- Gary Wise, ESPN Poker
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Every year seems to be a "Year of the ." A year ago, we looked back on "The year of the scandal" and longed for lost innocence. Now, looking back, we gaze upon a transitional season that kept most of our focus on the felt for a change.
Politics saw poker in a holding pattern. The two sites that started the year on top -- PokerStars and Full Tilt -- stayed there. In the meantime, we saw a number of superior performances both in and out of a World Series of Poker for the ages. Here now is a chronologically ordered look back at the biggest happenings of 2009 in poker.
Hey, I'm as guilty as anyone of allowing my expectations and anticipation to get the best of me. When Tom "Durrrr" Dwan announced his plans to win seven-figure wars of attrition, I thought it was the greatest poker gamble since Andy Beal faced "The Corporation." Images danced of titans playing heads-up for three straight weeks of 16-hour days. Perhaps the challenge wouldn't have proved to be so disappointing if the hype hadn't gotten ahold of it.
Instead of seeing Durrrr running marathon sessions against Patrik Antonius, Phil Ivey and David Benyamine as we hoped, we find Dwan some 10 months later still mired in his initial match against Antonius with some 20,000 hands yet to be played. He's up just less than $1 million, and if Dwan's gambit is to keep people's attention in 2010, the gap might need to close for a photo finish.
Despite a 12-4 lifetime record in the event going in, Huck Seed was mostly overlooked entering the 2009 National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Seed, the 1996 WSOP world champion, ensured that no one will make the same mistake again, running through Jonathan Little, Gus Hansen, Glen Chorny, David Oppenheim, Sammy Farha and Vanessa Rousso to take the title, establishing himself as the event's most successful participant.
For all that success, Seed's title might not have been as valuable as Rousso's second-best. Having just signed a deal to endorse GoDaddy.com, Rousso survived a murderers' row of Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Paul Wasicka, Daniel Negreanu and Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier to make the finals. She's since parlayed that success into a number of mainstream media opportunities.
Duke's 'Celebrity Apprentice' Run
Whether it was good for poker still is up for debate thanks to Joan Rivers, but you can't deny the strength of Annie Duke's performance on this year's "Celebrity Apprentice." With an abrasive style that pitted much of the field against her, Duke flat out-produced the pack, losing the final only to an alleged clause in Rivers' contract that ensured victory for the comedian. In the process, Duke raised her star monumentally and made a lot of money for charity. It was the most noteworthy poker player-reality TV appearance in a year that saw the trend of such marriages continue to grow.
In a truly astounding turn of events that's unlikely to be matched for some time, five players won multiple bracelets in WSOP play in 2009, four of them during the main event. Jeff Lisandro won three events in Vegas. Brock Parker, Phil Ivey and Greg Mueller won two apiece. And JP Kelly won one in the U.S. and one in London during WSOP Europe.
The WSOP's main event had never turned away players on anything other than an individual basis, but that was what happened when the organization was painted into an impossible corner. On Day 1D, capacity was reached and 600 to 800 players assumed there still would be space in the Amazon Room. The Nevada Gaming Commission's rules cast a long shadow, and Jeffrey Pollack was forced to make what he called the most difficult decision of his tenure as WSOP commissioner. Poker Hall of Famer TJ Cloutier was among those who found themselves without cards in hand.
Whatever it is about Phil Ivey that keeps the world hanging on the few-and-far-between words that escape his lips, we all experienced the hysteria as he scratched and clawed his way through a rough Day 8 to make the final table of the WSOP main event. Many clamored for Ivey to hit the media trail, but he wasn't as enthusiastic, reasoning that he'd rather accomplish the goal of winning before giving interviews like he'd already won.
He came out of nowhere, and we still don't have official word on who he is. Isildur1 started his run on Full Tilt Poker by parlaying $60,000 into some $1.6 million, then took Tom Dwan for a cool $5 million. He then proceeded to lose it all and then some.
Isildur1's run came to an abrupt halt after a losing $4.2 million session against Brian Hastings. After Hastings and Brian Townsend spoke of their preparation on ESPN.com, the railbirds started screaming bloody murder in defense of the mystery man-turned-cult figure. Townsend eventually admitted to data-mining, an offense he didn't recognize as breaking the rules at the time, and subsequently had his red pro status suspended for a month.
The run of 21-year-old Joe Cada to the world championship of poker left the uninitiated screaming, "Luck!" despite his online pro pedigree. But there was no doubting the kid had chops when it came to taking on the role of ambassador. Cada made the rounds through just about every major media outlet in the U.S., appearing on CNN, CNBC, Letterman and a host of others, representing the game to the satisfaction of industry observers.
With the November Nine signaling the end of the WSOP season, Jeffrey Pollack felt the time was right to step down from his position as WSOP commissioner. A shocking development, it left most with more questions than answers about how the WSOP will proceed without the man who had come to symbolize it.
A few other moments to remember
UIGEA postponed -- With the banks seemingly backed into a corner, the UIGEA's D-day deadline was postponed until June 2010.
UB rebrands -- Leaving the stigma of UltimateBet.net behind, UB turned the page with a new Web site and new direction, as seen on poker news show "Poker2Nite."
Shulmans -- Father Barry Shulman won the WSOP Europe main event while son Jeff was waiting to play in the November Nine.
PartyGaming buys WPT -- After leaving the U.S. market in 2006, PartyGaming made its way back, buying the WPT and re-signing Mike Sexton in the process.
"2 Months 2 Million" -- The new show depicted the balla lifestyle of online pros in a whole new way that could pave the path for future poker lifestyles shows.
"Poker Face" -- Dare we say it; Lady Gaga shone a bright light on the game we all love with the song that shall not be named.
"ESPN Inside Deal" -- ESPN.com debuted a new online poker news show. About time!
And a few other remarkable individual performances
Cornel Cimpan -- Won two WPT events for almost $2.6 million in winnings.
Eric Baldwin -- CardPlayer's Player of the Year scored an amazing 22 live tournament cashes, five for six-figure scores.
Jason Mercier -- Another 19 live cashes for the Bluff Player of the Year.
Roland de Wolfe -- Became just the second player to own titles in the WPT, EPT and WSOP.
Ville Wahlbeck -- Scored six WSOP cashes, including third in the seven-stud world championship, second in the 2-7 lowball world championship and a win in the mixed hold 'em world championship.
Vitaly Lunkin -- Started WSOP with a win in the $40,000 hold 'em event, then followed with a second-place finish in the pot-limit Omaha world championship and a fourth-place finish in the $50,000 HORSE.
Yevgeniy Timoshenko -- Won more than $4 million split more or less evenly between live and online tournaments.
Finally, on Sunday night, my girlfriend, Heather, called my bluff. She's now my fiancée. It's been a good year. Happy 2010.
Gary Wise is a poker columnist for ESPN.com.
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