Black Friday made 2011 a year to remember, but the US government’s all-out assault on online poker also overshadowed a handful of important poker stories that may not have got the full attention they deserved.
Today we look at five of those stories.
From a missing Phil Ivey to a missing $130 million, 2011 was nothing if not eventful.
1. Almost-Live WSOP Final Table Stream Changes the Game
Poker has evolved in leaps and bounds over the last few decades with the introduction of the hole-camera, poker on the Internet and the explosion of popularity in the new millennium.
We believe the introduction of almost-live streaming coverage represents another titanic step in the game’s development.
This summer the WSOP ran a live stream with hole cards on a 30-minute delay, but only showing the cards once the hand was complete.
An innovation to be sure, the decision neverthless begged the question: Why not just show the cards live at the end of every hand?
Poker writer and commentator Jesse May asked that very question during the November Nine conference call and the rep from ESPN told us that’s exactly what they want to do.
It would give the players information never before seen so immediately at the tables and could have huge implications strategy-wise.
It would also seriously contribute to the spectator-sport atmosphere the WSOP is trying to cultivate at its Main Event final tables.
Expect to see it next year and keep an eye on our World Series of Poker section for all major announcements.
2. Phil Ivey Drops Off the Face of the Earth
For a long time the poker media world seemed to revolve around Phil Ivey.
If you need evidence of that consider we once flew to Las Vegas just to report every hand of Phil Ivey’s WPT Five Diamond main event experience.
After Black Friday, all that changed.
Ivey has been a ghost since failing to show up for the $25k Heads-Up Championship that kicked off the 2011 WSOP. It was at that time he announced his lawsuit against Tiltware LLC, one of the principal companies that makes up Full Tilt Poker.
So not only have American poker players been deprived of playing online poker this year, they’ve also lost the biggest star in the game in his absolute prime.
If this was a "Big Four" sport, it would have been mentioned daily in some context or another.
Other things haven’t exactly been going Ivey’s way this year either as we found out when details of his divorce were made public this month.
He notably materialized briefly in Macau late in the year, but we eagerly anticipate Ivey’s complete return to the circuit.
3. Phantom Deposits on Full Tilt Poker
Black Friday was far and away the biggest story of the year but one facet of it received surprisingly little attention.
In the Department of Justice’s complaint against Full Tilt Poker it came to light that roughly $130 million in player deposits had never actually been removed from players’ bank accounts.
An informal poll was started on Two Plus Two, in which 56 people owned up to having made these phantom deposits. 22 of those said they had done it in amounts exceeding $5,000.
This entire quagmire was glossed over when Groupe Bernard Tapie’s acquisition of Full Tilt Poker began picking up steam but the missing money is still, well, missing.
The problem is that much of the phantom funds were lost by the depositors and won by honest Full Tilt Poker customers.
So the question remains, will the Department of Justice and/or Bernard Tapie attempt to recover that money from the original depositors, or will they just eat the loss as part of the acquisition?
Keep an eye on the entire Black Friday debacle on our Black Friday Bulletin Board.
4. Ilari Sahamies Loses Big, Wins Biggest?
Finnish phenom Ilari Sahamies has had an unbelievable year playing the biggest cash games on PokerStars using his “Ilari FIN” account.
Sahamies’ year started out on a downward slope, one that continued until he was more than $800,000 in the hole by July. That’s in addition to the roughly $600k he lost playing on Full Tilt in early 2011.
But right around the time the WSOP was wrapping up in Las Vegas, Sahamies kicked off one of the great comebacks in online poker history.
He won $1.6 million in three weeks, playing nothing but Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.
That heater was highlighted by a $1.1 million profit in less than 48 hours.
Sahamies has continued to earn since the summer and as of today he’s the leading money-winner on PokerStars in 2011 with $2.6 million in profit.
His closest competition is Rafi Amit who has made $2.1 million.
5. Brian Rast Wins Two Bracelets, No One Cares
Brian Rast had an unbelievable summer, winning two bracelets including a massive victory in the $50k Players Championship.
But with so many other storylines, and just plain bad timing, Rast’s accomplishment barely registered on the poker world’s radar.
Rast won his first bracelet on June 9, at exactly the same time Phil Hellmuth was finishing second to John Juanda in the $10k No-Limit Deuce to Seven event.
PokerListings.com was there when both of those events went down and we were too busy shadowing Hellmuth and conducting a winner interview with Juanda to catch up with Rast.
But Rast gave the media another shot when he won his second bracelet just a few weeks later, handing Phil Hellmuth his third runner-up finish of the summer and securing the title with the biggest buy-in at the World Series of Poker.
Rast took down $1.06 million for that victory, and gave us a chance to put him in the spotlight.