This year we’re doing something a little different and breaking down our annual Poker Year In Review into three different parts – the Flop (January-April), Turn (May-August), and River (September-December). We’re wrapping up 2021 by taking a look back at some of our biggest stories, winners, and surprises that unfolded in one of the most unique years in the history of the game.
It seems like the action would never slow down in September. Everywhere you looked, there was a major tournament series holding a massive event and big-name taking it down.
The SHRB Europe Main Event wrapped up with Wiktor Malinowski earning a career-high score of $3.69 million while Aleksei Vandyshev scored $2.5 million by winning the GGPoker 2021 WSOP Online Main Event. PokerStars’ WCOOP came to a close with Russia’s ‘CrazyLissy’ hauling in $1.5 million. Plus, Niklas Astedt won his record-tying fourth career Super MILLION$ title for a mere $315K and Anatoly Filatov earned a career-high cash of $1.19 million in the Super MILLION$.
In the live arena, the World Series of Poker was gearing up and a vaccination mandate for all players to participate in the series dominated the headlines. The WSOP’s Ty Stewart addressed the concerns of players and announced an optional mask policy in an exclusive interview with PocketFives.
That wasn’t the only big news to come out of PocketFives as the new PocketFives Staking Platform was announced with Daniel Negreanu being the very first player to offer significant action on the site. He helped launch the new side of PocketFives by offering daily sweats for fans that wanted to enjoy the action of the WSOP right from their own home.
PokerGO captured some of the pre-WSOP excitement and action with the 2021Poker Masters. While there were plenty of winners, including Daniel Negreanu, the back-to-back victories in the final two events for Michael Addamo for a total of $1.84 million had the poker world buzzing. Addamo won the Poker Masters Purple Jacket but then, less than a week later, he won the 2021 Super High Roller Bowl for another $3.4 million and which was just the beginning of one of the most impressive high roller heaters in the history of the game.
A pair of former worldwide #1-ranked pros were featured as well. The first was Shaun Deeb who discussed his investment in vintage video games and how now was the time for him to turn his childhood nostalgia into record-setting profits.
“I love the games, it sucks to get rid of them but I know that the market’s really hot and so we’re going to unload our games and try to buy more. We’re trying to make a profit, but we love the games. I remember as a kid playing Contra and my wife used to play Zelda so it’s been really cool to have them in our collection.”
And Brazilian powerhouse Yuri Dzivielevski was determined to make the trip to Las Vegas to battle for bracelets and ahead of his arrival spoke of what it meant to him to be ranked #1 in the world and enjoy the best years of his career.
“I never loved playing tournaments as much as I do these days. Nowadays, I just play for performance, thinking about making the best decisions on every street and dominating my stakes as much as possible. I like to go further and take my opponents out of their comfort zone…because I’m a competitive person, that’s very exciting. If I feel like I’m not dominating my stake, I study hard until I can do it again,” he said.
Daniel ‘SmilleThHero’ Smiljkovic broke into Online Poker’s Top 5 en route to capturing September Player of the Month honors.
Technically, the World Series of Poker kicked off at the very end of September but the heart of the series ramped up in October. The first week proved to have some challenges with long lines for registration, but ultimately, The Reunion brought poker players back together and the excitement of a WSOP after a year away was in full swing.
There was no shortage of must-read storylines during the WSOP in October including Jason Koon winning his first bracelet, Shaun Deeb and Brian Rast winning their fifth, Adam Friedman completing a three-peat of the $10K Dealers Choice, Lara Eisenberg winning the Ladies Event, Anthony Zinno starting his own club, and Jeff Platt’s deep run in the $1,000 Double Stack Event.
Josh Arieh started to make some WSOP noise by winning his third career gold bracelet and helping investors turn $15 into $2K on the PocketFives Staking platform.
We shined a light on what it takes to win the WSOP Player of the Year, the greatness of the pro’s pro Connor Drinan, Ari Engle’s obsession with Omaha, and why men shouldn’t take it upon themselves to enter a Ladies Event.
Michael Addamo, again, defeated Justin Bonomo heads-up to capture his third WSOP gold bracelet and another $1.1 million score officially turning his 2021 winning streak into a piece of poker history.
But the story that had everyone talking was Phil Hellmuth and his run to his record-extending 16th gold bracelet. Off to the hottest start of a WSOP in his career, it seems like Hellmuth was for sure going to breakthrough. But before he did, he had a breakdown, where at the final table of the $10K Stud he uttered the now iconic words that he was going to “burn this motherf***ing place down.” He didn’t burn it down, instead he returned to yet another final table ($1,500 Deuce-to-Seven) and instead took it down
“I’ve wanted a Deuce To Seven bracelet ever since the 1980’s since it was the coolest bracelet to win because it’s the one tournament that Chip [Reese] and Doyle [Brunson] showed up for. All the big-name poker players, Billy Baxter, all the champions showed up for that,” he said. “And I wanted that bracelet so badly.”
