Japan’s Naoya Kihara, Belgium’s Pierre Neuville and Italy Luca Moschitta were selected by a panel of PokerListings experts this week to win the first-ever PokerListings.com Spirit of Poker awards.
Reaching the top three in their respective categories via fan voting and then getting the most nods on the PokerListings ballots, the three esteemed poker pros will receive their awards at the 2013 Battle of Malta live tournament on September 26.
Kihara Outduels Negreanu for Most Inspiring Player
Kihara, perhaps the biggest surprise of this year’s awards, beat out big-name sponsored pros including Marvin Rettenmaier, Max Lykov, Isaac Haxton and Daniel Negreanu to scoop the Most Inspiring Player Award.
The first Japanese WSOP bracelet winner ever, Kihara has $722,218 in live tournament earnings in just two years on the international circuit but his impact goes far beyond just cashing.
With live poker illegal in Japan and online poker only accessible since 2008, Kihara’s accomplishments are doubly impressive. And since his win in 2012 he’s also kickstarted a wider interest in the game in Japan single-handedly.
“Right now people in Japan think poker is just gambling,” Kihara told us at the 2013 PCA, “so when I'm on TV I want to explain it better.
“Poker is a game and you can use it to gamble but the way I play is as an investment business. Poker is a skill game and I'm trying to tell people in Japan.”
Playing on PokerStars under the nickname “nkeyno," Kihara has racked up millions of hands and a growing rail of Japanese players hoping to follow in his footsteps.
Neuville, Moschitta Rep Old, Young
Young gun Moschitta won the hotly-contested Here Comes the Future award for rising superstars, narrowly beating two Scandinavians in Sweden’s Sofia “Welllbet” Lövgren and Finn Lauri Pesonen.
One of the youngest players ever to reach SuperNova Elite on PokerStars, Moschitta is most famous for collecting two Porsches using only FPPs thanks to the amazing volume he’s put in online.
He's only recently turned his focus to the live tournament scene but he's immediately found success, taking down IPT Saint Vincent in March for €180,000 and finishing second at IPT Nova Gorica. He’s also spent countless hours over the past few years sharing his love for the game at the tables and through social media.
Finally, Neuville won the veterans’ This is 50+ award. A satellite master on the EPT, the 70-year-old Neuville has qualified for 50 straight EPT Main Events and counting.
As if that wasn't enough Neuville also developed and produced a poker board game called Poker Champ in his spare time.
Neuville overcame noted old-timers Marcel Luske and Konstantin Puchkov in the final three to take top honors in the category.
Read more about all of the awards and see the full list of nominees on our PokerListings Spirit of Poker awards page.
Packages Still Available for €200,000 GTD Battle of Malta
All three winners will receive their awards in person during the €200,000-guaranteed PokerListings Battle of Malta from Sept. 26-29, 2013.
Registration is still open for the tournament with a buy-in of just €550. Full packages are also available at €1,400 and include the buy-in, four-nights at a luxury hotel, daily meals, complimentary VIP parties and more. More info here.
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