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Poker News | World Poker News

Looking Back at the World of Poker in 2009 - Part II

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*Editor's note - due to the length of this article and the wealth of news involved in reviewing 2009 poker around the world, it is now in two parts, Read Part I.

Online Poker


There were numerous happenings in the online world through the year, but one that continued through the span of it was the Tom Dwan Challenge. When he issued the challenge to play heads-up on multiple tables for $1.5 million, several high stakes players took interest but Patrik Antonius was the first to officially accept. The two began action to the delight of railbirds everywhere, and they exchanged a comfortable back-and-forth lead for months…and months. The challenge was still incomplete at the end of 2010, and though it continues, it has lost much of its momentum because of the time between matches and the inability of either player to take a significant lead. But through it all, Dwan finally signed a sponsorship deal with Full Tilt Poker, which was where the challenges were taking place.

During the latter part of the year, a new high stakes player emerged. His online moniker is Isildur1, and he seemed to come from nowhere and refuse to reveal his true identity to anyone. The only sure thing was that he was from Sweden and ready to challenge the best players in the world - Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, David Benyamine, and Ilari Sahamies among them. With millions of dollars on the line, fans came to the virtual rail in droves to witness the action, but the series of games lost a bit of its momentum after Brian Townsend and other CardRunners/Full Tilt pros were accused of sharing data and hand histories in order to beat Isildur1. With suspensions in place and Isildur1 down several million dollars, the high stakes show ended temporarily.

Some online poker sites attempted to make news with promotions, the biggest of which was one from Bluefire Poker, the brainchild of Phil Galfond, when it offered $1 million in charitable donations should newly-elected President Barack Obama accept a challenge to play online poker and win. No answer came back from the new administration, however, because Obama…well…was busy with truly important matters. Other sites made news by shutting down. Bugsy’s Club and PokerRoom.com shut their virtual doors in the first quarter of the year, while Pitbull Poker closed its doors without warning to players and allegedly took their money without leaving them the ability to cash out, a battle still being waged into 2010.

The U.S. Department of Justice played more of a role in the online poker industry than most anticipated. The settlement with PartyGaming was not much of a surprise, as that had been in the works since the site’s former CEO pled guilty in late 2008, and PartyGaming finally resolved its case with a guilty plea and a $105 million fine payable to the U.S. government. A bit more on the surprising side was the guilty plea of FirePay, the online gaming payment processor that also saw itself with a bill owed to the U.S., this one in the form of a $19.2 million fine.

But the case that caught everyone off guard was the seizure by the Department of Justice of more than $30 million in online poker payments between customers and online sites like Full Tilt and PokerStars. Just as the WSOP got underway, word spread that bank payments were frozen, and the full story came to light that the United States was in possession of said monies. Several banks were ordered to seize the funds because they were derived from “money laundering transactions and illegal gambling offenses,” and players were left helpless. The poker websites immediately stepped up and refunded all payments to customers, but they remained embroiled in legal battles with the DOJ for the remainder of the year in attempts to resolve the touchy situation. And Canadian Douglas Rennick was caught in the crossfire as well when his payment processor job was chosen by the DOJ for individual prosecution, another case that remains in limbo.

Also in the category of scandals was the continued saga of the UltimateBet cheating situation. For most of the year, not much was said as UB went on with business as usual, but September brought news of a final resolution. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission released its final decision in the matter, which showed that more than $22 million had been paid to cheated customers, Tokwiro Enterprises paid its $1.5 million fine plus investigative costs to the KGC, and changes were sufficiently completed behind the scenes to ensure records are kept and compromises to the system would be prohibited in the future. Most importantly to many interested parties, it was made known that Russ Hamilton, the alleged mastermind in the scandal, had 31 possible co-conspirators, though those names were not released to the public and would not be. It was also stated that authorities were looking into the matter for possible prosecution, but the location and nature of the investigation was also not released.