“And so I’ve been fighting so ****ing hard for this bracelet for so long in the Deuce to Seven…but yeah, it feels really good.”
Rui ‘RuiNF’ Ferreira kept his online grind alive and walked away with the title of October Player of the Month.
By the time November rolled around, the World Series of Poker was full throttle with a number of amazing storylines playing out. This included Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates dressed in full cartoon costume taking down the $50,000 Poker Players Championship in for his first career bracelet and $954,000.
Plus, as if he hadn’t done enough winning in 2021, Michael Addamo scored yet another high roller victory winning the $100,000 High Roller for his fourth gold bracelet and another $1.95M. Other winners in November included Adrian Mateos, Kevin Gerhart, and Benny Glaser all grabbing a fourth WSOP bracelet, and Leo Margets taking down the Closer for her first gold bracelet.
In the midst of the WSOP, we published one of our most popular profiles of the year when Niklas Astedt, the notoriously media-shy online poker legend, agreed to a short interview and opened up about his beginning in the game and his ongoing quest to be the best.
But, before Margets could make it to the Closer, it was the Main Event that had people really tuning into the WSOP with major storylines like Doyle Brunson showing up on the featured table, Phil Hellmuth bringing his #whitemagic in the form of Gandalf the Wizard, and former champ Chris Moneymaker climbing to the top of the chip counts, giving people the feeling like it was 2003 all over again.
Plus, one of the sickest bad beats in Main Event history took place when quads ran into quads on the feature table.
In the end, German 31-year old high roller Koray Aldemir was the last player standing from a field of 6,550 runners to grab the $8,000,000 first-place prize and the title of World Champion.
But as the series sped to a close, there was one more award that had yet to be handed out. Josh Arieh had earned the second gold bracelet of the series and was in a prime position to take home the award. Even though Arieh had been announced as the winner, on the final day of the series there was some drama as to whether his crowning as the POY would hold. But in the end, Arieh faded the last-minute miscalculation and was declared the 2021 WSOP Player of the Year.
Before it was all over, we talked with Arieh to get his thoughts on his WSOP run and how he mentally persevered in 2021.
By the end of the WSOP, Eli Elezra was announced as the 60th member of the Poker Hall of Fame. As Elezra was giving his acceptance speech called for the PHOF to expand inductions to allow additional worthy candidates into the Hall.
In the end, the WSOP turned out to be an overwhelming success despite its challenges but it was also a success for those who rode with Negreanu in his series-long staking package.
While the focus of the poker world was on the WSOP, online poker was still providing plenty of drama including Bruno Volkmann finally dethroning Yuri Dzivielevski as the #1-ranked player in the world.
The typical lull that takes place after the World Series of Poker would have to wait until the holidays this year as players used the final weeks of the year to pursue one final score.
There were plenty of opportunities out there to choose from. The World Poker Tour dominated the month as Gediminas Uselis took down the Seminole Rock ’N’ Roll Main Event for more than $778,000 just ahead of the WPT’s return to Las Vegas for the Bellagio’s Five Diamond Main Event.
The WPT announced that, after 19 years, they’d be switching to having their Seasons match the calendar year meaning that the WPT Five Diamond Main Event would be the last of Season XIX. That meant that Taylor Black, the winner of the Five Diamond Main Event for $1.24 million would be the final WPT Champions Club of the current season.
But before the Main Event took place, the Bellagio ran a steady stream of high rollers which allowed Justin Bonomo, who had been on quite a run in 2021, to take back the top spot on the Hendon Mob’s All-Time Money List. However, Bryn Kenney who held the #1 spot for the past 28 months remained incredibly close signaling a possible two-way race for the foreseeable between the two high-stakes powerhouses.
David Mock, who is not a high-stakes reg of any kind, decided to take his shot in one of the Bellagio high rollers, scoring a direct hit and a $100K score, shining a light on a part of the poker dream.
Another name in the mix during the Five Diamond was four-time WPT Main Tour champ Darren Elias who opened up about the pressure he puts on himself to be the best.
On the virtual felts, Brazil’s Pedro Garagnani took over the top of the Online Poker Rankings for the first time in his career, and he also made the final table of PokerStars EPT Online Main Event. However, it was ‘WhatIfGod’ who pulled off the amazing feat winning back-to-back in EPT Online Main Events (there are only two in history.)
George Holmes, the 2021 WSOP Main Event runner-up, proved to be one of the most popular personalities to emerge from this year’s series. A month after he scored $4 million for his run, he was still trying to make sense of the whole journey. He talked with us about returning to reality, the thrilling final hand, and what’s next for the “Home Game Hero” in one of our most popular articles of the year.
And finally, the poker world celebrated the life of Henry Orenstein, the Poker Hall of Famer and inventor of the hole card cam, who passed away at age 98.
“This one man is the reason poker is as big as it is,” Jon Miller, former Head of NBC Sports “The reason poker is a multibillion-dollar business is because of this one man.”