The Top Ten Poker Stories of 2012


Although Father Time 2012 still has a couple of weeks to go before he gives up his throne to Baby New Year 2013, its time to look back over the past year to put the world of poker into perspective. It was a tumultuous year, to be honest, with one story that dominated throughout all twelve months, but there were other stories that also captured our attention.

10 – The Jonathan Duhamel Robbery

Bianca Rojas-LatraverseWhile it technically occurred around Christmas 2011, the robbery of former World Champion Jonathan Duhamel was a story that spilled over into the early part of this year. As you may remember, Duhamel was robbed and beaten just before Christmas last year by two men who walked off with his 2010 World Series of Poker Championship Event bracelet, a watch given to him by PokerStars to commemorate the achievement, and a wad of cash.

Credit must be handed out to the Longueuil Police Department, who acted quickly on tips and were able to capture all of those who were responsible for the robbery and assault as well as retrieve Duhamel’s money and property. Stunningly, it was Duhamel’s former girlfriend, Bianca Rojas Latraverse, who was the ringleader of the crime, giving information to confederates who actually executed the offense. Although there are some court situations to clear up, it does appear that all will see some significant jail time.

How did Duhamel handle the situation? In the first month of 2012 alone, he would rack up over $1.2 million in winnings at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and the remainder of 2012 wouldn’t prove to be too bad for him either. Jonathan was able to prove that, in his case, success is the best revenge!

9 – Antonio Esfandiari Wins “The Big One”

During this year’s WSOP, the brainchild of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte came to life in the “Big One for One Drop,” a million-dollar buy in event that became the biggest buy-in for a poker tournament in history. After 48 men (that’s right, no ladies got in the tournament) battled it out, Antonio Esfandiari was able to defeat Sam Trickett to take down the championship and the biggest prize ever paid in a single poker tournament, well over $18 million.

Esfandiari has readily admitted that he didn’t front the whole buy-in himself (he had backers who bought pieces of his action), but that didn’t stop him from walking off with a rumored $2-$4 million of that prize. The real winner of the event, however, was Laliberte’s pet cause, the One Drop charity, which earned $111,111 for each entry into the tournament that raised over $5.33 million to aid in their efforts to bring clean water to areas around the world where such access is lacking.

8 – In Memoriam

The world of poker lost one of its greatest showmen and advocates, former World Champion “Amarillo Slim” Preston, in April of this year. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only member of poker’s dysfunctional family to have departed our game here on Earth that will be tremendously missed.

Just a couple of weeks ago, esophageal cancer took the life of one of poker’s greatest wordsmiths, Lou Krieger. In July, poker pro and WSOP bracelet winner Ryan Young was taken in a car accident at the age of 28. These men all brought something to the world of poker that cannot be replaced and their departure has caused a great deal of sadness in the poker community.

7 – The World Poker Tour Returns To Canada

After not holding a tournament in Canada for almost four years, the World Poker Tour decided it was time to include the “Great White North” back into its fold in November. The result was one of the biggest WPT events in recent memory, solidifying that Canada is a fertile ground for future poker tournaments.

The 1,173 entries that made up the WPT Montreal, held at the Playground Poker Club in Quebec, broke the record for the largest ever tournament in Canada, beating out the 1,032 entries in Vancouver earlier this year for a WSOP Circuit tournament. With other circuits also setting foot in Canada, including the Heartland Poker Tour and the High Heels Poker Tour, Canada is proving that the United States isn’t the only stronghold for the game of poker in North America.

6 – Howard Lederer Just Doesn’t Get It

After an exile from the game for his actions (don’t worry, we’re getting to that), disgraced poker professional Howard Lederer attempted to rehabilitate his image and return to playing poker. After a series of interviews which question his memory, Lederer would first grace (?) the high stakes games of the Aria and the Bellagio in Las Vegas, then took the audacious step of actually entering the Bellagio’s Festa al Lago tournament. The resulting outrage from the poker community actually seems to have forced Lederer back into hiding as of the end of 2012.

Not only were players from around the world upset that he would get back into the game – while people still waited for their money from his former company – there were also rumblings of revolt among those voices. A Las Vegas player actually attempted to circulate a petition that would bar Lederer from playing at particular casinos or face a walkout by the players. This, at the end of the day, may have actually been successful in pushing Lederer back out of the game.

5 – The Epic Poker League Folds

epic-Poker-League-250Envisioned as the “professional” poker league that the poker world wanted, the Epic Poker League instead became one of the embarrassments of the past year. After starting off in late 2011 with a bang (and a tournament won by Canada’s Mike McDonald), the EPL would die off with a whimper as their parent company, Federated Sports & Gaming, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March and was eventually bought by Pinnacle Entertainment in July.

