The Poker Year In Review: July-September 2012

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The ball may have dropped, the confetti may (just now) be cleaned up and the hangovers may have been nursed, but there are a couple of things we have to do to put a close on the year 2012 before we jump into the New Year thunderously. With that, let’s take a look back at the year in poker from July to September; surprisingly, the second half of 2012 provided the best news stories of the past year.


The World Series of Poker provided the biggest bang in the early part of the month as the largest ever poker tournament (according to buy in) took place. The brainchild of poker player and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, the “Big One For One Drop” captured the attention of the poker world even as other players battled it out for the prestigious WSOP bracelet. 48 men came to the tables, with Antonio Esfandiari eventually defeating Sam Trickett to take home the more than $18 million first place prize, the biggest payout ever in a poker tournament (Trickett walked off with a measly $10 million!).

While the “Big One” was going on, the former CEO of Full Tilt Poker, Ray Bitar, suddenly surrendered to law enforcement officials in New York after more than a year of hiding out in Ireland and trying to resurrect the defunct site. It was thought that, with Bitar’s surrender, there would be action coming on the “Black Friday” front, which would happen before the end of the month.

Vanessa Selbst solidified her position as the best woman player in the game (and one of the best overall) in taking down her second WSOP bracelet in the Six Handed 10 Game Mix event, while a top cash game player, Greg Merson, made his mark on the WSOP in winning one of the final preliminary events before the start of the Championship Event. After two weeks of battling in that event (and the potentially historic runs of Gaelle Baumann and Elisabeth Hille which ended short of the final table), Merson would take the lead at the Championship Event final table, setting up the “Octo-Nine.”

As the month came to a close, the biggest news of the past year struck. After many false hopes and rumors, PokerStars and the U. S. Department of Justice reached a settlement deal which included the sale of Full Tilt Poker to PokerStars. In paying over $700 million to the federal government to settle the “Black Friday” case against them, PokerStars was able to escape the glare of having a federal case against them (the same could not be said for its two main players, founder Isai Scheinberg and payment processor Paul Tate, who still face potential criminal actions).

With the federal case settled, millions of players (both international and in the United States) from the poker world waited to see what PokerStars’ next step would be with Full Tilt Poker.


It didn’t take long for the fallout from the PokerStars/DoJ deal to come out as PokerStars vowed to bring back the former number two poker site in the industry back to life. In doing so (and as a part of the settlement with the government), PokerStars would be totally responsible for the payback of international players. In the United States, however, the Department of Justice would take charge of the payback of American players, which has proven to be a nightmare for most as the government continues to drag its feet on the repayment front.

Poker was at the forefront of much of the discussion over the month of August, albeit only on a state level. In Arkansas, a proposed casino plan from poker player/political consultant Nancy Todd battled to make it onto the ballot (eventually it was denied by the state’s Supreme Court), while legislation for online poker in the state of California ground to a halt. In Nevada (where online poker legislation had passed), South Point Poker LLC became the first licensed online poker room under the regulation of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

On the tournament front, the defending World Poker Tour champion Marvin Rettenmaier became the first player to ever win back-to-back WPT crowns in taking down the WPT Cyprus Classic (he had won the WPT Championship months prior to the Cyprus victory). Mikalai Pobal beat Ilari Sahamies to win the first stop for the European Poker Tour in Barcelona, Spain while Josh Hale rode a huge chip lead to win the first event on American soil for Season XI of the WPT (the Cyprus event was actually the first tournament of the Season XI schedule) at the WPT Legends of Poker.


With the 2012 Presidential election looming, the two parties in the United States took vastly different paths when it came to online poker and gaming. The Republican Party, as a main plank in their platform, advocated for a complete ban on online gaming, while the Democratic Party didn’t even mention a position on the issue in their platform. While not critical to much of the United States, the political issue that online poker – and poker overall – had become was remarkable.

One of the top tournament circuits in Europe closed its doors, even as it was holding what would be its final event ever. The Partouche Poker Tour Main Event in Cannes, France, long a favorite of players, faced an uprising after tournament officials decided not to honor the €5 million guaranteed prize pool that had been previously advertised. As they decided to not honor the guarantee, PPT officials allegedly went about trying to scrub any mention of that guarantee from the internet and press releases, while PPT owner Patrick Partouche declared it would be the final event.

After plenty of evidence of the guarantee surfaced from players and the media alike, the PPT relented, especially after video came to light of a PPT official making the €5 million guarantee after the 2011 version of the tournament. While they promised to hold their end of the bargain up and honor the guarantee, PPT owner Partouche held firm that this would be the last ever event for the five year old circuit.

On the political/legal front, the U. S. Department of Justice filed a second amended complaint against professionals Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Rafe Furst, seeking millions of dollars in restitution from the trio for their actions at Full Tilt Poker and “Black Friday.” The U. S. poker community also received what was perceived at the time to be a glimmer of hope on the regulation front when a draft bill negotiated between Senators Harry Reid of Nevada and Jon Kyl of Arizona came to light. The bill, a result of long negotiations between the duo, offered the possibility that online poker regulation in the United States may be completed before the end of the year.

We’ve only got three more months to go, and they proved to provide some closure to some of the most electric stories of the year. We’ll take a look at them in the next segment of the recap of 2012.

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