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Poker News | World Poker News

A Peek Back at the Poker Biz in 2008

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No one can say that 2008 was an uneventful year in the poker business. Some, quite frankly, are saying that it may go down in history as one of the most important years in the game’s evolution because of the monumental political happenings, the WSOP delayed final table, and the resolution of two major online poker scandals…just to name a few of the events that took place in 2008. Perspective aside, however, 2008 boasted of some major poker milestones that should not be forgotten.

Live Tournaments

As tournaments grow, expand to more countries and regions than ever before, and boast of memorable winners, it is all the more important to take a look back at the major events on the live tournament circuit in 2008.

The year began with Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier capturing the $2 million first prize in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. After having been added to the European Poker Tour (EPT) circuit, the event gained even more momentum and attracted players from around the world. The French Grospellier grabbed his first major tournament win after having come close in a previous EPT event, and it was the start of what would be a stellar year for the former professional video game player.

Another major tournament took place at the end of January and at the other end of the world. The Aussie Millions saw Alexander Kostritsyn beat Erik Seidel at the final table to take the $1,650,000 AUD grand prize, and Russia would have its first of many stars to take a place on the world stage of poker.

After the EPT stop in the Caribbean in January, the tour went back to European soil for the remainder of its Season 4 tournaments. Young internet player Michael “Timex” McDonald stole the show at the Dortmund stop and took the title there, Michael Shulze won the Polish Open in Warsaw, and Jason Mercier was an online qualifier who took it all the way to a victory at San Remo in Italy. Finally, at the luxurious Monte Carlo for the EPT Grand Finale, Glen Chorny took down Denes Kalo to emerge as the EPT Monte Carlo champion and win an unprecedented $3,198,500 first prize.

The EPT then launched its fifth season in September with much fanfare and the first ever EPT Awards in Barcelona, where Trond Eidsvig won Best Newcomer, Julian Thew was given the Performance of the Year award, the People’s Choice honor went to Mike McDonald, and Luca Pagano won the Player of the Year. The season then kicked off with German player Sebastian Ruthenberg claiming the EPT Barcelona title, Michael Martin taking EPT London, and Jason Mercier winning a special EPT London £1 Million Showdown by defeating John Juanda. On down the EPT trail in November, Will Fry took the Budapest title while Joao Barbosa won the Polish Open in Warsaw. The year ended with the first ever Italian EPT champion in Salvatore Bonavena, who won the EPT Prague event.

The PokerStars-sponsored Latin American Poker Tour got off the ground in May with its first ever tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Julien Nuitjen captured that first LAPT title, and Jose Miguel Espinar followed by winning the second event in Punta del Este, Uruguay. The second season of the LAPT kicked off in Costa Rica, where Ryan Fee grabbed the victory. A funny thing happened when the LAPT attempted to travel to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, however. At the end of Day 1, with 89 players remaining in the tournament, government officials shut down the tournament, and when negotiations fell through with the event organizers, the tournament was cancelled. No word on whether the camera crew’s equipment was ever returned from its confiscated state, but the decision for the players was to have them play to the final table online and play the actual final table at the next LAPT stop in Chile in January of 2009.

PokerStars took its Asia Pacific Poker Tour to Macau in 2008 where it set records with the 538-player field in China, and Eddie Sabat won first place there for more than $450,000. The APPT then went to Sydney to wrap its season in Australia and did so with a $1 million AUD prize pool; local player Martini Rowe took that tidy sum home. The APPT then kicked off its next season in the Philippines, where Van Marcus took the title there.

It was the World Series of Poker that made some of the biggest live tournament news of the year, starting with the announcement in May that the 2008 main event final table would be delayed until November in an attempt to create drama and excitement with the TV audiences and media. And when the WSOP began in Las Vegas at the end of May, it would turn out to be one of the most exciting years of the series to date.

