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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. January Although we were officially in 2021, some of the most important business of 2020 had yet to be decided at the beginning of January as Damian Salas and Joseph Herbert met at a mostly empty Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas to play heads-up for a million dollars and determine who will earn the official title of 2020 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion. The finale was not without its detractors as an online version of the WSOP Main Event had been played out on GGPoker earlier in 2020, but Salas - who had made a previous live WSOP Main Event final table in 2017 - proved to be a worthy winner, taking home an extra $1 million and the WSOP Main Event bracelet. “I don’t play for the money, that’s not my goal,” Salas said after his win. “My basic motivation is to become better and better every day and remain a member of the world-class poker elite.” READ: Desire To Remain Elite Drives New World Champ Damian Salas While January continued to be full of interesting player news, including Chance Kornuth surrendering to Phil Galfond in the Galfond Challenge, Ilyas Muradi taking down the wildly successful WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open, and Jack Hardcastle winning the WPT Montreal Online Main Event for $447K, it was poker industry news that dominated the first month of the year. READ: Chris Moneymaker Reflects on 17 Years as Poker’s Everyman Ambassador For the fourth time in 12 years, the World Poker Tour had been sold in a deal with Element Partners, LLC for more than $78 million. “This deal will allow the World Poker Tour to do a number of things that its always wanted to do,” World Poker Tour CEO Adam Pliska said at the time the deal was announced, unable to completely expand on the nature of the takeover. “What I can say, however, is that for myself and my management team, we’re still here and it’s business as usual and we look forward to this exciting next chapter of the World Poker Tour.” That same week, perhaps one of the biggest stories of the year broke when The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission in their case against the U.S. Department of Justice, reversing a revised opinion of the Wire Act. In short, it was a big win for online poker players in the U.S., setting the stage for a potential boom of online poker in the United States in years to come taking away legal barriers for would-be states to get in on the action and even join multi-state compacts to expand the total liquidity for Americans. Almost as if on cue, PokerStars officially launched PokerStarsMI.com, becoming the first operator to offer Michiganders (and visitors to the state) the option to play online poker, legally and regulated, from inside the state. To close out the month, Brazil’s Brunno Botteon kept his 2020 hot streak in tact and ended up as the Online Player of the Month for January. February February started off with a bang. The months-long heads-up grudge match between Daniel Negreanu and Doug Polk came to an end after 91 days and 25,000 hands. Polk wrote his name in the history books, soundly defeating Negreanu and walking away a winner of roughly $1.2 million. “I’m very happy that I spent so much time preparing and I felt it really ended up helping me tremendously and that I got to execute at such a high level over such a long period of time,” Polk said just moments after the last hand of the challenge. Over the course of the match, the feud between the two seemed to morph into a respectful rivalry and Negreanu gave credit where it was due when it was over. “He deserved it. He played well. I thought he made really good adjustments. I thought he improved as the match went on. I thought he got better and better and sharper, in a lot of different lines,” Negreanu said. But that wasn’t the only high-profile high-stakes poker taking place in February as Tom Dwan emerged to take a seat in the newest iteration of High Stakes Poker on PokerGO and picked up a $300,000 win. Dwan’s appearance was a thrill for fans who were equally excited to have the popular programming back “on the air”. [caption id="attachment_637576" align="alignright" width="250"] Phil Hellmuth[/caption] READ: Hellmuth Rants, Palihapitiya Wins Big On Latest High Stakes Poker High Stakes