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Year in Review: Ivey, Black rack up big wins
This is the second in a 12-part series taking a month-by-month look at what happened with poker in 2008. The series will publish every other day until the end of the year, covering the major happenings from all corners of the poker industry.
Poker had a big year in 2007 as it bounced back from the ugliness of the UIGEA, setting the stage for an even bigger year in 2008. With December now drawing to a close, it's time to take a look back at some of the biggest developments in poker during an historic year. Today we examine February's highs and lows.
EPT German Open
The first major tournament of February saw the crowning of the youngest EPT champion in the tour's four-year history. When all was said and done, 18-year-old Canadian Mike McDonald added a win and €933,600 to his poker resume for conquering a field of 411 players.
McDonald entered the final table with the chip lead, and despite suffering a few minor setbacks, his march to the title was never really in question thanks to a few timely hands. Key among those was an implosion from Germany's Johannes Strassman, who shoved all-in and busted when McDonald held a pocket pair of kings.
"He and I both play at a pretty high caliber and we're both playing for first place. He wasn't playing to try to make it into the top four or top three," McDonald said in his Alex Kravchenko, Tony G and Annie Duke. Black received $250,000 for the win.
WSOP Circuit Council Bluffs
This WSOP Circuit, one of the smallest WSOPC main events in history, rolled on in Iowa with a 99-man field. Only the final table received payouts.
Former chef Benjamin Hock came into the final table third in chips despite having been all-in blind in the middle of Day 2. He managed to stay out of the way of the likes of Bernard Lee and Michael Martin until he faced off with Martin in heads-up play.
Hock eventually came out on top, taking home $180,327 for the win.
"He's awesome," Hock said of Martin in his postgame interview. "I mean he's a great player; he just absolutely ran out of cards. I'm looking forward to watching the video broadcast because I don't think he even got cards he could play, at all."
L.A. Poker Classic
While Phil Ivey is rightfully recognized as one of the greatest poker players in the world, one thing had always been missing from his resume: a WPT title. As the month of February closed out, Ivey made his first win on the tour a big one by conquering a huge field of 665 players at the L.A. Poker Classic main event.
Ivey's first WPT title was worth $1,596,100, but he didn't win it easily; other final tablists at the included Quinn Do (second), Nam Le (fourth), 2008 WSOP Main Event final tablist Scott Montgomery (fifth), 11-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth (sixth), and Theo Tran (eighth).
Ivey's relief at having rounded out his resume was clear when he spoke with PokerListings after his win.
"It was my eighth appearance and it was getting very frustrating getting down to the end, playing well to get to the final table and then not finishing at all, you know?" said the champ in his interview. "So it just means more to me to just get this out of the way."
The seventh installment of Full Tilt Poker's popular FTOPS tournament series went off in February and saw some well-known players make waves.
Chief among them was Full Tilt pro Erick Lindgren, who outlasted a field of 5,637 to claim the winner's prize of $291,748 in Event 9, the $300+22 No-Limit Hold'em. Oddly enough, the event's host was none other than Lindgren himself.
In all, more than 43,000 players competed in 20 FTOPS Events for a total prize pool of more than $15.3 million.
WPT trims schedule
After years of growth in its schedule despite a lack of profits, the WPT announced in February that it would scale back its production schedule by 33% for Season 7.
Newer events like the Spanish Championship and the Turks and Caicos Poker Classic were ditched along with old standbys like the World Poker Open in Tunica, Miss., and the World Poker Challenge in Reno, Nev.
As usual, WPT CEO Steve Lipscomb spun the news in a positive light.
"Industry trends and player feedback were instrumental in creating the schedule, which focuses on marquee events to drive increased field sizes, richer prize pools and more media coverage for the players," he said.
"The schedule also gives players more opportunity to participate in satellites and other events and allows the WPT and the casino partners to focus on bigger promotional opportunities."
Women in Poker Hall of Fame
February saw the inaugural class inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. The WiPHoF, started by LIPS Tour founder Lupe Soto, aims to recognize the contributions of women in poker who wouldn't necessarily qualify for induction into the Poker Hall of Fame because of its 1970s-era requirements.
Obrestad takes home poker awards
Not yet old enough to play in U.S. casinos, Norway's Annette Obrestad nonetheless made her mark as a woman in poker in 2007. In recognition of her outstanding 2007 performances, Obrestad took home a trio of trophies at the Scandinavian Poker Awards in late February.
The teenage phenom won the Norwegian Golden Hand, in addition to Best Female Poker Player and Best Performance of the Year for her win at the WSOP Europe Main Event.
American legal developments
The fallout from the UIGEA continued in February, with unexpected developments popping up in all sorts of corners.
In California, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine introduced a bill to explore whether an intrastate online poker service for Californians would be legal under federal law, since the language of the UIGEA banned "illegal online gambling" but did not provide a definition of what online gambling was, in fact, illegal.
Toward the end of the month, two U.S. senators wrote to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, asking them to address concerns that the proposed UIGEA regulations would place a burden on the banking system.
"The effectiveness of any law is reliant on sound implementation," senators John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) wrote in their letter.
"The extensive public comments received on this issue highlight the likelihood that risk-averse financial institutions will simply choose to block every transaction that may be interpreted [as] or could resemble gambling, whether legal or not."
European legal developments
Across the pond, the European Union's executive branch formally requested that two of its member nations, Greece and the Netherlands, amend their laws regarding online gambling to allow greater competition from other European countries.
The European Commission said "the measures taken by these Member States to restrict the free movement of gambling services have not been shown to be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory."
It also noted there was clear evidence that neither country was promoting "a consistent and systematic policy aimed at genuinely reducing gambling opportunities."
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Tune in again Saturday for a recap of March's highlights in PL.com's continuing year-end roundup.
Related Article: Year in Review: ElkY pounds PCA in Jan.