Poker's biggest moments from 2014

ESPN staff
January 6, 2015

[+] EnlargeJacobson
AP Photo/John Locher Martin Jacobson celebrates after winning the 2014 WSOP main event.

2014 was filled with some interesting storylines related to the world of poker including Phil Ivey’s baccarat lawsuit, the closing of Atlantic City casinos (thankfully the iconic Taj Mahal was saved for the moment) and continued buzz about the possibility of Rounders 2. In the direct world of poker, 2014 had numerous memorable moments. Here is a look back at my top 14 stories/moments in 2014 in chronological order.

Chip Gate
At the Borgata Winter Open, the opening $560 no-limit hold ’em tournament was comprised of 4,814 entries. With 27 players remaining, the tournament was halted due to the discovery of counterfeit chips that were put into play. After the neighboring Harrah’s Resort and Casino reported 2.7 million in counterfeit Borgata chips were found flushed down a toilet, Christian Lusardi of North Carolina, who was staying on property, was arrested and charged with the crime. The remaining 27 players divided up the remaining prize pool (with many not pleased with the decision) and over 2,000 players were refunded their buy-in amount. As a result of this criminal act, Borgata purchased technological advanced poker chips that have more colors and can be validated under ultraviolet light.

Full Tilt Finally Pays Back Players
Ever since Black Friday (April 15, 2011), tens of thousands of American Full Tilt poker players collectively had millions of dollars held in cyber oblivion. Over the past few years, the drain on these players’ bankrolls dramatically hurt the poker economy. In February 2014, the millions of dollars began to be returned to their rightful owners. Players were grateful to Full Tilt’s major competitor, PokerStars, which took control of its main competitors debt, by purchasing the company in 2012, and fulfilled their promise to return all of the owned funds.

Blair Hinkle wins again … and again
One of the biggest winners in the Full Tilt poker reimbursement was Blair Hinkle. The Kansas City native had won the largest prize in Full Tilt Poker history (over $1.1 million) just weeks before Black Friday. Although “blur5f6” suffered for almost three years, Hinkle was less concerned financially after he captured the inaugural Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open (SHRPO) in August of 2013 for almost $1.75 million.

Nevertheless, Hinkle was thrilled to finally receive his Full Tilt pay day of over seven figures.

“It was like winning the tournament all over again,” exclaimed Hinkle.

In addition to this “win,” Hinkle celebrated a couple of months later in his second hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa. In April, he returned to defend his World Series of Poker (WSOP) Circuit main event title at the Horseshoe. Weaving through a field of 247 entrants, Hinkle was able to make history as he not only defended his title, but also became the first player ever to win three WSOP Circuit main event titles at the same location.

Back-To-Back Boys
Winning a poker tournament is an incredible achievement. However, winning two tournaments back-to-back is what dreams are made of. This year, three such players needed to pinch themselves to see if their achievements were real.

Mike Leah wins two WSOP Circuit rings in one day - After winning the $580 no-limit hold ’em tournament at the Bicycle Casino on March 15th, he registered late for the $365 no-limit hold ’em turbo and won that event as well. The Canadian continued his run later in the year as he finished runner-up to Dan Coleman in the 2014 SHRPO for $1.05 million. He followed up this seven figure score, with his first bracelet at WSOP Asia Pacific.

Darren Elias goes back-to-back on World Poker Tour (WPT) - In 2012, Marvin Rettenmaier won back-to-back WPT main events, but these events were technically in two different seasons. Elias took down the WPT Borgata Poker Open in September and two months later, repeated the feat at WPT Caribbean on St. Maarten. These two wins were worth over $970,000 and the lead in the WPT Player of the Year race.

Aaron Massey wins back-to-back Heartland Poker Tour (HPT) events. - After winning the Ameristar Casino Hotel East Chicago in his hometown seven weeks earlier in August, Massey followed up his victory with another win at the HPT Club One main event in Fresno, California. With these two wins and a runner-up finish earlier in the season, Massey easily won HPT Player of the Year.

Coren Mitchell becomes first female two-time champ

While the WPT does not have a main event female champion, the European Poker Tour (EPT) certainly does. Having won EPT London in 2006 (the 16th EPT event), Victoria Coren Mitchell captured the EPT San Remo, the 98th event, for over $650,000. In December of 2014, Coren Mitchell was once again in the news, as she parted ways with Pokerstars due to her desire not to promote online casino games.

Aces vs. Aces
Rarely does a single hand constitute a top ten moment unless it is the final hand of a tournament. However, with the magnitude of the $1 million One Drop tournament and since the hand was seen by millions on ESPN, this hand was definitely one of the top moments of 2014. The aces beating aces hand was talked about around the water cooler for weeks. During the $1 million One Drop event, Americans Connor Drinan and Cary Katz revealed that they had pushed all-in, both holding the best hand in poker: pocket aces. Katz held As-Ah and with the board of Kh-5h-2d-4h-2h, eliminated Drinan in 18th place, well before the money in the cruelest of fashion.

WSOP honorary bracelet for Chad Brown
In 2014, poker lost several members of the community including European poker pro Johannes Strassmann, WSOP dealer “Elvis Joe” LeVine and author/player Tony Korfman. The poker world was also dealt a terrible blow with the passing of Chad Brown. Originally an actor and athlete from New York, Brown became a household name in poker via television with his appearances on WSOP broadcasts and as the host of Ultimate Poker Challenge. As a player, he earned over $3.5 million with 38 WSOP cashes including three runner-up finishes. Unfortunately, the ultimate poker prize eluded him during his illustrious career.

