Another year has flown by and for the poker world, many of the biggest talking points have remained the same. Although three states (Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey) have launched legal online poker, the U.S. is still not close to having national regulation. Despite Full Tilt Poker still not paying back its players since Black Friday (expected to happen by March, 2014), most of the poker tours (especially the WPT, WSOPC and Heartland Poker Tour) across the country have maintained their player base and the European Poker Tour continued to boom. The biggest festival of the year, the WSOP, found success again due to some new events (e.g. Millionaire Maker, $111,111 One Drop) that blew away expectations and of course there are always a few somber moments with the passing of Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, columnist Tom Sexton, longtime WSOP dealer Richard Turnbull and beloved poker pros Bobby Hoff and Mike Sica.
2013 was a memorable year filled with dramatic moments that shaped the industry. Here are my picks for the top stories and how they all intertwine.
Year of the Circuit Grinders
Since the inception of the WSOP Circuit in 2005, players have tried to follow the slogan, "First the ring, then the bracelet." Many players have utilized the affordable buy-ins to define their own playing style and some players have even made it to stardom like WPT champion Dwyte Pilgrim. However, no player had emerged during the WSOP to win the coveted gold bracelet … until 2013.
The Circuit Grinders announced their arrival to the poker world, winning five WSOP bracelets in Vegas and prior to the WSOP, Jonathan Hilton set off the fireworks by capturing the WSOP National Championship in New Orleans. The Tennessee native defeated a final table that included three WSOP bracelet winners and one WPT champ. Next, Jonathan Taylor parlayed his WSOP Circuit Southern Indiana casino championship and Black Hawk main event ring into a desired WSOP bracelet in Event 15, $1,500 no-limit hold'em. Then, Bryan Campanello decided to "tilt register" for Event 33, the $2,500 razz event, even though to his own admission he did not know that game very well. Nevertheless, the three-time WSOP circuit ring winner learned the game very quickly and three days later owned his very first WSOP bracelet.
Then, another WSOP Circuit grinder …
Loni Harwood not only wins a WSOP bracelet, but also competes for WSOP Player of the Year
Entering Event 60, the New York native had five cashes and two final tables during her stint in Vegas. She had come so close to winning her first bracelet during Event 31 (sixth) and Event 53 (fourth) and was finally able to seal the deal in one of the final events in Vegas, outlasting a field of 2,541 for $609,017. As the Rio closed its doors in August, Harwood was in contention for WSOP player of the year, but couldn't find more magic in WSOP Europe and ultimately finished in fourth behind the winner Daniel Negreanu, runner-up Mathew Ashton and another WSOP Circuit grinder, who did something very special in 2013...
Ryan Riess wins the WSOP main event
Not only did this Michigan native live the dream of every WSOPC grinder, but also every poker player in world when he captured the main event title. The youngest player at the final table, Riess confidently stated on ESPN that he felt he was the best player there. In November, he confidently backed up his words. Outlasting the field of 6,352, this 23-year-old earned $8.3 million and joined the ranks of poker immortality. While the WSOP Circuit grinders made their mark on the 2013 WSOP, our neighbors north of the border truly showed the poker world that they had arrived as …
Canada dominates at WSOP
As expected, the U.S. dominated the bracelet count with 41 victories, but unexpected, a record 10 bracelets were won this summer by Canadians. Benny Chen's victory in the inaugural Millionaire Maker and Kristen Bicknell in the $1,000 Ladies championship were two of the more memorable wins that placed Canada second in the race for countries with the most WSOP bracelets. Pretty good, eh?
Another Canadian won two bracelets in WSOP International events and had an extraordinary year as well …
Daniel Negreanu dominates 2013
Five to watch in 2014
Bluff's Lance Bradley explains why Daniel Negreanu's run is poised to continue in 2014. Players to watch »
Kick-starting his year in WSOP Asia-Pacific, Kid Poker followed up his fourth place finish in the mixed event by winning his fifth bracelet in the WSOP Asia-Pacific main event. Heading into the WSOP this summer, Negreanu was the leader in the player of the year race and held that position for most of the summer as he cashed six times. Matthew Ashton seized the lead as the players headed to Europe and Negreanu would need every event to claim the title and become the first two-time champion. Negreanu finished the year with an unparalleled trio of POY awards (WSOP, Card Player and Bluff) and earned $3.2 million.
Negreanu was not the only recognizable player to have a great 2013 as…
The "Old Guard" shows they can still play poker
The world of poker has been dominated by the young online superstars over the past several years. However, this year, the re-emergence of the "old guard" was prevalent especially at the WSOP.
