the Year award twice. He wanted to be Player of the Year. His chances to win both seemed slim entering October, but he proved once again that he thrives under pressure.

There were a number of players I was unsure about this month and I think the omission of Steve O'Dwyer tops my list. Heinecker's surge is simply incredible, but when playing at those stakes, the downswing is inevitable. We may have published this at a time when he's at his peak, but that's something to keep an eye on. Regardless, $9 million in a year is insane.

As for Hellmuth, yeah, he probably shouldn't have made the list, but you can't argue with his results and 100 cashes is a pretty incredible effort. Many thought years ago that the game passed him by, but he's still here and still cashing.

Finally, for Ryan Riess: You won and said you're the best. Now it's time to prove it and if you do, a spot on this list is waiting.

Riess The Beast? No. Riess the Champ

November, 6, 2013
Ryan RiessAP Photo/Julie Jacobson2013 WSOP main event champion Ryan Riess celebrates in front of his rail at the final table.

LAS VEGAS -- There's no better moment in poker than watching the crowning of a new world champion. On Tuesday night, tears and emotions flowed from the hundreds of friends and family of Ryan Riess as he won the 2013 World Series of Poker main event. As the final card hit the felt, the 23-year-old from Clarkston, Mich., standing on the rail with his supporters, fell to the ground. He had outlasted the field of 6,352 players and, in what was the greatest moment of his life, was simply overcome. Cheers, streamers and photos snapped in the seconds that followed, and out of everyone who had made the trek to the Rio, the first people on top of him to celebrate: his parents.

Others tried to pile on, but Riess stood up and hugged his mom and dad who were beaming. He was in tears. His mom, voiceless from cheering on her son, was also in tears. At 23, their son had fulfilled his dream.

"He's just a gentle soul," Cheryl Riess said after the win. "We're just so proud."

The pride on her face grew as he left his supporters and went over to his devastated opponent, Jay Farber. They embraced, both of them sub-30 millionaires with great promise ahead not only in poker, but life. The two had bonded throughout the November Nine process, and over the past two days it was clear they shared a great amount of respect for each other.

Riess left Farber and went back to his crew. They were his rocks through nine grueling days of main event play. He gave out high-fives and countless hugs before being presented with the bracelet and the $8.3 million stacked in bundled bricks.

"I was overwhelmed with joy," Riess said of his championship moment. "I was so happy. I started crying and I was just speechless. My parents told me they were proud of me and they loved me. It was awesome."

Riess made his way back to the friends that he missed the first time around. Everyone had their moment of celebration with him. A moment none of them will ever forget.

The 89-hand heads-up match featured highs and lows for both players, but it was clearly Riess' night. Farber entered heads-up with the lead and extended it early, but Riess found an aggressive gear that he didn't display during Monday's play, giving him the boost. He kept constant pressure on all streets and on a short stack without the cards, Farber couldn't compete. Riess ground his opponent down and, as his A-K defeated Farber's Q-5, he earned the victory. Ironically, those are the two cards that were engraved into the WSOP bracelet in May as placeholders for the champions actual cards.

Riess leaves the Rio with a spotlight that will follow him throughout the rest of his career. He began that career just 13 months ago on the WSOP Circuit and its motto of "First the ring, then the bracelet" came true once again. This time, that bracelet is the biggest one of all.

Many of his friends are Circuit grinders who aspire to accomplish what Riess has just done. He wasn't just playing for himself Tuesday night at that final table, but for a group of players who put their heart and soul into the game for their "one time." He represented the thousands of dreamers who play the professional game at a lower financial level and gave a face to a tour that needed a true icon. Riess' deep roots on the Circuit and this victory can benefit the tour and, while some may strive for his attention to promote different initiatives, hopefully the WSOP will realize that Reiss' most important asset to the game may be his ties on that front.

Riess, more than any of the recent WSOP champions, can make a difference in getting new players into the game.

