2017 in Review: Mickey Craft and John Hesp Poker’s Top Characters

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John Hesp went from playing pub poker tournaments to being a fan favorite in the WSOP Main Event in 2017.

As the final days of 2017 slowly tick by, it’s time to take a look back at the year in poker. Over the last 10 days of the year, PocketFives is taking readers on a trip back in time to recap the last 12 months in a fun and unique way.

The first two stories looked back at the top five news stories from off the felt and the five best heaters. Now we fondly remember the players who brought more to the game than a GTO approach. Here we give you the top five characters of 2017.

#5 – Jackie Wang

When PokerGO announced the lineups for their ‘Leave it to Seiver’ episodes in mid-November, there was one player that was a bit of a head-scratcher. Jackie Wang was simply described as a “family and businessman from Macau” in the press release hyping the episodes. He turned out to be a lot more than that.

Showcasing an eccentric playing style and a desire to play as many pots as he could, Wang drew praise from viewers at home and the players he was playing with for his first appearance. It was during a December episode where the praise turned to scorn after he was found to be angle shooting against Farah Galfond. After the episode aired, the pair apparently made up.

#4 – Mickey Craft

One of the players who benefitted from having the World Series of Poker Main Event live on ESPN and PokerGO this year was West Virginia businessman Mickey Craft. After finishing Day 3 with a top 10 stack, word of Craft’s loose aggressive playing style made its way to ESPN producers. That’s when fans tuning in at home got their first taste of Craft.

Whether it was his endless table chatter or his desire to play any two cards at any time, Craft made the tables he was playing on fun not only for those watching at home but also for the eight other players sitting with him. The fitting end for Craft came when he was eliminated by Michael Ruane while holding 7c2s. He then returned to the table after collecting his $53,247 payout to buy the remaining players each a shot of Patron.

#3 – Martin Kabrhel

While Wang and Craft made their way onto this list be endearing themselves to poker fans, Martin Kabrhel basically did the opposite. While he was a bit of known commodity before 2017, Kabrhel showed up at the WSOP this year and found himself drawing the ire of his fellow players for being painfully slow and engaging in trash talk at almost any opportunity. Down to just two tables in the $10,000 Limit Hold’em Championship, Kabrhel found himself getting glares from the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Terrence Chan before being eliminated in 18th place.

Some even went as far as calling him the Czech version of William Kassouf.

He finished off the year by winning his first career WSOP bracelet at WSOP Europe and then thanks to some table talk that might have gone too far, almost wasn’t allowed in the casino for his bracelet ceremony. Cooler heads prevailed and Kabrhel was able to accept his bracelet.

#2 – Salomon Ponte

When 2017 began, Salomon Ponte was just some guy who won a WPTDeepStacks event in 2016 and had his winner interview video go viral. By the end of 2017 though, Ponte was a controversial figure who went through the highs of lows of being “internet famous”. Ponte first came to light again after seeing theCate Hall vs. Mike Dentale grudge match play out on Poker Night in America. Ponte wanted his own grudge match and soon began calling out as many PNIA regulars as he could in hopes of being added to a future lineup.

He got his wish in April when he joined Doug Polk, Shaun Deeb, Brandon Cantu and Dentale in Choctaw. His performance on that show, which saw him felted early, had him trying to sell his watch to other players to continue playing. His trash talk repeatedly crossed the line and by the end of the night, many were hoping to never hear from him again. Live at the Bike had to cancel his future bookings after much of Ponte’s social media antics crossed the line. He was then featured on a viral video after stiffing a Las Vegas restaurant for the bill.

The year wrapped up in sad fashion for Ponte as security footage of a Richmond Hill, Ontario poker game was released showing a player – believed to be Ponte – being assaulted by another player over an alleged debt.

#1 – John Hesp

The WSOP Main Event is often full of unique characters. While Craft was one of the first new stars born at the 2017 WSOP Main Event, Englishman John Hesp easily goes down as the most memorable. The 64-year-old normally plays in £10 buy-in tournaments at his local pub and decided to play the Main Event to cross it off of his bucket list. He ended up finished fourth for $2.6 million – and soon found himself a fan favorite of those watching at home.

Thanks to his amateur status, friendly nature and a unique taste in sports coats, Hesp made the atmosphere of the final table a little looser than years past. His willingness to show his cards after winning a pot and emphasis on enjoying the experience rather than maximizing his earning opportunity by studying push-fold charts had Twitter abuzz. Hesp made such an impression on the other final tablists that four months after play finished, sixth place finisher Bryan Piccioli traveled to England to spend time with Hesp.

Rather than let the fame and fortune that comes with a fourth place finish in poker’s most prestigious event go to his head, Hesp returned to England to a hero’s welcome and continued playing in the £10 buy-in tournaments.

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