In the wake of the scandal’s end, a surprising addition to the UltimateBet roster came in the form of a blog post from Joe Sebok, who accepted the role with the online poker site. In addition, however, he said that he would be serving as Media & Operations Consultant for the company in order to ensure that all customers received their hand histories, names of cheaters were released, and UB would remain accountable for its past and future actions.

On a more positive note, online poker saw the formation of Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment, a company formed under the Harrah’s banner with ex-PartyGaming executive Mitch Garber pegged to serve as its CEO. The new company quickly set up shop in Montreal, which is safe online gaming territory, and went to work to sign a deal with 888.com subsidiary Dragonfish to develop online gaming sites. The first one, Caesars Online Casino, went live in Europe in December of 2009.

Major online tournaments had another successful year. PokerStars kicked off its year with the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) in April, and the 66 tournaments found players like Hevad Khan and Michael Mizrachi claiming titles. The three different buy-in main events then saw j.thaddeus, JC Alvarado, and JannotLapin taking down the biggest titles in the 2009 SCOOP. Later in the year, the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) also experienced high turnouts for its events and awarded first place money to players like Bertrand Grospellier and Terrence Chan. The 45 events awarded more than $51 million altogether, and pro player Yevgeniy “Jovial Gent” Timoshenko won the Main Event for over $1.7 million.

PokerStars ended the year by surpassing its own attendance record for a single tournament and setting a new world record for the same feat. The $1 buy-in tournament in late December found 149,196 players anxious to participate in the $300K guaranteed tournament, and Oskar69 ended up winning the event for $50K. Another record in the Guinness Book of World Records belonged to PokerStars.

Full Tilt also had its share of online tournament success, starting with its 11th installment of the Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS) in February, which gave out nearly $18 million in its 25 events. And when it was said and done, csimmsux grabbed the Main Event title. May brought FTOPS XII and another 25 tournaments having awarded more than $17 million, and PocketOwnage420 took the Main Event title while Gavin Smith took down a preliminary event. The 13th installment of FTOPS came to pass in August with 26 events, including an Ante Up For Africa charity tournament; more than $18.5 million in the collective prize pool; and warrenace1 winning the Main Event. And finally, in November, FTOPS XIV rounded out the year with 25 events, another $18 million-plus in prize money awarded, pros like David Pham and Greg Mueller winning events, and zhivago2 taking the Main Event title.

Poker in Politics

It was a drama-filled year for the poker industry when it came to the world of politics. On the state level, several poker-centered cases took their places in the spotlight, most prominently the effort by the Governor of Kentucky to seize online gaming-related domain names. The Court of Appeals in Kentucky ruled in favor of the domains, along with allies like the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) and Internet Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA), but the Commonwealth of the state then took it to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case in October. A ruling is still pending as Kentucky continues to try to manipulate the case, most recently by filing a motion to add names of U.S. citizens to the case.

Other states debating poker and online gaming included Colorado, which ruled that poker was a game of skill, and South Carolina, which also ruled poker was a game of skill but the defendants hosting a home game guilty of violating the law. A key Pennsylvania case also ruled poker as a game of skill. Minnesota took a drastic step in its attempt to block its residents from accessing online gaming sites, but the effort was dropped due to an outcry from organizations like the PPA that were supported by state officials and members of the legislature. Florida and Pennsylvania looked to expand their gaming laws by legalizing poker tournaments in the former and casino table games in the latter. And California chose to revisit a proposal to examine the benefits of intrastate online poker as a possibility for raising much-needed state revenue. But Texas saw its attempt to legalize poker defeated in the state legislature, though the topic will again be raised in 2010.