After Greg Merson won a year ago, I pointed out that his effort as ambassador may have been completed prior to the final table. He wanted to escape the tournament scene and simply go back to the biggest cash games in the world. This year, it's entirely different. Riess doesn't have a game plan, and that may be the best thing for him. He turned down all sponsors prior to the final table because he didn't want anything standing in his way. He wanted to make his own decisions and have a clean slate no matter what happens. Well, kid, you've got plenty of time, and money, to figure it out.

Riess will continue to be a role model for his brother and sister and his degree in hospitality from Michigan State will, for now, go unutilized. What matters most to the champ at this moment is his family and friends. At 23, it shouldn't be any other way.

Enjoy your moment, Ryan. You've earned it.

WSOP main event heads-up blog

November, 5, 2013
It's Ryan Riess versus Jay Farber for $8.3 million, the diamond-studded bracelet and the title of world champion. Follow along tonight and join the conversation as the action plays out in Las Vegas.

After eight hours of final table action, Jay Farber and Ryan Riess earned their way to heads-up and the final day of play in the 2013 World Series of Poker. Only 19 big blinds separate the two and when action resumes Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET (on ESPN), fans will get to see two very unique styles and personalities who have the potential to shape the future of the game.

There were many highlights from the first day of the final table, but here are my biggest takeaways.

1. Play didn't exceed expectations

Many of us expected the final table to play out differently. Play in general was relatively tight, something that is rarely seen at this level of competition. The pay jumps are significant and the ability to hide your bluffs is essentially nonexistent and it seemed the players just reacted differently under these circumstances. The pressure was on and perhaps nobody was affected more than JC Tran, who went from being chip leader to completely card dead and simply struggled to get going.

"I definitely didn't expect this," Tran said. "Finishing fifth was possible, but not the way I imagined it. ... I'm not 100 percent happy with the way I played."

I guess that leads me to admit I was wrong. I tweeted last week about my perceived skill level of this final table, but after what we saw Monday night, I was clearly wrong on that. Looking at the final table as a whole before action began, we had nine players with established results, but seeing the big picture Monday night, there were spots of weakness and indecision that made many, both in attendance and on Twitter, confused. Other players may have taken and pushed their advantages in different spots, but again, under the lights with so much on the line, a typically standard decision may not be easy.

2. Coolers dominated the action

Over the past few years at the final table, the eliminations didn't come primarily from "setup" hands. The coolers during the final table (coolers are situations where big hands run into other big hands), really dominated the way everything played out. Even though Mark Newhouse doubled up with his Q-Q against Marc-Etienne McLaughlin's K-K, that hand set the tone for the evening.

The one hand that really changed the course of the event was McLaughlin's K-K against Farber's A-A for an 80-million chip pot. McLaughlin had done incredibly well getting back into contention after being the short stack for most of six-handed play, and just when everyone thought it would be a three-horse race, Farber picks up aces and happily knocks out McLaughlin. Farber also picked up aces against kings on Day 6 (versus Noah Schwartz) and that hand was pivotal to him reaching this point.

Michiel Brummelhuis and Amir Lehavot suffered similar fates in hands that just seemed to play themselves. After grinding for 8 days, a cooler is perhaps the least desirable way to be eliminated.

3. Poker can be a spectator event

Part of the intrigue about the WSOP final table is that family and friends are along for the ride. The support each of the nine players received was incredible and the emotions that these players shared during every quick break was priceless. The rails helped keep the players on even keel and the constant chants by the crowd kept the energy up. While those in attendance couldn't see the cards, the excitement in the room was palpable because of a dedicated group of friends hoping to see their player become the next world champion.

The best rail award of this year definitely goes to McLaughlin. The "Larry Walker" cheer, in reference to the former Montreal Expos star, really earned McLaughlin a few walks in the big blind. They made a difference.

There also were a number of costumes, including a few people in panda suits, who entertained everyone. Especially when a person in the aforementioned panda suit falls down in the stands, runs onto the stage and is escorted out of the Rio by security.