WSOP bracelets were won by some of the most popular and recognizable names in poker, such as Daniel Negreanu, David Benyamine, Barry Greenstein, Layne Flack, David Singer, Max Pescatori, Dario Minieri, Mike Matusow, Nenad Medic, J.C. Tran, Vanessa Selbst, Kenny Tran, Sebastian Ruthenberg, and Rob Hollink. Erick Lindgren won his first WSOP bracelet, and John Phan won two. Two brothers won events at the 2008 WSOP - Blair and Grant Hinkle - and Scotty Nguyen won the coveted $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event for a prize of nearly $2 million, though not without controversy as he bad-mouthed competitors like second place finisher Michael DeMichele and created a tense environment with third place player Erick Lindgren.

When it came time for the WSOP main event, a total of 6,844 players registered to play, making it the second biggest tournament of all time, second only to the 2006 WSOP with its 8,773 players. With the first place prize set at $9.1 million, action got tense as the final days of the main event took place. Excitement and controversy came from Tiffany Michelle, the last female player standing who finished in 17th place, and other players who made deep runs like Phil Hellmuth. But when it was all said and done with the final table set for November, St. Louis native Dennis Phillips was in the lead. The rest of the November Nine, as they came to be called, were Ivan Demidov, Scott Montgomery, Peter Eastgate, Ylon Schwartz, Darus Suharto, David “Chino” Rheem, Craig Marquis, and Kelly Kim.

And when they returned to Las Vegas on November 9th to play for the win, Phillips could only make it to third place, and the lengthy four-hour heads-up battle ensued between Denmark’s Peter Eastgate and Russia’s Ivan Demidov. Eastgate came out on top in the wee hours of the morning of November 11th in front of theater packed with fans and media. Eastgate took home $9,152,416 for first and became the youngest ever WSOP main event winner, while Demidov took $5,809,595 for second.

Before Eastgate claimed his historic victory, the second annual WSOP Europe took place in London, beginning in September and consisting of four events. All tournaments were held in one casino, as opposed to three in 2007, and when the mini-series wrapped in October, it was well-known poker pro John Juanda who survived the 22-hour final table and took the title of WSOP Europe main event champion. It should be noted that Ivan Demidov also made that final table as he awaited his shot at the WSOP main event in Vegas and finished a very respectable third place.

As the WSOP enjoyed great success in 2008, the World Poker Tour had its share of troubles. It began the year with a refusal by GSN to renew its contract to air Season 7 shows, and WPT Enterprises had to look elsewhere for a broadcast partner, as well as trim its 2008-2009 tournament schedule by nearly one-third of its previous season stops. It finally found one in Fox Sports Net, though the monetary gain that the WPT shows had found on other networks was forfeited for the sake of exposure and a new television home. WPT Enterprises also found another show opportunity with FSN called ClubWPT, which took winners from its online subscription service, flew them to Los Angeles, and gave them a chance to compete in front of cameras for the chance at a few thousand dollars.

Later in the year, as Season 7 was in full swing, the WPT signed a sponsorship deal with Full Tilt Poker. The .net site would sponsor the shows in exchange for exclusive rights for educational gaming advertisements throughout the season of shows once broadcast began on FSN.

As far as tournaments went, the WPT had an amazing year of champions. For the second half of Season 6, it was Brett Faustman who claimed the first 2008 WPT victory at the World Poker Open in Tunica, but it was Gavin Griffin who won the Borgata Winter Open, claiming a title and becoming the first ever player to win the so-called “Triple Crown” of poker - WSOP, EPT, and WPT titles. Following that was a long-awaited victory by Phil Ivey at the L.A. Poker Classic, and Brandon Cantu took down the Bay 101 Shooting Star title. Lee Markholt also claimed a hard-earned WPT title at the World Poker Challenge in Reno, and Erik Seidel won the Foxwoods Poker Classic. All of that led up to the Season 6 WPT World Championship at Bellagio, where David Chiu went into heads-up action against Gus Hansen as the severe underdog but came back to claim the title.

Season 7 began with the Bellagio Cup and Michael Watson taking down that tournament, followed by the on-fire John Phan, who came off his double WSOP wins to claim the Legends of Poker title at the Bicycle Casino. Vivek Rajkumar won the Borgata Poker Open, Glen Witmer took the North American Poker Championship in Canada, Bertrand Grospellier continued his great 2008 run by becoming the champion at the Festa al Lago in Vegas, and Jonathan Little won the Foxwoods World Poker Finals. And capping off the year, David Rheem parlayed his seventh place WSOP finish into a WPT win at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio in December.

