PokerListings Most Inspiring Player 2017

Update: The votes are in and we have our 2017 Spirit of Poker Awards winners! Congratulations to:

  • Most Inspiring Player - Liv Boeree
  • Rising Star - Espen Uhlen Jørstad
  • Living Legend - Per Hildebrand

Thank you to everyone who voted! The 2017 Spirit of Poker Awards will be presented at the 2017 Battle of Malta! See you there!

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To be nominated for our signature PokerListings Most Inspiring Player Award you've got to have something extra.

It helps to be at the peak of your game with results to match. But being "inspiring" at the poker tables means a lot more than just binking a few big tournament scores.

In short: Watching you play poker makes other people want to play poker. You're innovative (or even groundbreaking) in your game play. Your personality makes sitting at a poker table with you for a few hours a joy.

You bring a sense of gratitude and light-heartedness whenever you play. And, maybe most importantly, you don't stop thinking about, talking about and sharing the game of poker with those around you.

The poker world needs you to survive and thrive, and we're all the better for your presence at the tables. Our eight inspiration-evoking nominees for Most Inspiring Player in 2016 are profiled below.

Back to the 2017 PokerListings Spirit of Poker Awards main page here.

Liv Boeree (England)

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What more can be said about Liv Boeree that hasn’t already been said? Amazingly, still quite a bit. The famed astrophysics grad/heavy metal guitarist/longtime PokerStars pro has been at the top of the list of the game’s player/ambassadors for years now and only enhanced that status in 2016/2017. She doubled down on her dedication to the amazing REG charity, perpetually repped poker (and science) positively in the mainstream media and starred as a Team Captain in the Global Poker League. To top it off she claimed her first bracelet at the World Series of Poker alongside partner and fellow PokerStars pro Igor Kurganov to put a second jewel in poker’s triple crown on her resume. Another year, another ringing success for Boeree.

Jeff Gross (USA)

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What hasn’t Jeff Gross accomplished in the past year? Well, he didn’t win the WSOP Main Event. But he pretty much nailed everything else. With an unbridled enthusiasm for life and poker Gross turned his Twitch channel – the Poker Flow Show - into one of the most popular poker streams in the world. He crushed it with his Vlogs. He teamed up with Bill Perkins (et al) for Streamboat 1 (& 2 coming soon). He rotated in ably on the coverage desk for the WSOP. And he was named the newest member of Team PokerStars Pro. The “Professional Best Friend” has come into his own – and now casts almost as big as shadow as his famous friends Antonio Esfandiari, Brian Rast and Michael Phelps. 

Kenny Hallaert (Belgium)

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Kenny Hallaert
might have only become a familiar name for most people these past two summers (6th and 64th in the Main Event), but the 35-year-old Belgian is far from being a newcomer. Despite several good performances, especially live (6th at EPT Deauville 2011, 5th in 2016 WSOP Colossus), Hallaert was until recently mostly known for his decade of work as a tournament director in the Namur and Spa casinos in Belgium. He's been “the best Belgian floor,” too, according to Pierre Neuville. After starting from nothing online in 2004he's racked up $3.8m in online earnings and still keeps adding to that total with his second Triple Crown just this past month. With his massive WSOP scores the past two years Hallaert also now has over $3.2m live - an astounding total. Yet, despite all the riches, Hallaert is also described by Bernard de Breyne, Director of the Namur Casino,as someone who is “very jolly, with a great sense of humour (...) and who leads a very simple life. Proof is that old Mazda 6 he’s been driving for 10 years." Humble as ever Kenny knows where he comes from (a former electrician). But he also knows where he’s going.