4. The underdogs

When you watch Tuesday night's coverage of the final table there's sure to be a lot of discussion of the backgrounds of Riess and Farber. Riess is less than two years into his poker career and already has ridden the roller coaster of emotions that comes with the pursuit. Farber really does have a day job (even though it's a night job), and that greatly limits his time playing poker. These are two players who aren't the most polished, but they play with heart and will earn the respect of all as a result.

After play and interviews concluded around 2 a.m. PT, both underdogs decided to do one more thing together Monday night -- go to the club. Farber was arranging tables before he even left the Penn and Teller Theater.

5. Sponsors are coming back

PokerStars, Full Tilt and other online sites were putting up six to seven figures for the sponsorship of players at the WSOP final table prior to Black Friday. Over the past two years, there wasn't a ton of additional sponsorship upside for the November Nine, but this year, we saw some new patches show up on the players.

From King Cobra (an Anheuser-Busch brand) to casinos to e-cigarettes to real-money daily fantasy sports sites, the majority of the nine had some interesting patchwork on their clothing. With the return of the online poker industry in the United States, more money will be invested in the future. This is a great sign for the industry and also helps to validate a reason to hold the delayed final table as it provides the players with an additional revenue stream not entirely dictated by their results on the felt.

WSOP Main Event Final Table Live Blog

November, 4, 2013
After four months of waiting, the final table has arrived. Who will win the $8.3 million and the most coveted bracelet in the game? Watch the action unfold on ESPN2 Monday night starting at 8 p.m. ET and follow along right here until the final few remain.

Nguyen and McEvoy inducted into Hall

November, 4, 2013
The waiting is over for Scotty Nguyen and Tom McEvoy. On Sunday night, both former main event champions were inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in front of a group of family, friends and colleagues. Just a short walk away from where the November Nine will battle on Monday, Nguyen and McEvoy spoke about this pinnacle of their career and proved that even if you are lucky enough to become world champion, that alone doesn't merit induction into poker's most elite club.

Nguyen and McEvoy became the 45th and 46th members of the Hall, both boasting careers that spanned decades and included a long list of accomplishments. Their records shout consistency and proved they could compete against the game's best in a variety of games. On top of everything else, they've earned the respect of their peers to earn their spots in the Poker Hall of Fame.

Scotty Nguyen and Tom McEvoy Scotty Nguyen and Tom McEvoy smile after their inductions into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Nguyen's journey included a cross-ocean journey to the United States as a child. The Vietnam-born pro had essentially nothing when he arrived in the States and eventually found his niche in the game that he loves with all his heart. He went from being a casino employee, to dealer, to player and now member of the Hall of Fame with $11.7 million in lifetime tournament earnings. He won the 1998 WSOP main event and the 2008 $50,000 HORSE champion, the only player to have won both of the industry's premier events, plus three other bracelets and a WPT title. He's always outgoing for fans, willing to smile for any photo and ready to help out for charity when asked.

"Being yourself, you go a long way. That's how I got here," Nguyen said. "This is something I never dreamed of. Growing up in Vietnam, there's no Hall of Fame there. No matter what you do. If you had three meals a day, you're very happy. Now when I came here, America has given me the opportunity to become who I am today. Being in the Hall of Fame is something I never dreamed about. I never thought it was possible."

It's time to believe it, Scotty.

McEvoy's legacy revolves around his success, integrity and dedication to a game. His daughter spoke about how he learned to play the game in Michigan and decided that he would leave his profession as an accountant and pursue his own dreams of becoming a poker player. With a sign that read "Vegas or Bust" on their car, his family made the trek and he found success on the felt for the next three decades.

The 1983 WSOP main event champion simply loves poker and it's clear by those who spoke on his behalf, including fellow Hall of Famer T.J. Cloutier, that his efforts have not gone unnoticed. In addition to his nearly $3 million in earnings, McEvoy led the initiative that prohibited smoking in card rooms and wrote 14 books that shaped poker strategy. He may not always get the biggest chunk of the spotlight, but those in the industry understand just what he has meant to everyone who has ever sat down at the felt.

