2017 in Review: Papazyan and Sontheimer Become Breakout Stars

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Art Papazyan won the first two World Poker Tour events he ever played to permanently put himself on the poker map.(WPT photo)

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.

So far we’ve gone over the top five off-the-felt news stories of 2017, broken down the top heaters of the year, and introduced you to the game’s newest characters.

Next on the list of PocketFives end of the year rankings belongs to the game’s rising stars. Art Papazyan and Steffen Sontheimer had their heater, resulting in a breakout year coming full circle.

#5 – Vivian Saliba

In a year of players becoming their own brand, Vivian Saliba established she is on her way to becoming an established name on and off the felt. The 24-year-old Brazilian became an 888poker ambassador and the face of Brazil’s ever-growing poker love affair.

Saliba earned her stripes by cashing in big buy-in events including the $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha WSOP event along with the Main Event. With a brand ready to push her toward a global audience, Saliba should play more global events in the new year to push her newfound star higher than it already is.

#4 – DJ Alexander

For a player who didn’t win any major tournaments the entire year, DJ Alexander left a major footprint in every part of the country where he played. With over $700,000 in tournament earnings won on smaller tours coming into the year, Alexander wasn’t well known by the main viewing population but is now a face fans won’t soon forget.

Alexander started his campaign by placing fourth in the WSOP Circuit Main Event at Choctaw. A few months later, Alexander exploded on the World Series of Poker stage with his true breakthrough score.

In a field of 7,761, Alexander took second in Millionaire Maker and earned $754,499 for his amazing run. That was the start of Alexander’s major tournament run as he cashed in anything and everything in the latter part of 2017. After Millionaire Maker, Alexander made the final two tables in Little One for One Drop, the SHRPO Championship, and WPT Choctaw,

The peak of Alexander’s string of four straight top-15 finishes came in August when he made it to the WPT Legends of Poker final table. Under the WPT lights, Alexander’s charisma popped as he hung with the likes of Phil Hellmuth and JC Tran.

Coming into 2018, Alexander has a chance to ride his wave of momentum and capture the big win that he came close to many times this year.

#3 – Alex Foxen

When the whole poker world was watching, Alex Foxen put on one of the best final table performances of the year. Foxen surged from the back of the pack to second place and over $1 million in the WPT Five Diamond Classic to put a bow on his strong campaign.

During 2015 and 2016, Foxen was a face seen deep in multiple major events, including WPTs at Borgata and Seminole, but never managed to get over the proverbial hump. In 2017, there were no bounds stopping Foxen. He cashed 13 times at the World Series of Poker and made a strong push for Player of the Year with two final table finishes.

The first step in Foxen’s rise to prominence was when he came back from a single blind to win the SHRPO Big 4 $2,650 and over $200,000. Jason Koon and Faraz Jaka saw up close how talented Foxen when he defeated them at the final table. Soon, the whole world witnessed it as he overcame a record-setting field at the Bellagio.

Foxen’s first seven-figure score is a tad bittersweet as he fell shy of a WPT title but his reaction afterward was of a player proud of his hard work paying off in a great way. Come next year, expect to Foxen deep in more than a few major events as he pursues his next set of challenges.

#2 – Art Papazyan

Sam Panzica was regarded for his skills a few years before he won two WPT titles in Season XV. Anthony Zinno already had a WPT title before he won back-to-back in Season XIII.

As early as the first quarter of 2016, Art Papazyan was a security guard and a college dropout. Now, he’s a two-time WPT Champion. Papazyan grinded his way through the cash game world of Los Angeles to the point where he earned the nickname of ‘King Art’ on the Live at the Bike show. Games in the neighborhood of $50/$100 were within Papazyan’s range. He was already a winning player enjoying life.

Papazyan is the first to admit he’s not a tournament player but his overall poker skills proved able to transfer over in well-structured events. In his first ever World Poker Tour event, Papazyan beat Phil Hellmuth heads up to win Legends of Poker in his hometown.

Given the chance to chase the elusive WPT Player of the Year title, Papazyan traveled to WPT Maryland where he won title #2. Combined, Papazyan earned over $1 million for the two wins and has a wide gap between him and the field heading into the second half of Season XVI.

Although he had the bankroll to do so, Papazyan chose not to play this year’s WSOP Main Event. Now, Papazyan is in prime position to win one of the most sought-after individual player awards in poker.

At 25 years old, Papazyan has a lot of poker left in his career and only he knows just how many tournaments that will include. Regardless, Papazyan’s run in the latter half of 2017 is forever etched in history as his star rises among the public.

#1 – Steffen Sontheimer

The latest in the line of the German factory of excellence, Steffen Sontheimer went from having under $500,000 in live earnings to being crowned the ever first Poker Master. In fact, Sontheimer didn’t have his first six-figure result of the year until April.

It was at the PokerStars Championship in Monte Carlo where Sontheimer final tabled the €100,000 Super High Roller. Then, Sontheimer went to Las Vegas for the summer and crushed everything in his path. Call it a heater or a game solve, Sontheimer consistently fared well in $25,000 and $100,000 buy-ins, notching 10 top-10 finishes between April and December, not counting Poker Masters.

It was the Poker Masterswhere Sontheimer left his biggest mark. His skill and run good wrecked the best players in the world for a week straight and earned Sontheimer almost $2 million. The whole poker world looks forward to his encore next year.