The inaugural season of the EPL ended with only three of the originally scheduled five events (four “regular season” tournaments and a “Tournament of Champions” that would have featured the top points’ earners in a freeroll) being completed and led to the disgrace of former WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and EPL Commissioner Annie Duke. The EPL was also beset with its viewpoint that it was the “police” of the poker world in controversies with first event winner David “Chino” Rheem (over his payment of backers) and a brouhaha over the participation of Michael DiVita in their final completed event.

4 – Phil Hellmuth Earns Bracelets #12 & #13

The unstoppable force that is Phil Hellmuth had a tournament poker year that is the envy of the entirety of the poker world, and don’t think he’s not going to let us forget it!

In June, the “Poker Brat” would step up to put some more distance between him and the duo of Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan by winning his twelfth bracelet in Event #18, the $2500 Seven Card Razz tournament. Surprisingly, this was the first time that Hellmuth had won a WSOP bracelet in a tournament that wasn’t a Hold’em format. He would then go on to finish in fourth place in the “Big One” to take down his biggest career cash of slightly more than $2.6 million.

Hellmuth wasn’t done with poker for the year, however. In October, Hellmuth took his antics to Europe for the WSOP and drove through the 420 player field to achieve his thirteenth bracelet victory over Sergii Baranov. The win puts him on another pedestal – the only player to win both the WSOP Championship Event and the WSOP-E Main Event – and nearly brought him to the WSOP Player of the Year award, which he was denied by our next subject.

3 – Greg Merson Wins WSOP Championship Event

While it was thought that the 2012 WSOP Championship Event final table would be a boring event – there weren’t many recognizable faces compared to previous years – it proved to be one of the most entertaining events of the 2012 tournament poker season.

After battling to the final three players, Greg Merson (who had captured the final preliminary bracelet before the start of the WSOP Championship Event), Jesse Sylvia and Jacob Balsiger went on an epic three-handed battle that seemingly wouldn’t end. The trio would fight it out for over 17 hours before Merson was able to vanquish Sylvia to take down the championship and the $8.5 million payday.

Since that time, Merson has kept a low profile but, perhaps with the New Year coming, he will step back “into the ring,” so to speak, and enjoy his reign as poker’s World Champion.

2 – The U. S. Government Fails In Online Poker Regulation

Something that the rest of the world would probably like to see – the return of American poker players to online poker sites – failed over this past year when the U. S. government was unable to pass federal regulation, although such regulation might still have excluded Americans from play.

Just this month, Nevada Senator Harry Reid pulled the plug on a proposed bill that he had put together with outgoing Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, leaving the millions of online poker players in the U. S. in limbo while the states figure out the landscape. Although some of the more profitable online players have moved to countries such as Canada to continue their online careers, the remainder of those in the United States still has no credible outlet to play real money poker – something that the international poker community probably misses.

1 – The Full Tilt Poker Saga

This subject alone dominated the poker world’s headlines and probably needs to be addressed in a series of articles! We’ll try to break it all down into a few paragraphs, however.

Over the past twelve months, several of the major players charged in the “Black Friday” indictments of 2011 have been apprehended and are or will face jail time for their actions. These gentlemen, the payment processors who were charged, all received between three to fifteen months for their actions.

In April, rumors began to abound that a settlement by PokerStars with the U. S. government – which would see the then-dark Full Tilt Poker sold to the online poker behemoth – was nigh, but those rumors wouldn’t come to fruition until August. With the settlement in place, PokerStars moved to bring back Full Tilt Poker, although it would only be for international players and not for those in the United States.

Full Tilt Poker exploded back on the online poker scene in November and has reassumed its position as the number two online poker site in the industry. Meanwhile, Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson both continue to fight their civil suits for their involvement with Full Tilt Poker, while Rafe Furst settled with the government. Former Full Tilt Poker Chief Executive Officer Ray Bitar still is awaiting trial for his “Black Friday” indictment and former PokerStars founder and honcho Isai Scheinberg remains at large.

As you can see, it has been quite a year for poker, both good and bad. As the calendar prepares to flip to 2013 (if we make it through that whole Mayan thing!), let’s hope the good outweighs the bad in the next twelve months.


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Earl Burton
Earl Burton is a veteran journalist in the poker industry, having covered the game since 2004. He has played the game much longer, however, starting out playing in family games at a very early age. He has covered tournaments across the United States, including the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker and various charitable events. Earl’s background includes writing for some of the top poker news sites in the industry as well as other poker media outlets that include Poker Player Newspaper and Canadian Poker Player Magazine. Earl keeps an unblinking eye on the poker world, offering coverage of news from the industry, tournament action, player interviews, strategy and his opinions on the game. Whenever possible, Earl will also step to the tables to demonstrate that there’s more than just writing talent behind his poker game!


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