"I'm on top of the world," McEvoy said. "Next to winning the main event, this is the most important thing that has ever happened to me in my poker career. … It's validation."

McEvoy and Nguyen were voted in by the group of living poker Hall of Famers as well as a group of select poker media. Up to two players can be inducted each year.

The Nuts is a recurring feature that takes a look at the best poker players in the world. This feature aims to produce a list of the best players at the moment. Our panel of 10 is composed of's poker contributors (Bernard Lee and myself); Poker Editor Nahuel Ponce; Bluff Magazine Editor-in-Chief Lance Bradley, Senior Writer Tim Fiorvanti and Information Manager Kevin Mathers; Managing Editor Jessica Welman; PokerNews Editor-in-Chief Donnie Peters; World Poker Tour's Eric Ramsey; and PocketFives' Dan Cypra.

Just as the poker world revolves around the World Series of Poker in June and July, when fall approaches, the biggest and best action is in Europe. From EPT Barcelona to EPT/UKIPT London and the recently started World Series of Poker Europe, the focus of the industry is far away from the United States, despite a few larger domestic efforts. Europe is not only the place to go because of the massive amount of live play, but with the World Championship of Online Poker taking place at the same time, going to Europe provides professionals the opportunity to soak up more action. WCOOP is the biggest online tournament series in the world, and proved again in 2013 that no other effort can truly compare.

To nobody's surprise, Phil Ivey retained the top spot this month. Although he's down so far this year in the online cash games, he had a strong recovery last month by pocketing more than $500,000. Ivey also found his way into WCOOP and just missed the final table in the $10,300 eight-game event; he finished 57th in the $2,100 no-limit event earlier in the series. Ivey now turns his sights to capturing his 10th WSOP bracelet, and with a 25,600-euro event on the schedule, he'll be sure to make the most of his trip to France.

While Ivey coasts at No. 1, the battle for No.2 continues between Daniel Negreanu and whoever else makes competitive strides each month. Negreanu solidified his spot with his runner-up finish in the EPT Barcelona high roller event, and then a 17th-place in the $2,100 HORSE WCOOP event. Vanessa Selbst jumped from ninth in the rankings to challenge him for No. 2 with a second-place finish (out of 1,189) at the Borgata Poker Open and two weeks later, a victory in the 2,000-pound high roller event on the UKIPT.

In addition to Selbst, some other members of the top 10 earned additional hardware over the past month. Marvin Rettenmaier, ranked fifth, found another tour to win on in September as he captured a Eurasian Poker Tour title. David Baker dropped to seventh despite winning one of the Sunday Majors on PokerStars for nearly six figures, and Phil Hellmuth, eighth, found the winner's circle in an Open Face Chinese event at UKIPT London.

Replacing Matthew Ashton and Sam Trickett on the list are Ole Schemion and Steven Silverman. Schemion is far from recognizable if you only follow the American poker scene, as the 20-year-old has conquered the European poker market for $3.3 million over the past two years. He's a stalwart in the European high roller events and will go down as the final Partouche Poker Tour champion, winning their main event title last September. Silverman, aka "Zugwat," will get national TV exposure in a few months because of his victory in the $100,000 Alpha8 debut. The Washington, D.C., native has more than $2 million in live earnings this year and may be finally getting his due.

Did we leave out your favorite player? Who should be ranked higher? Who should be completely off the list? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below. Here's a look at August's top 10:

On the bubble

November Niner JC Tran is the bubble boy in this month's rankings. The WSOP main event chip leader followed up his main event run with a second-place finish in the Alpha8, and is on the way to Europe looking for more. Tran is a few eliminations away from making this his most profitable year yet, and panelists came close to putting him on the list before the action plays out in Vegas next month. ... Dan Kelly was the bubble boy last month, and although his eight-cash WCOOP would get him back in the top 10, it wasn't enough. Kelly has been outstanding this year and should contend for Player of the Year honors this fall. … Jason Mercier earned a big cash with a third-place finish in the $700 no-limit WCOOP event and seems to be back on track. Nobody doubts his ability, and he's often one of the most debated players month after month. … Steve O'Dwyer peaked on this list in 2012 and is easily making his case once again. O'Dywer, the EPT Grand Final Champion, added $550,000 to his bankroll since August and is currently 11th on the 2013 money list. … Viktor Blom, David Sands, Sam Trickett, Chris Klodnicki, Martin Finger, Igor Kurganov, David Benefield, Mike McDonald and Paul Volpe also received consideration this month.