• 2007 WSOP Player of the Year Tom Schneider entered the 2013 POY discussion by winning two more bracelets, both in HORSE (Event 15 and Event 29).
• 2008 WSOP Player of the Year Erick Lindgren had a highly-publicized stint in rehab for his gambling addiction. Emerging from the program, he offered up dominant play and finished second in the $25,000 WPT championship and won his second WSOP bracelet in Event 32.
• Mike Matusow began the year capturing the National Heads-up Championship with an entertaining victory over Phil Hellmuth. The Mouth then added his fourth bracelet in Event 13.
• Phil Ivey excited the poker world by capturing his ninth bracelet at WSOP Asia Pacific in the mixed event.
Another player who had an incredible year, but primarily in high roller events …
Philipp Gruissem dominates the High Roller scene
In 2011, Erik Seidel was the talk of the industry as he final tabled eight events with buy-in's over $20,000, winning three of them to pocket over $6 million in these tournaments alone. Many thought we would never such dominance again, but Philipp Gruissem's 2013 was filled with unimaginable success.
Gruissem cashed in 11 events in 2013 earning over $4.6 million. While that may have only put him fourth on the 2013 money list, it's essential to realize that his cashes came in events where no buy-in was lower than $5,000 and seven buy-ins were higher than $25,000. Oh, and in the cashes in $25,000 events, he made the final table in every one. Gruissem won three high roller titles including two WPT Alpha 8 tournaments back-to-back ($100,000 buy-ins in London and St. Kitts). His other victory was his victory in WSOP Asia-Pacific in the $50,000 High Roller rebuy event for over $863,386.
Although Gruissem dominated the high roller events in 2013, he did not cash in one of the largest tournaments of the year …
Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open crushes $10 million guarantee
When it was first announced, this grandiose tournament was met with much skepticism by the poker world. After the 2012 Partouche debacle, players did not believe that this outlandish guarantee would be met, especially for only a $5,300 buy-in. And without television, it was destined to fail … right? With the onboarding of Tournament Director Matt Savage and a plethora of satellites, the event began to show promise of achieving this astronomical goal. When registration closed, 2,384 entrants made up a prize pool of $11.9 million, and after five days of play, Blair Hinkle emerged victorious. The tremendous success of this tournament has prompted the Seminole Hard Rock to have another massive guarantee in April 2014, as well as one in September.
This tournament reminded us of the days when online poker boosted registration with satellites. This year, there was reason for slight optimism as…
U.S. Online Poker returns… or something like that
After Black Friday in 2011, the online poker landscape in the U.S. changed forever. The lives of millions of online players were altered, either having to relocate outside the U.S. or find another career (including becoming a live pro). There was a glimmer of hope this year as online poker launched in Nevada during the summer with Ultimate Poker (and then WSOP.com in September). In November, New Jersey joined the cyber marketplace and Delaware current offers the online game, but the player base is simply too small. The poker world needs federal regulation to be dominant once again and unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely to happen in the near future.
The domestic online scene is still a work in progress, but internationally a surge continues as the landscape continues to grow …
Peaks and valleys outside the US
Being the sole location of legalized gambling in China, Macau has become one of the gambling meccas of the world. High rollers flock to this locale and play in nosebleed poker games with the likes of Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey. These massive cash games even had an impact on the WSOP as the HKD $1 million buy-in Guangdong Asia Millions was held at the beginning of June, delaying the arrival of 2012 WSOP main event champion Greg Merson, 2010 WSOP main event champion Jonathan Duhamel, Erik Seidel, John Juanda, Gus Hansen, and Bertrand Grospellier to the WSOP. Germany's Niklas Heinecker captured the HKD $34.6 million (~$4.5 million) first prize over that star-studded field and put him on course for a breakout year.
The International Stadiums Poker Tour was hyped as an online live combo in the famed Wembley Stadium with massive prize pool guarantees. Elaborate marketing and hiring of well-known pros such as Michael Mizarchi, Liz Liu, David Benyamine and Sam Trickett hoped to guarantee an unprecedented turnout, but the timing and travel may have doomed this ambitious project from the start. Reminiscent of the Partouche Poker Tour, the guarantees were reduced and only 761 players participated in the live portion, creating a huge overlay of almost 600,000 euros. Polish online poker pro Jakub Michalak capitalized on the free money and earned one million euros for his victory.
The WSOP added a second International bracelet series with the creation of WSOP Asia-Pacific and was deemed a success after the events concluded at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia. In October, the tour headed to what may have been its final stop in Paris, France and then announced in November that WSOP Asia-Pacific and Europe would be held in alternate years, beginning with next year held in Melbourne.
Congratulations to all for a memorable 2013 and looking forward to another incredible year in poker for 2014.