In 2011, Brown announced that he had diagnosed with liposaracoma. After numerous surgeries and treatments, the rare form of cancer took his life on July 2nd. However, before he passed, the WSOP presented Brown with an honorary bracelet. Although he was too sick to attend the Las Vegas ceremony, the precious jewelry was rushed across the country and put on his wrist, just before he passed.

Emergence of new reticent young superstar
Dan Colman’s reluctance to speak with the media after his One Drop victory was met with mixed reviews in the poker world. Later, he disparaged Phil Hellmuth on the 2+2 forums. Whether you agree or disagree with his rationale, no one can argue the incredible year that Colman has had in 2014.

With over $22 million in earnings in 2014 alone, Colman has made his mark in the world of poker. He captured four high roller titles including the $1 million One Drop and $10 million guaranteed SHRPO. He had 11 cashes, all except three worth more than $110,000, and made nine final tables. Many poker players would love to have Colman’s 2014 statistics for a career.

WSOP Player of the Year: Danzer vs Shack-Harris
George Danzer had come close to winning a WSOP bracelet prior to 2014, but after an incredible 2014 WSOP campaign, the German poker pro captured the honor of being WSOP Player of the Year. Ultimately, he cashed 10 times, while winning three bracelets. Only five other players (Puggy Pearson, Ted Forrest, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, and Jeff Lisandro) have won three bracelets in one year.

The POY race was not a runaway for Danzer as he fought a seesaw battle against Brandon Shack-Harris, who won Event 3 and finished second two more times throughout the duration of the Series. Entering the WSOP APAC, Shack-Harris held a slight lead, which changed multiple times in Melbourne, but in the end, Danzer’s third bracelet helped him clinch the POY title for 2014.

Hall of Fame inducts Negreanu and McClelland
On the Sunday before the 2014 WSOP main event, poker pro Daniel Negreanu and longtime tournament director Jack McClelland were inducted into the 2014 class of the Poker Hall of Fame. The ceremony took place in Downtown Las Vegas, back at the old Benny’s Bullpen (now called the Longhorn Room) at Binion’s.

The reserved Jack McClelland asked fellow Hall of Famer, Phil Hellmuth to address the crowd for him. Afterward, the charismatic Negreanu, who turned 40 in 2014, was an obvious first ballot inductee and had his agent, Brian Balsbaugh introduce him.

These two well deserving inductees joined this very distinct club as they are only the 47th and 48th members of the Poker Hall of Fame. Here are their thoughts on induction from the Poker Edge podcast.

Sweden has a new father (of poker) and Newhouse's déjà vu
After seven grueling days and the eliminations of 6,674 players, the 2014 WSOP main event final table was set on July 15. Headlining the group was 2013 November Niner Mark Newhouse, World Foosball Champion Billy Pappas, amateur Brazilian Bruno Politano, and Belgian chip leader Jorryt Van Hoof.

When the nine players returned to the Penn Teller Theater, Sweden’s Martin Jacobson played masterful poker from start to finish. Utilizing all facets of his game from shortstack (he was under 10 big blinds at one point) to big stack play, Jacobson battled his way to the top, besting fellow poker pro, Norwegian Felix Stephensen, heads-up. The former chef captured the most coveted bracelet in poker, while earning $10 million for first place.

Newhouse set an unprecedented mark of back-to-back November Nines, but the more shocking result was his second consecutive ninth-place finish. Newhouse was devastated finishing in 9th place in 2013 and entered play third in chips in 2014, vowing to not repeat last year’s finish. Unfortunately, he was unable to make this prediction come true. It was estimated by ESPN Stats and Info that the odds of this back-to-back finish was approximately 42 million to 1.

Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Overlay
In 2013, many players were skeptical that the inaugural $10 million guarantee would be met, or even honored, by the Seminole Hard Rock. However, with 2,384 entries in the event, the guarantee was blown away and ultimately won by Blair Hinkle. The poker world was very optimistic and anticipation of a high number of entrants once again in 2014, but the SHRPO was unable to meet the guarantee via buy-ins as he only had 1,499 entrants. The lack of turnout created one of the biggest overlays in the history of poker: $2.5 million.

Familiar faces add to their WSOP jewelry collection

- John Hennigan ($50,000 Poker Players Championship)
- Vanessa Selbst ($25,000 Mix-Max no-limit hold ’em)
- Brock Parker ($10,000 Omaha 8-or-better)
- David Kitai ($3,000 six-max no-limit hold ’em)
- Dutch Boyd ($1,000 no-limit hold ’em)
- Dominik Nitsche (WSOP National Championship and $1,000 no-limit hold ’em)

Some significant milestones:

- Ted Forrest defeated Phil Hellmuth heads-up in the $1,500 razz event to capture his sixth bracelet. After capturing three in 1993 and two more in 2004, Forrest had a drought for the past decade. However, he broke out this year to add to his trophy case.

- Jeffrey Lisandro captured his sixth WSOP bracelet in the AU$1,650 pot-limit Omaha event. Lisandro and Forrest are currently tied with Daniel Negreanu, Jay Heimowitz, TJ Cloutier and Layne Flack for ninth overall on the all-time bracelet list.

- Phil Ivey captured his 10th WSOP bracelet by winning the $1,500 eight-game mix event. He's now tied in second place overall with the legendary Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson, and is only three behind the leader, Phil Hellmuth.

Ultimate Gaming closes
In April of 2013, Ultimate Gaming was the first company to open its online poker doors to Nevada residents. Expectations ran high with the re-emergence of online poker in the United States. However, in 2014, the company closed its virtual doors in both New Jersey (in September) and Nevada (in November). Although it had first mover advantage over other companies such as Caesars, Ultimate Gaming could not gain traction and emerge as a key player in the online industry


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