Final thoughts

Bradley: Spots 2-4 are all occupied by players who are having strong years. Ivey continues to sit atop the rankings, and that doesn't shock me at all. He's clearly cemented his reputation as the best player in the world, but he's going to need to show he can win something other than a new badge on IveyPoker with Negreanu and Selbst (who just won an EPT side event) hot on his tail.

I'm somewhat surprised to see Hellmuth still in the Top 10, but I guess with WSOP Europe kicking off this weekend, he could snap up another bracelet to crack the top five next month.

Feldman: In my opinion, the most interesting results this month come in spots nine and 10. Ole Schemion is crushing the poker world ... where he can. He become a true star on the European Poker Tour, but being younger than 21, he can't play in the U.S. It's hard to imagine where his career will take him, but without any hesitation, it's easy to say he'll be the rookie everyone is watching in Vegas next summer.

Silverman's stock has never been higher, and perhaps a debut at 10 is too low. Regardless, I'm glad to see him on the list and finally getting a little love from the group.

One player I feel is missing from the list this month is Viktor Blom. The high-rolling Swede remains one of the most swingy cash game players online (currently up $1.5 million this year), but he also had a strong WCOOP showing. He seems to always fall on the bubble and unfortunately, I'm not quite sure what it would take for him to actually break through. Others who I feel are deserving for ranking: David Sands, Steve O'Dwyer, JC Tran and Dan Kelly.
Anthony ZinnoWorld Poker TourAnthony Zinno defeated the field of 1,189 at the Borgata Poker Open to win his first WPT title.

September is one of the best times of the year for the poker industry, as momentum continues to build leading up to the WSOP main event final table on Nov. 4. While Anthony Zinno's World Poker Tour victory at the Borgata stole many headlines, the beginning of the Full Tilt Poker remission process is what has moved the needle most.

Some quick hits:

  • After essentially two years of frustration, players were notified via e-mail last week by the Garden City Group about the ability to file a Petition for Remission. By doing so, former FTP players are requesting the return of their money, which has been frozen in their FTP account since April 15, 2011. Petitions for Remissions can be filed until Nov. 16, but a firm date for the return of funds has not been set. If you believe you should've received an email but did not, you should first check your spam folder, and if it's not there, head here for more information.
  • In New Jersey, Zinno earned his first WPT title and $825,099 at the Borgata Poker Open. He defeated Vanessa Selbst heads-up for the title, getting in with the best hand and holding during their two major all-in confrontations. Zinno's previous best live cash was for $86,964. Selbst earned $492,569, giving her $2.3 million in tournament earnings in 2013. Other notable finishers in this event include Cong Pham (third), Jeremy Kottler (fourth), David Randall (fifth), Eric Fields (sixth) and Cliff Josephy (ninth). November Niner Ryan Riess finished 68th. The $3,500 re-entry event offered a $3 million guaranteed prize pool that was easily eclipsed with the 1,189 entries ($3.8M total).
  • Earlier this year, the World Series of Poker announced that their Circuit National Championship would take place in New Jersey. Now, the World Poker Tour is following suit. For the first time in the tour's existence, the WPT Championship event will take place at the Borgata. There's a pretty clear reason for this, as both are banking on the online poker market in the state opening strong this December.
  • The World Championship of Online Poker continues on PokerStars and will conclude this weekend with a $5,200 buy-in, $8 million guaranteed main event. After the first 50 events, "-Rebus1980-" is in great shape to win the best overall player award, as he's got one win, three final tables and 14 cashes. Over the past week, Jonathan Jaffe and Darren Elias both earned their second career WCOOP titles.
  • The 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure is beginning to take shape, and the site announced on Wednesday that the $10,300 main event will include a $10 million guarantee. Given their ability to run online satellites, plus utilize the Full Tilt brand, plus potentially offer satellites in New Jersey later this year, that number should be easily attainable. The tournament series will also include a $100,000 Super High Roller and $25,000 High Roller event.
  • launched last week in Nevada to much fanfare but a limited player base. Expect the buzz around that site to grow in the coming weeks with the debut of their first online poker tournament series that includes a live final table tie-in. Additionally, the eight tournaments that make up the WSOP Online Championships all include added money to the prize pool.
  • 888 has partnered with Wynn Resorts to operate its online poker offerings in Nevada and New Jersey as part of the "All American Poker Network." On a strange note, according to Bloomberg, Wynn's hardware will be hosted on a Caesars' property in Atlantic City in order for them to operate in New Jersey. Caesars will probably be its biggest competitor in both states.