Poker wasn’t the only poker mainstay to make a return in February as, after more than a year away from Las Vegas, the World Poker Tour was back in Sin City for the first time with WPT Venetian. The final table featured the aforementioned Jack Hardcastle, as well as the 2015 WSOP Main Event champion Joe McKeehen, but it was Qing Liu who took home the trophy and the $752,880 first-place prize. Brazil’s Yuri Dzivielevski was climbing into contention for the worldwide #1 spot in the Online Poker Rankings (something he ended up holding for the better part of 2021) and he also walked away with Online Player of the Month honors for February. March Polk and Dwan weren’t done keeping the poker world entertained as the season of High Stakes Poker stretched into March and both high-profile players continued to impress. Polk made what some have called “one of the best laydowns ever” in a massive hand against Phil Hellmuth that had the poker world buzzing for days while Dwan’s domination earned him another half-million win, showing that despite not being in the public eye he wasn’t showing any sign of rust. READ: Tom Dwan, Bryn Kenney Star in Biggest Pots of High Stakes Poker S8 Another massive winner in March was Vanessa Kade. Coming off her high-profile social media clash with Dan Bilzerian, Kade took that energy into the PokerStars Sunday Million 15th Anniversary online event and walked away with the win for a life-changing $1.5 million payday. Looking to replicate the same fervor of Polk and Negreanu’s heads-up battle, former #1-ranked online pro Fedor Holz sparked a beef with high-stakes cash game crusher Wiktor Malinowski and the pair agreed to take their feud to the felt. The feud was likely manufactured, and the heat wasn’t very hot, but fans were treated to a pair of high-stakes pros dedicating some time to entertaining viewers with the four-session challenge. Brunno Botteon lost his grip at the top of the Online Poker Rankings as Bert ‘Girafganger7’ Stevens took his third turn at the top but by the end of the month he made way for the surging Yuri Dzivielevski who took control and held on it in for the next six months. In case you missed these popular profiles of some of poker’s best we talked with Alex Butcher about becoming the #1-ranked player in the United States and the work he needed to do on himself in order to get out of his own way and be open to success. Speaking of success, Kevin Rabichow opened up about what led him to switch gears from being one of the world’s top online cash game grinders to taking up tournaments and dedicating himself to success. By the end of the month, Joao ‘Naza114’ Vieira took home the title of March Online Player of the Month. April One of our most popular articles of the year was published in April when PokerStars found Isai Scheinberg agreed to be interviewed for the first time after settling all of his legal troubles stemming from Black Friday. Scheinberg stepped into the spotlight and talked about the early days of PokerStars, the beginning of the poker boom, the fallout from Black Friday, and what he’s doing with his life after selling the company for nearly $5 billion. “I valued privacy, but I was not secretive. That’s not the same thing,” Scheinberg said talking to the media for one of the very first times. “I was working hard. I was very busy and I’m not the type of guy to go out and do PR.” READ: Isai Scheinberg: His Company, His Legacy, and How Black Friday Impacted Both The heads-up craze continued in April as Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu played in the first of three High Stakes Duel matches on PokerGO. The first was, for many, the most memorable as Negreanu had Hellmuth down to a 19-1 chip disadvantage. But Hellmuth used his #WhiteMagic to spin it back up and defeat Negreanu in what was about to become a reoccurring theme for High Stakes Duel. Both PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker and GGPoker’s Spring Festival took over the online poker scene, both offering massive guarantees and non-stop action in the middle of the pandemic. One person who couldn’t get enough was former #1-ranked Niklas Astedt who couldn’t keep himself out of the headlines, taking down multiple GGSF titles and adding to his SCOOP Legacy. Speaking of former #1’s performing in the spring, Simon ‘C Darwin2’ Mattsson picked up two SCOOP titles on the same day. Plus, Chris Moorman finally added a SCOOP title to his resume, after taking home the first SCOOP in his career. READ: Joakim Andersson Ships GGSF MILLION$ Main Event for $1.5M READ: SCOOP: Series Concludes As ‘kZhh’ Wins $10L Main Event TItle, $878K With an accumulation of a massive amount of leaderboard points, high-stakes legend Sami ‘LarsLuzak’ Kelopuro took down the Online Player of the Month title in April. The 2021 Poker Year In Review continues in Part 2.