Online poker took its place on the national stage early in the year, starting with a survey taken by the incoming Obama Administration that found online gaming to be the top technical issue as voted by the American people. The PPA worked hard to keep the topic at the forefront of many discussions, and word soon came that Rep. Barney Frank would be introducing a new bill to repeal the UIGEA. He did so in May with the unveiling of H.R. 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection & Enforcement Act. He also introduced a companion bill, H.R. 2266 named the Reasonable Prudence in Regulation Act, to postpone the UIGEA from taking effect for a year from the December 1, 2009, date. Rep. Jim McDermott joined the effort with his bill to call for taxation on the proposed legalized online gaming in order to produce revenue for the U.S. government.

To promote said bills, the PPA called for a week in July to be deemed National Poker Week, during which time supporters and PPA representatives were invited to join poker pros and professional lobbyists in Washington, D.C. to speak with members of Congress on Capitol Hill. By August, Frank’s H.R. 2267 had garnered the support of more than 50 cosponsors, though progress was thwarted by the impending financial crisis and the need for Congress to address health care reform. Hearings were put on hold, which put the online gaming industry in jeopardy as the UIGEA was set to take effect on December 1. But an urgent plea to Chairman of the Federal Reserve System Ben Bernanke and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner was met with a favorable response, and the UIGEA implementation was postponed for six months.

At the same time, Frank was able to schedule a hearing on his proposed legislation, and hopes for positive changes to U.S. laws stayed alive going into 2010. Another key bill was also introduced earlier in the year, this one called the Internet Poker and Games of Skill Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act and sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, though most of the focus seemed to be on Frank’s bills as the year progressed.

People in Poker

Awards were given in 2009 for poker accomplishments, as John Phan took CardPlayer and Bluff Player of the Year honors for his 2008 poker achievements. Bertrand Grospellier won big at the European Poker Awards for his stellar 2008. Jeff Lisandro took WSOP Player of the Year, and Grospellier took the honors for the WPT Season 7. But no greater honor was received than that of the induction into the Poker Hall of Fame, a distinction that was bestowed upon poker ambassador Mike Sexton. His years as a promoter of the game, charity-driven player, commentator, and entrepreneur garnered him the sole 2009 spot in the Hall of Fame.

Several poker players made their way into mainstream media fame, most notably Annie Duke for her role on the Donald Trump NBC show, The Celebrity Apprentice. She competed intensely in order to raise money for Refugees International and garnered many hundreds of thousands of dollars for it, though she lost the finale of the show to trash-talker Joan Rivers. Tiffany Michelle and Maria Ho also made a splash by appearing on the CBS reality show, The Amazing Race, and they made a serious run but were finally eliminated with only several teams left to compete. And the summer months saw the debut of a new show on G4TV called 2 Months, 2 Million, which focused on the lives of four online poker players - Brian Roberts, Emil Patel, Jay Rosencrantz, and Dani Stern - during the WSOP months as they attempted to win $2 million through poker endeavors. And the very end of the year saw Vanessa Rousso jump onto the E! Entertainment Network as part of a guest panel on a show called Bank of Hollywood.

Poker game show-type productions were also a story of the year. Face the Ace was a Full Tilt Poker-sponsored show on NBC that featured Steve Shirripa as its host and gave contestants the opportunity to play against poker pros to win up to $1 million. The PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge on Fox featured Daniel Negreanu and also allowed contestants to compete for $1 million. And the aforementioned Mike Sexton was pegged to host a poker-themed show called Shuffle Up and Deal, set to tentatively debut in 2010.

One of the most influential people in the poker industry, WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, stepped down from his position just after the WSOP November Nine final table, and the poker industry took note of the positive effects on the WSOP and how the future may suffer without his presence.

Other departures from the poker industry were on the saddest of terms. Casey Reese, the 20-year old son of recently deceased poker legend Chip Reese, died of a prescription drug overdose. Long-time poker writer Lee Munzer died from cancer at the age of 66. Las Vegas legend Bob Stupak died of leukemia at 67-years old. And PokerListings founder Andreas Oscarsson was murdered in his Sweden home under very suspicious and mysterious circumstances that are still being investigated.

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