Coming up:

  • WSOP Europe begins on Oct. 11 with the newly-added Ladies Event, which will be the first of eight bracelet events at the Casino Barriere in Enghien-les-Bains. The tournament series will conclude with a 25,600 euro high roller event.
  • One of the biggest stops each year on the European Poker Tour, EPT London, begins in early October and concludes on the first day of WSOPE. Smart timing by both parties will allow for players to go from one event to the next with ease and should boost participation.
  • The WSOP main event final table. The two-day live event on ESPN and ESPN2 should be one of the best yet.
Blair HinkleRalph NotaroBlair Hinkle poses with his cash, trophy and guitar after his victory in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Championship.
The past month has been filled with good times for Blair Hinkle. First, after waiting more than two years, the wheels are finally in motion for him to reclaim his seven figures stuck on Full Tilt since Black Friday. The Garden City Group, the organization that is assisting the asset forfeiture unit of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the asset forfeiture and money laundering section of the United States Department of Justice, will start accepting petitions for remission on Sept. 16. At the time of his repayment, Hinkle would become a millionaire once again.

The only problem was that Hinkle didn't want to wait any longer to fill his bank account and, conveniently, one of the largest main events ever was about to kick off the new poker season.

The Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Championship boasted a guarantee that is essentially unheard of these days: $10 million. Now, there are only a handful of events that get close to that number throughout the year, and putting it in August right after the WSOP seemed like a real challenge. With a $5,300 buy-in ($300 in fees), event organizers needed to hit the magic number of 2,000. With re-entries, it seemed possible to achieve, and with growing buzz surrounding the event for months, the players came through and all expectations were exceeded. A total of 2,384 entries created an $11.9 million prize pool, and it was Hinkle who outlasted them all to earn $1.7 million, his first career seven-figure live score.

According to the Seminole Hard Rock, the final table began with four eliminations in the first 58 hands. Greg Lehn (sixth), Samuel Bernabeau Guilabert (fifth), Ray Qartomy (fourth) and Mukul Pahuja (third) each turned their investments into at least $378,138, and once Pahuja was sent home, Hinkle and Justin Bonomo would settle in for a five-hour, 165-hand heads-up battle with a total of $2.9 million still up for grabs.

Hinkle began the match with a few million-chip edge, but given that the two had played extensively against each other in the past, that advantage was far from comforting. Once the cards were back in the air it was all Bonomo. He earned the lead quickly and peaked near a 5:1 edge. From that point, it seemed like a rinse and repeat. Hinkle would chip away to nearly even through smart, timely aggression and just when he was about to seize control, Bonomo would put the hammer down and take the lead once again.

