Is condensing over a decade of poker news into 20 “worst” and “best” moments a fool’s errand?
That hasn’t stopped us from attempting it, however, as this year we’re replacing our traditional best and worst moments of the year with a massive decade-spanning list that includes many of the biggest stories in poker history.
We’re looking at the worst poker moments but don’t worry the best moments are right here.
Lists like this are obviously going to be subjective so we welcome your feedback in the comments. Let us know if there are any glaring misses or anything we overestimated.
5. Lederer, Bitar, Full Tilt Fumble Black Friday
Black Friday was disastrous for poker players who had money on Full Tilt Poker.
Instead of instantly getting their balances back like PokerStars players they had to endure nearly three years before getting a check in the mail. Some believed they would never get their money back.
Now it’s hard to know where to point the blame in the case of a private company like Full Tilt where the management structure was always bit of mystery but the way that Lederer and CEO Ray Bitar handled the situation was just plain awful.
Instead of constant updates about the situation the silence was deafening.
A big part of “Playing with the Pros” on Full Tilt Poker is that players thought they had some security that their money was in good hands with guys like Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Phil Ivey putting their faces all over the site.
It quickly became clear that no one wanted to take responsibility for what happened.
It was a very bad situation but a little bit more communication with the thousands of players who had their balances stuck on Full Tilt would have helped immensely.
4. Epic Poker Tour Fails
Annie Duke and former WSOP commish Jeffrey Pollack surprised many in 2011 (right after Black Friday) by announcing the Epic Poker Tour, which shared some similarities to the PGA with the idea of having both pros and amateur on the tour.
The tour was offering a $1m freeroll at the end of the season and it was exciting to see that kind of investment in poker during a pretty dark period.
The big question was: Where was the money coming from?
Less than a year later we had our answer: Nowhere.
Epic Poker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 29, 2012, with millions in debt. Not great considering it was announced in the summer of 2011.
That $1m freeroll at the end of the season? Never happened.
Poker pros who took part in Epic in order to get some equity in that $1m freeroll were understandably upset.
Pollack left the poker industry for good and Duke followed him after getting a less-than-cordial reception at the WSOP.
Epic Poker ended in abject failure.
3. UltimateBet/Absolute Superuser Scandal
Online poker is built on trust.
Online poker sites must — above all else — keep your money safe and provide a fair environment to play poker.
While there have been several online poker sites that failed in those two respects it’s hard to top what happened on UltimateBet/Absolute Poker in 2004-2007.
Both sites were rocked by separate superuser scandals. For Absolute it was in 2007 while UB it was in 2008. For the uninitiated: A superuser is someone that can see another player’s hole cards.
On Absolute Poker it was a rogue account called POTRIPPER. On UltimateBet it was none other than former WSOP Main Event champ Russ Hamilton.
The Absolute Poker case was broken by sleuths on the TwoPlusTwo Poker forum who realized POTRIPPER was playing perfect poker.
The AP/UB scandals were harrowing for any one who’s ever played online poker. Mike Matusow and Brad Booth were among the unassuming players who were cheated out of money.
To make matters worse Absolute and Ultimate Bet were unable to play back players after Black Friday.
Both sites and the respective scandals remain a collective black eye for the entire poker industry.
2. UIGEA Puts Brakes on Online Poker Boom
The 2006 World Series of Poker was the first one that we covered as a team here at PokerListings and it was a sight to behold.
The online poker gold rush was in full swing with everyone trying to get a piece of the action. Private lounges were booked solid in the halls of the Rio. Almost anyone could get a piece of their buy-in paid if they were willing to wear a patch. There were sponsored pillow fights. The Main Event attracted over 8,000 players.
It was epic.
Unfortunately that party, which was just getting started, was about to get the cops called on it.
In the fall of 2006 the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was hastily tacked on to the SAFE Port Act on the last day of Congress before adjourning for the 2006 elections.
No one on the Senate-House Conference Committee had even seen the final language on the bill before it passed.
George W. Bush signed the bill into law on October 13. The bill put the brakes on the rapid growth of the WSOP and forced publicly traded companies like PartyPoker (the biggest online poker site at the time) out of the USA.
The next year the WSOP Main Event saw the single biggest drop in attendance with over 2,400 less players.
It’s likely the online poker boom of the mid-2000s simply wasn’t sustainable but we often wonder what could have been if UIGEA was at least delayed for a few more years.
Might we have seen 10,000+ entries in the Main Event with a $20m first-place? We’ll never know.
1. Black Friday
On April 11, 2011, the poker world changed forever.
The US Department of Justice finally took its stand on online poker and indicted PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker/UltimateBet.
All of the aforementioned sites were forced out of the US market and made to pay back their customers.
We’re still feeling the ramifications of those decisions today with many poker pros living abroad to ply their trade.
It affected everyone from the sites themselves, to the players, to the media surrounding the online poker boom.
Full Tilt players had their account balances frozen for years. Absolute/UB players never got theirs back.
PokerStars players had to wait years for the site to return in a limited capacity, albeit to New Jersey only. Many poker pros quit the game completely.
Poker players don’t agree on much but pretty much every single one of them will tell you that Black Friday was terrible for everyone involved.
It’s hard to think of a single worse day in the history of poker.