John Hesp (England)

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A month ago, John Hesp was literally unknown in the poker world outside of Napoleon's Casino in Hull, England. He’d never won a big tournament. He’d never played high stakes with superstars. His Hendon Mob page looks like there’s been a mistake. Seven cashes from the same weekly £10 rebuy tournament and then wham ... $2.6 million for 4th place in the WSOP Main Event. And what Hesp did with his legendary WSOP run will reverberate in poker for decades to come. He didn’t impress with his airtight understanding of ranges and ICM. The money he won won't change his life and he won’t be playing the global circuit from now on. They’re waiting on him back at Napoleon’s. But what Hesp has done is take the game from the pros and give it back to the fans. Among all the super-serious math nerds and ICM experts sat a friendly, heartfelt 64 year old retiree from Yorkshire in a psychedelic blazer who could hardly believe his luck but collected chip after chip after chip. With not much more than a smile and a funny hat he turned opponents into fellow players and mere spectators into enthusiastic supporters. Could anybody do more for poker than that?

Max Pescatori (Italy)

Max Pescatori

The best Italian poker player ever, if we want to make this bio short. Pescatori has dedicated his life to poker since he was 23 when he moved to Las Vegas to attend a croupier course. Once he reached Nevada Pescatori started to play Seven Card Stud in Vegas and Reno casinos and started to win. Pescatori’s face started to be familiar in the very first years of the third millennium with his first appearances at WSOP. The Italian Pirate won his first bracelet in 2006 in a $2,500 No Limit Hold’em event and earned $682,389: this is still his biggest win in a live tournament. Max won his second bracelet in 2008 then another two in 2015. Looking to expand his horizons outside poker he partnered with Todd Brunson in an Italian restaurant in Las Vegas a few months ago. With Pescatori's flair for people, it can't be anything but a success.

Mikhail Semin (Russia)

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As a former sports journalist and head editor of popular Championat.com, Semin moved to poker in 2010 when he started as a commentator on the Russian EPT coverage. Before that he was commented on Russian TV and radio for 13 years and twice was nationally nominated as “Sports Commentator of the Year." He has an unofficial record of commenting on 40 kinds on sports on TV - but poker might be his ultimate calling. Semin cashed 12 times at the 2017 WSOP after being the best Russian player at the 2016 WSOP with 3 final tables). In 2016 he also became ambassador of Pokerdom and still plays on PokerStars under the name of Mikleler. Since his first official cash on Malta in 2010 when he won a €300 Holdem event, Semin's total live earnings have soared to $741,889 - showing the dream of every sports watcher to turn player can be very much a reality.

Jaime “PokerStaples” Staples (Canada)

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If Jason Somerville is the de facto king of poker on Twitch, Jaime “PokerStaples” Staples is second-in-command. The affable Canadian has become synonymous with the platform and has helped/inspired countless poker pros into the online streaming world all while maintaining one of the most popular poker channels in the world. The last couple of years have been a whirlwind ride as Staples turned his effort and enthusiasm into a sponsorship with PokerStars, teamed up with high-stakes fixture Bill Perkins for the famous Streamboat and traveled around the world, streaming from destinations far and wide. Staples, who used to weigh 304 lbs, is also in the midst of a sensational prop bet to win $150,000 at 50-1 odds. He has to get within 1lb of his brother Matt, who weighed 134 lbs when the bet was set, by March 2018. They are amazingly on track to win - inspiring fans around the world even more by their progress. The new breed of poker streamers have injected new life into the poker world and as a leader in the genre, he’s an easy pick for MIP.

Ema Zajmovic (Canada)

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Ema Zajmovic and her trademark backwards baseball cap have become iconic at Playground Poker Club in Montreal in just a couple of years. And her new-found fame is for good reason. In late 2016 she finished 5th at WPT Montreal as legend Mike Sexton won his first WPT title. Just 3 months later Zajmovic returned to a WPT final table in MTL and won it all for $183,789 to become became the first woman to win an open WPT event in the tour's history. It’s not just that she’s succeeding in poker tournaments, either; it’s how she’s doing it. Sexton himself said Zajmovic dominated the final four tables at WPT Montreal with impeccable style. Not even a full-time pro yet Zajmovic, who works part time in public relations, has remained a familiar face on the circuit since and finished 15th in the $1,000 WSOP online championship this summer, narrowly missing out on her first WSOP final table.

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