The Poker Year In Review: October-December 2012
The final three months of 2012 proved to be a whirlwind for the poker world, be it on the tables, in the political system and online. While some of the news was bad (especially on the political front), it closed a thrilling year overall.
The World Series of Poker Europe bracketed the months of September and October and provided more history for poker aficionados. Antonio Esfandiari took his second bracelet of the overall 2012 WSOP, but it was Phil Hellmuth once again etching his name on the game. Battling through a 420 player field, Hellmuth defeated Sergii Baranov to take down his 13th bracelet to extend his record.
In the halls of Washington, D. C., proposed federal online poker legislation was fought against by several bodies. The National Governors Association came out against the proposed legislation from Senators Harry Reid and Jon Kyl and they were joined by the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. The bill, which had yet to see discussion even in a Senate committee, kept many in the United States on the edge of their seats as the remainder of the year played out.
PokerStars moved on with its promise to bring back Full Tilt Poker by obtaining a license in the Isle of Man for the site and named Gus Hansen as its first sponsored pro. That was quickly followed by the signings of Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan and Viktor ‘Isildur1’ Blom under the auspices of “The Professionals.” PokerStars also announced that Full Tilt Poker would be back at the beginning of November.
As the month came to a close, the “Octo-Nine” reconvened to determine the WSOP Championship Event victor. Over two days (and a particularly grueling 17-hour three way battle), Greg Merson added his second bracelet of the 2012 WSOP season in defeating Jesse Sylvia to take home the $8 million-plus payday.
As Americans headed to the polls to elect their next President, the poker world was once again graced by the appearance of Full Tilt Poker. Under the ownership of PokerStars, the former number two poker room in the industry wasted little time in reclaiming its spot as international players flocked to the virtual felt (Americans were left with “play money” tables). Although there were slight changes to their promotions (no Black Card, no Iron Man), Full Tilt would bring back its popular FTOPS schedule before the close of the year and, overall, the international poker community seemed thrilled to have it back.
The proposed legislation from Senator Reid and Kyl in the U. S. Senate kept popping up as the end of the year – and the end of the current Congress – approached. Senator Reid downplayed the passage of the legislation, igniting a firestorm with his junior Senator from Nevada, Dean Heller, who had been tasked with garnering support for the bill. This tete a tete between the two would go on to the end of 2012.
Former World Champion Greg Raymer made his mark on 2012 on the Heartland Poker Tour. In winning four of its events (a first on the circuit) including its HPT Championship in Indiana, Raymer was unchallenged in taking down the HPT Player of the Year race while winning over $371,000, a far cry from the $5 million he took in winning the 2004 WSOP Championship Event. Still, it was an impressive display of poker from the “Fossilman” as the pros began to discover the importance of the HPT and its tournaments across North America.
The month began with Rafe Furst ending his battle with the U. S. Department of Justice, settling his part in the “Black Friday” case. Without admitting wrongdoing, Furst parted with a couple of bank accounts and a $150,000 fine, a pittance to what the DoJ was looking for. It would set the stage for a later settlement that few saw coming.
The news took a turn for the worse when Danish poker professional Theo Jorgensen was shot and robbed in his Denmark home. The next day, poker author Lou Krieger passed away after his battle against esophageal cancer. The two instances paused the poker world to remember Krieger and offer encouragement to Jorgensen in his recovery.
As they say, however, the show must go on. Antonio Esfandiari nearly wrapped up 2012 in style (as if $18 million for the “Big One” wasn’t enough) by finishing in fourth place at the WPT Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic, his third straight year at the final table. Ravi Raghavan eventually took that title, beating Shawn Buchanan heads up. The final international WPT event of 2012 also came to a close with Marcin Wydrowski taking the crown at the WPT Prague and the EPT saw Ramzi Jelassi close the year with a victory at the EPT Prague.
The political window of online poker in the United States – at least on the federal level – closed in the middle of the month. After negotiations during the “lame duck” session bogged down, Senator Harry Reid effectively killed his push for federal online poker regulation. Reid, through his spokesman, was also pessimistic about passage of online poker legislation in the new Congress (which will be seated tomorrow), indicating that the “window of opportunity” may have passed.
On the state level, New Jersey passed legislation to open up the state for full casino gaming inside its borders; that legislation currently is sitting on the desk of Governor Chris Christie with no indications as to its future. Iowa and California also began to look over the online poker issue again.
The big news of the month was the settlement by Howard Lederer and the DoJ over his civil involvement with Full Tilt Poker. Although they were seeking over $42 million from him, Lederer was able to negotiate a settlement that, while admitting no wrongdoing, saw him lose bank accounts, real estate, a vintage car and pay a $1.5 million fine. With Furst and Lederer settling their cases, only Chris Ferguson is still facing civil litigation (although settlement negotiations are reportedly ongoing).
With that, we can now close the book on poker for the year 2012. There is little time to rest, however, as 2013 brings new hopes, new opportunities and (hopefully) less drama than the past year. It’s time to kick off the year 2013 in style in one of the only ways possible…hitting the poker tables!
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