Phil Hellmuth is in pole position to make it ‘sweet sixteen’ as he has made it to the final table of the 19th event of the 2021 World Series of Poker with a chip lead in the Seven Card Stud Championship. Hellmuth, otherwise known as ‘The Poker Brat’, bagged up 751,000 to lead the final seven, with Anthony Zinno close behind him in the counts on 730,000 chips. Hellmuth, Chidwick, McCelland Make $10K Stud Final Table It’s not only Hellmuth who will go into the final day of action as a recognized face looking to win more gold. Stephen Chidwick (266,000) and Jack McClelland (185,000) may have fewer chips, but anything can happen and the chips can change very quickly in mixed games. With James Chen (660,000), Jose Paz-Gutierrez (586,000) and Jason Gola (542,000) all still in contention, it is bound to be an entertaining final session on Monday evening. On Day 2, just three players made the money as the top 10 were paid with Daniel Zack busted in 10th place by Stephen Chidwick for a result worth $16,262, George Alexander eliminated in 9th place for $17,828, and Scott Bohlman losing his tournament life in 8th place for $20,480. Both Alexander and Bohlman were taken out by Jason Gola as the night wound to a close. WSOP 2021 Event #19 Seven Card Stud Championship Final Table Chipcounts: Phil Hellmuth - 751,000 Anthony Zinno - 730,000 James Chen - 660,000 Jose Paz-Gutierrez - 586,000 Jason Gola - 542,000 Stephen Chidwick - 266,000 Jack McClelland - 185,000 Mixed Triple Draw Lowball Event in the Balance as Early Hours End Play The $2,500-entry Mixed Triple Draw Lowball saw what should have been its final day end with heads-up on hiatus as Vladimir Peck and Venkata Tayi ended the action locked in a battle for the WSOP bracelet. The day began with 12 still in seats. Once play was down to the seven-handed final table, Brian Yoon had the chip lead, and several players were very short stacked. The lowest of the low was Carlos Rodriguez, who busted almost immediately in seventh place for $15,272 in A-5 Triple Draw, losing his stack to Joao Vieira. Hal Rotholz was the next player to depart, losing in 2-7 Triple Draw in a hand against Yoon and Venkata Tayi for a sixth-place prize of $20,828. He was followed from the event by Brian Yoon, but it was a protracted period of play that lasted beyond a dinner break and ended in a Badugi bust-out for $28,818 as Vieira again came out on top in the clash between the two remaining bracelet winners in the field. It was Badugi again that delivered Aaron Rogers from the event, as the American player fell victim to Vieira in fourth place for $40,443. Despite winning that hand, however, Vieira himself fell in third place for $57,558, albeit over an hour later. Losing in A-5 Triple Draw, Tayi was again the beneficiary, claiming a pot that gave him the leads heads-up with 5.3 million chips to Vladimir Peck’s 3.5 million. The heads-up battle that followed was so long that with the time approaching 3 am, both Peck and Tayi were asked if they wanted to play one more level or come back the next day. That level concluded with Peck on 3,275,000 chips, with Tayi in the lead on 5,575,000. Play will resume - and doubtless conclude - on Day 12 when the gold is finally won. WSOP 2021 Event #18 $2,500 Mixed Triple Draw Lowball Final Table Results: 3rd - Joao Vieira - $57,558 4th - Aaron Rogers - $40,443 5th - Brian Yoon - $28,818 6th - Hal Rotholz - $20,828 7th - Carlos Rodriguez - $15,272 The Field Narrows on Millionaire Maker Day 2 The Millionaire Maker has become one of the signature events on the WSOP calendar in Las Vegas and this year’s return to Rio has seen a total of 5,330 entries and a prize pool of just under $8 million. As the event name tells you, that means a million up top and after Day 2 trimmed the remaining 1,174 players down to just 170 hopefuls, it was Darryl Ronconi who bagged the biggest stack. Ronconi’s chip mountain of 2,545,000 is a three-bet