There’s not a single year-end list that won’t be heavily influenced by the pandemic, and this one is no different. Nearly every industry faced overwhelming challenges in the face of COVID-19, the same was true for poker. As live poker events took a backseat to an online poker surge, some of this year’s brightest rising stars had career-making moments take place while playing online in the strangest of times.
While there were plenty of poker players (and personalities) who succeeded in continuing their poker pursuits in 2020, these are our five Rising Stars who took what this year gave them and used it to step into the spotlight.
Brunno ‘bbotteon’ Botteon
Some in South America knew what Brazilian poker powerhouse Brunno Botteon had to offer, but after a year where Botteon seemingly never cooled off, now the whole poker world knows how great he really is.
In 2020, no matter the online series, no matter the stakes, Botteon found a way to thrive. At the end of 2019, Botteon could regularly be seen playing mid-stakes, with the occasional high roller mixed in. That all began to change at the very start of 2020. In early January, on the same day at the same time, he finished as the runner-up in the PokerStars Winter Series $530 Main Event for $196,908 and third place in the Winter Series $5,200 Main Event for another $265,463.
The hot start to his year set him up to make deep runs in many of the marquee series that made the move online when forced to postpone their live events. During the World Series of Poker Online events on GGPoker, Botteon found himself in the mix for a bracelet in some of the most prestigious events of the series.
After he finished as the runner-up in Event #67 ($500 NLHE) for $41,855, Botteon made another final table in the $25,000 NLHE Poker Players Championship. He ended up finishing in sixth for $388,837 for what was, at the time, a career-high cash. He bested that just days later when he made it to the finals of the WSOP $25,000 Heads Up Championship. He finished in second place, just behind German superstar Fedor Holz, for a new career-high score of $622,300.
Botteon then turned his attention to the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker where he picked up his second career title in Event #36-H ($2,100 NLHE Midweek Freeze) for $80,642. He also finished as the runner-up in Event #48-H ($5,200 8-Max PKO) for another $95,458. By this time, Botteon had soared in the rankings and was sitting as the #3-ranked player in the world and was regularly competing and cashing in the biggest buy-in tournaments online.
However, as much as Botteon had already achieved in 2020, he decided to save the best for last. Botteon weaved his way through the international leg of the 2020 World Series of Poker hybrid Main Event, taking the chip lead into the live final table. The Brazilian made his way to Rozvadov where, in the end, he finished in second place to Damian Salas, but locked up his first career seven-figure score of $1,062,723. It was the third time in 2020 that Botteon set himself a new career-high cash and, in total, in his first WSOP experience, Botteon earned more than $2.16 million.
Sitting with more than $5.2 million in lifetime online earnings (excluding his WSOP Main Event haul) Botteon’s tenacity at the tables has helped him into online poker history as one of the elite few who has reached the top of the worldwide rankings. On December 12, Botteon finally became the #1-ranked player in the world, capping off an incredible year for one of 2020’s biggest breakout stars.
Artur ‘marathur1’ Martirosyan
Also known by his screen name ‘marathur1’, Russia’s Artur Martirosyan took his career to the next level in 2020 after capturing multiple titles and big-time cashes.
During the Poker Masters Online series in April, Martirosyan narrowly missed out on winning the Purple Jacket after cashing in nine of the 30 high roller event events for a total profit of $551,674. Just weeks later Martirosyan’s heater extended into the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker where he took down Event #17 ($10,300 NLHE 8-Max High Roller) for over $271,000. Days later he grabbed his second title of the series in Event #19 ($5,200 NLHE Midweek Freeze) to add another $157,426 to his ever-expanding bankroll.
In June, he was back dominating another Poker Central series when Martirosyan took a series victory in the Super High Roller Bowl Online Series. He made six final tables, eight cashes overall, over the series’ 27 events and he earned just under $1.8 million for his efforts.
He wasn’t done. After a deep run in the World Poker Tour World Online Championships Main Event, he took down the WPT Mini Super High Roller for $239,500 which led to the Russian being named player of the series and winning an additional $50,000 for topping the leaderboard.
When you make the leap from online micro-stakes to playing in some of the biggest live games Las Vegas has to offer in a matter of just a couple of years, people are going to take notice. That is exactly what 21-year old Landon Tice has done and his story, and talent, brought youthful energy and excitement to poker 2020.
For those that follow poker closely it was hard not to encounter Tice in some form or another, from his on-stream appearances with Joey Ingram to guest co-hosting the Solve For Why podcast with Matt Berkey and Christian Soto, Tice took little time letting his personality shine in the poker media. At the same time, Tice’s poker game has reportedly been taken under the wing of the likes of Nick Schulman, Andrew Lichtenberger, and Berkey among others.
Tice’s Las Vegas cash game exploits at the higher limits were recounted and analyzed on podcasts and social media. At the same time, he quickly proved that his talent translated to the tournament scene as well. Tice took down one of the few major live tournaments to take place this year, besting a field of 1,123 entries in the 2020 MSPT Venetian Main Event for a $201,529 first-place payday. And if the World Series of Poker is able to be run in its traditional form in 2021, one should expect to see a lot more of Landon Tice in the chip counts.
When it comes to seizing the spotlight in 2020, perhaps no one did it better than Ryan Depaulo. With his star already on the rise from his popular YouTube channel Ryan Depaulo: Degenerate Gambler, the New York pro successfully pulled off one of the most improbable WSOP gold bracelet victories of the year.
In order to play WSOP Online Event #13 ($500 No Limit Hold’em, The Big 500), Depaulo drove his car to a Whole Foods parking lot in New Jersey in order to “borrow” a little internet. From the front seat of his car, Depaulo played all night and reached the final table. When he got there, he dominated. Depaulo eliminated six of his final eight opponents and grabbed the gold bracelet and a $159,563 score as the sun rose over the hood of his car.
What WSOP Final Tables look like in 2020 pic.twitter.com/my9kQ4GbK8
— Ryan Depaulo: Degenerate Gambler (@depaulo_ryan) July 13, 2020
After he locked up the win, Depaulo, stunned, jumped out of his car and as the Whole Foods employees were coming in to start their morning shift he screamed out loud “I’m a Legend!”
He may not yet be a full-blown poker legend yet but if he continues to pull off insane feats like this one he might just be on his way to becoming one.
It would be fair to say that poker commentator Jeff Platt could have, and rightfully should have, been named a rising star a year ago. Maybe he was and if so, it would have been true. But in 2020, Platt found the opportunity to level up in poker once again by becoming one of the premier faces and voices of some of this year’s most-watched poker streams on Twitch.
If Nick Schulman is the current GOAT when it comes to poker commentary, then Platt is the People’s Champion. Platt seemed to be everywhere he was needed in 2020. From grabbing a glass of wine and anchoring the WSOP pre-final table broadcast throughout the summer, to holding down the GGPoker Twitch stream during the Polk-Negreanu challenge, you could count on Platt to be a consummate pro juggling talking thru the action with indulging the chat.
With so many events taking place online this year, plenty of content creators have taken a stab in the commentary booth, with varying degrees of success. But it’s Platt’s professionalism that will likely put him in line for more and more work in the poker industry for years and years to come.