Other significant tournaments in 2008 included the PartyPoker Premier League II, which was won by longtime pro Andy Black; PartyPoker Premier League III in November, which went to J.C. Tran; and the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, which was finally won by Chris Ferguson who had placed second in the event in 2005 and 2006 but finally captured the title in March of 2008. Yevgeniy Timoshenko won the Asian Poker Tour (APT) Macau event, Nali Kaselias took down the PokerNews Cup main event in Melbourne, and Daniel Negreanu took down the British Columbia Poker Championship, an event that gains popularity with each year and will surely garner more media attention after Negreanu’s 2008 win.

Online Poker

Nothing, not even United States laws, could stop poker players from logging on and playing online poker in numbers that continue to astound. But it was the scandals that made the news throughout the year, namely the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet cheating incidents that ballooned into industry-changing events.

In January, the Absolute Poker scandal that involved a company insider - or two - utilizing a superuser account to cheat players out of $1.6 million came to a conclusion with the release of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC) decision and subsequent report. Many players, however, remained unsatisfied when Absolute Poker was fined a mere $500,000 and subject to what amounted to a slap on the wrist and a threat to shape up and make the site secure.

About the same time that Absolute Poker was punished for not recognizing its security glitches, players insisted that UltimateBet too had cheating occurring on its site. What made that doubly troubling was that both sites were owned by Tokwiro Enterprises, which is run by the former Grand Chief of the Mohawks…where the KGC is located. UltimateBet agreed to look into the issue in January, but it wasn’t until May that an official statement was released admitting that there had been cheating, and the amount taken from players unfairly was more then $16 million. Finally, in September, the KGC came out with its decision on the UB scandal, which included a $1.5 million fine for UltimateBet. It was announced that the cheating took place over the course of four years, and Russ Hamilton, former UB representative and WSOP main event champion, was the fingered culprit.

On top of that, much of the poker media focused a good part of 2008 on a 60 Minutes piece that was scheduled to air on CBS regarding the online cheating scandals. When it finally did make it to televisions across America in November, many felt that the report did not do the stories justice or look at any possible solutions, including legislation that could regulate the industry. The 60 Minutes piece made the online poker world sound like a shady and unsafe one, which didn’t help matters in a year when a scandal seemed to be around every corner.

And to round out the year, one of the cofounders of PartyGaming, Anurag Dikshit, made a plea deal with the U.S. Department of Justice with a guilty plea in violation of the Wire Act and an agreement to pay a $300 million fine. Validating the U.S. Department of Justice’s wild mission to prosecute online gaming executives, and in light of the UIGEA set to be in full effect in 2009, Dikshit’s admission of guilt to a vague and unreasonable set of laws only makes it tougher for the rest of the online gaming industry to conduct business and stand up for its rights.

On the brighter side of online poker, the major tournament series’ on Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars were the highlights of the online poker year. Full Tilt Poker held four editions of its Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS), and they began with FTOPS VII in February and Allen “Reverse” Goldstein taking the $456,401 main event prize. FTOPS VIII in May was won by Keith “cheesemonster” Lehr, IX in August was taken down by Brian “dubbeemin” Mintz, and the tenth installment of FTOPS was won by Julian Verse. Each first prize winner took home over $400K in prize money. Full Tilt also held its $25,000 Heads-Up Championship online, a new event for the online world with a $25K buy-in. Poker pro David Singer took down the first ever title and the $560,000 cash for the intense victory.

PokerStars only holds one World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) per year, and when it happened in September, it was Carter “ckingusc” King who won the main event for a whopping $1,265,432.23. The WCOOP again showed its popularity. And to top off 2008 for PokerStars, the site conducted an experiment with a $10 buy-in tournament to obtain a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest online cash tournament ever. And it worked, as 35,000 players entered to partake in the promotion to beat PokerStars own record of 20,000 players in 2007. stan34powa won the $30K first prize, and PokerStars ended the year by setting another world record.

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