and a call ahead of both Apolinario Luis (2,345,000) and Thomas Eychenne (2,275,000), both of whom have terrific stacks with which to attack Day 3, but they’re not the only ones. In the top 10 alone, there are some fearsome players armed to the teeth with raising chips, with Shahar Levi (1,955,000) and Faraz Jaka (1,625,000) standing out as ones to watch. A little further back in the field, Ryan Hagerty (1,100,000), Tristan Wade (1,500,000), Craig Varnell (765,000) Yiming Li (595,000), Stephen Song (1,385,000) all bagged up stacks at the close of play. So too did Vanessa Kade (1,520,000), who knows all about winning over a million after taking down the Sunday Million earlier this year. Kade detailed her personal experience of a fairly sour end to Day 1a on Twitter that has definitely seen some karma come her way on Day 2. https://twitter.com/VanessaKade/status/1446740649005367302 Every tournament win is a battle but perhaps never more so than at the World Series of Poker, with Ari Engel, who has already won a bracelet this series admitting it was some time before he hit his stride. https://twitter.com/AriEngelPoker/status/1447301982876626946 WSOP 2021 Event #17 Millionaire Maker Top 10 Chipcounts: Darryl Ronconi - 2,545,000 Apolinario Luis - 2,345,000 Thomas Eychenne - 2,275,000 John Fagg - 1,970,000 Shahar Levi - 1,955,000 Michael Mcnicholas - 1,670,000 Faraz Jaka - 1,625,000 Arie Kliper - 1,615,000 Luis Zedan - 1,570,000 Jeffery Wakamiya - 1,555,000 David Peters Survives Flip & Go Day 1 The $1,000-entry Flip & Go event, Event #20, saw just 23 players survive from a starting field of 1,232. David Williams had more tries than most at making the money in Event #20 and was applauded by most for his efforts on Twitter. https://twitter.com/dwpoker/status/1447343223844728832 When the dust settled, there were plenty of big names still in with a chance of adding what is a unique WSOP bracelet to their collection. Huy Lam (3,150,000) bagged up by far the biggest stack of the day and leads from Corey Bierria (1,880,000) by some distance. Players such as Rok Gostisa (1,115,000) and David Peters (1,105,000) will look to use all their experience to put themselves in contention for the top prize. Others, such as Daniel Negreanu, Shaun Deeb, and Gal Yifrach all busted before the close of play. WSOP 2021 Event #20 $1,000 Flip & Go Top 10 Chipcounts: Huy Lam - 3,150,000 Corey Bierria - 1,880,000 Krista Farrell - 1,700,000 David Towson - 1,600,000 Mark Ingram - 1,385,000 Joao Valli - 1,350,000 Fred Goldberg - 1,245,000 Roman Hrabec - 1,200,000 Rok Gostisa - 1,115,000 David Peters - 1,105,000 Daniel Negreanu, Ari Engel Bag Chips In $1,500 Mixed Omaha 8 There were 640 players who took on the $1,500 Mixed Omaha Hi-Lo 8 or Better event and after a long first day of the tournament, only 199 players zipped up chips. It is local Henderson, Nevada-based player Scott Abrams who leads the pack with 275,000 chips, but plenty of other big players are still in with a great chance of a deep run, with Ari Engel (238,000) going for his second bracelet this live series. Others such as Daniel Negreanu (147,000), John Monnette (103,500), Randy Ohel (83500), Dylan Linde (106,500), and Derek McMaster (162,500) all bagged up chips, with stars such as Eli Elezra, Mike Matusow, Nathan Gamble, Jake Daniels, Ken Aldridge, Ben Yu, and Barry Greenstein. WSOP 2021 Event #21 $1,500 Mixed Omaha Hi-Lo or Better Top 10 Chipcounts: Scott Abrams - 275,000 Ari Engel - 230,000 Nathaniel Katzoff - 222,500 PJ Cha - 215,000 Cody Scherer - 207,000 John Cernuto - 178,000 Yonatan Smith - 177,500 Edward Han - 167,000 Derek McMaster - 162,500 Julien Martini - 150,500 Chance Kornuth isn’t just a former WSOP bracelet winner but would not stand by and watch a dealer getting berated. The comments section on his latest act at the poker table tell how most players and fans back his actions. https://twitter.com/ChancesCards/status/1447361730598748166 The spirit of fun seems to have taken over players of the highest standard, with poker legend Erik Seidel joking about a ‘ruff’ time over at his table. https://twitter.com/Erik_Seidel/status/1447470233166307334 Finally, he may not be at the World Series of Poker yet, but if the Rio does play host to Dan ‘Jungleman’ Cates, then it could be the closing story we all need. Just... unique. https://twitter.com/junglemandan/status/1447263387541557249