Each time around it seemed that Bonomo's lead was simply insurmountable … but Hinkle never gave up. He earned his first double up with A-A against Q-9 to get back into it after 120 hands, but once again Bonomo was relentless and moved closer and closer to victory. After 200 hands, Hinkle's turning point finally arrived and at the perfect time with the blinds creeping higher. Down 3:1, Hinkle's 6-6 held all-in against Bonomo's 2-2 and just hands later, he had the lead. After a few hours of Bonomo's aggression rewarding him, Hinkle began to add pressure postflop to win some big pots and earn a little bit of breathing room. A 3:2 lead became a 6:1 lead in eight hands and Hinkle would score the win on the 223rd hand of the night as Bonomo moved all-in with Q-8 on a Q-9-5-J board and was drawing dead against Hinkle's K-10.

"It's a grind, especially with Justin being so good," Hinkle said of the heads-up match to the Seminole Hard Rock. "He just kept on putting pressure on me, and I kept waiting, and eventually the cards turned my way."

Hinkle, a bracelet winner in 2008, was supported by his friends and family, who continue to be amazed by his accomplishments.

"I am so proud of Blair for his win at SHRPO, but moreso for the character he's shown the last few years while dealing with a tough situation that was out of his control. He's shown nothing but class and has battled back without taking any shortcuts," said Blair's brother and bracelet winner Grant Hinkle to ESPN via Twitter. "The win was just the icing on the cake and validation of all the work he's put into the game of poker."

Bonomo, who initially wasn't planning on playing this event, just the $100,000 Alpha8, earned $1,163,500 to give him $7.1 million in career tournament earnings. "TY so much tweeps!! This is the biggest score of my poker career!," Bonomo tweeted as his timeline was flooded with messages of congratulations.

Here are the final table results from the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Championship Event:

1. Blair Hinkle ($1,745,245)
2. Justin Bonomo ($1,163,500)
3. Mukul Pahuja ($872,625)
4. Ray Qartomy ($639,925)
5. Samuel Bernabeau Guilabert ($494,490)
6. Greg Lehn ($378,138)


Small blinds: November Niners offered a strong performance at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open. In the $5,300 event, Amir Lehavot finished 16th for $69,810 and in the $100,000 World Poker Tour Alpha8 debut, JC Tran finished second to Steven Silverman for $526,890. Silverman topped the 21-entry field for $891,660. Jeff Gross and Matt Glantz finished third and fourth. … Poker legend Bobby "The Wizard" Hoff died Sunday at age 73. "So sad to hear about Bobby Hoff. He was a true NL artist + always such a pleasure to see at + away from the tables. #RIPwizard," Erik Seidel said on Twitter. … The poker room at Maryland Live casino is buzzing after opening. … Real money online poker is coming to Delaware in October. … Promotion for Runner Runner has begun, and the AGA is hoping to use the movie as a motivator for legalizing the online game. … The World Championship of Online Poker begins on Sept. 8. … And finally... sorry Carter Gill, but you have replaced Mike McClain as the new face of WSOP agony.

The Nuts is a monthly feature that takes a look at the best poker players in the world. This feature aims to produce a list of the best players at the moment. Our panel of 10 is composed of's poker contributors (Bernard Lee and myself); poker editor Nahuel Ponce; Bluff magazine editor-in-chief Lance Bradley, senior writer Tim Fiorvanti and information manager Kevin Mathers; managing editor Jessica Welman; PokerNews editor-in-chief Donnie Peters; World Poker Tour's Eric Ramsey; and PocketFives' Dan Cypra.

The August rankings are always unique. For the majority of the year, the poker tournament circuit is busy with stops nearly every weekend. However, during the weeks after the World Series of Poker, tournament organizers offer a brief respite in the schedule. There are very few must-attend events on the calendar as the poker world, for lack of a better word, recovers from seven weeks in Vegas. After all, the WSOP can create superstars, but it also can cripple bankrolls and end careers.

The heavy influence of the WSOP on the panelists resulted in three Nuts debuts this month. David "Bakes" Baker has been successful for years, but the Michigan native shined even brighter this year and makes his Nuts debut at No. 3. Although he didn't win, his nine cashes and four final tables were one of the most talked about stories this summer. Bakes sits behind No. 1 Phil Ivey, who managed only one cash this Series, and Daniel Negreanu, who had an impressive effort with six cashes and is currently in second in the WSOP player of the year race.

The second debut belongs to Mike Watson (sixth), and his success extends far beyond the walls of the Rio. Watson did cash eight times during the 2013 WSOP, but his run really began this past December. Since that time, he's made eight final tables, cashed for more than $1.4 million on the live felt and continued to add to his poker success online, where he's collected more than $2 million.

One of the best parts of the WSOP is the discovery of new stars, and this year, the standout was Matthew Ashton. Ashton makes his Nuts debut in seventh thanks to his four final tables and victory in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. He is the current leader in the WSOP player of the year race, but unless the stud-focused Brit changes his approach, he'll have a hard time moving up this list in the future.

Scott Seiver moved up two spots to No. 5 after his WSOP effort, but Phil Hellmuth, Vanessa Selbst and Sam Trickett fell to the bottom of the rankings as a result of their struggles in Vegas.

The circuit hits full speed in a hurry as the next month includes a $10 million guarantee in the Seminole Hard Rock main event, the 2013 World Championship of Online Poker, the debut of the Alpha8 series, WPT Legends, EPT Barcelona and the start of the 2013-14 WSOP Circuit season. With so much in store over the next month, we can expect September's rankings to look substantially different.

Did we leave out your favorite player? Who should be ranked higher? Who should be completely off the list? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below. Here's a look at August's top 10:

On the bubble

Where should we start? Dan Kelly was this month's bubble boy after a WSOP to remember. The online phenom-turned-bracelet winner cashed eight times in Vegas, including a fifth-place finish in the Millionaire Maker. Had Kelly won that event, there's little doubt he would have been in the top 10 this month. … Jason Mercier remains on the minds of the voters after six cashes at the WSOP, but for the first time in his career, he failed to make a final table. … Max Steinberg might have scared away some panelists after his jack-high hand on a recent WSOP broadcast, but everyone will get to see a lot more of him this summer. Steinberg had two runner-up finishes in bracelet events this Series and was the chip leader of the main event for a few levels. He has three six-figure cashes over the past year. … Joseph Cheong, Philipp Gruissem, Antonio Esfandiari, Paul Volpe, $111,111 High Roller champion Anthony Gregg, double-bracelet winner Tom Schneider, Viktor Blom, Phil Galfond, Jeremy Ausmus and main event chip leader JC Tran also received consideration this month.

Final thoughts

Bradley: The list seems to reflect some of the WSOP magic. Prior to June, the name Matt Ashton would have drawn blank stares from most people in the poker world, but he put on a show at the 2013 WSOP to boost his profile and his lifetime earnings. Given that he seems to be a stud specialist, he'll be hard pressed to find any more big scores the rest of the year. That also doesn't help his chances of becoming the 2013 WSOP player of the year.

Phil Ivey seems to have the top spot on lockdown still. I am curious as to what it will take to unseat him again. The first player to do it, Jason Mercier, is not on this list, and you have to wonder whether the amount of Open Face Chinese that he's been playing the past nine months has had an effect on his tournament play.

Feldman: There are 10 really strong players on the list this month, but I'm stuck wondering who will survive the cut in September. Baker is one of the true talents of the game, but it took four quick final tables to finally break into the heads of the panelists. That said, No. 3 is surprising for a debut, but when you perform on the game's biggest stage, it's deserved.

I've been in the "Rank SirWatts" camp for months, and I'm glad to see he finally made it. Seiver should have been higher. There really isn't anything he hasn't accomplished in the game, and it might be his outward modesty that brings down his overall awareness.

I do think the bottom of this list could have been better. Hellmuth, Selbst and Trickett just haven't performed recently, and it might be time for the panelists to re-evaluate. So many players who fell to the bubble -- such as Joseph Cheong, Dan Kelly, Paul Volpe, Philipp Gruissem and Viktor Blom -- could have been better fits for those spots.