The top 17 poker stories and moments of 2017

Updated: December 29, 2017, 3:27 AM ET
By Bernard Lee

World Series of Poker - Scott BlumsteinAP Photo/John Locher Scott Blumstein won the 2017 World Series of Poker main event.

As 2017 draws to a close, the poker world is buzzing.

First, this weekend, "Molly's Game," the latest poker movie du jour based on a true story of the underground poker world, was released in theaters across the U.S. The initial buzz surrounding the movie is extremely positive; thus, the poker world hopes to have a new favorite Hollywood poker movie.

In recent weeks, PokerStars announced its Players Championship in 2019 in which it will add at least $8 million into the prize pool and an additional $1 million more to the winner. The online poker site will give away at least 300 seats to the $25,000 buy-in event throughout their 2018 season, creating a monstrous event to kick off the 2019 year at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure.

Finally, the 2018 World Series of Poker schedule was just released, which revealed that this year will have 78 bracelet events during the summer series -- including the return of the $1 million Big One For One Drop. Once again held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, the 2018 WSOP plans on being the biggest and best poker tournament series ever.

Of course, 2017 had many other poker-related revelations, so here is my 2017 list of the top 17 stories and moments of the year, in chronological order.

Kenney starts out 2017 blazing hot

The poker year traditionally kicks off down in the warm weather of the Bahamas at the Atlantis Casino Resort. Thousands of players from around the world gather to play in this PokerStars extravaganza. With dozens of tournaments, the buy-ins were affordable for all types of players, ranging from $110 all the way up to the $100,000 Super High Roller.

While Christian Harder won the main event for almost $430,000, Bryn Kenney was simply on fire, as he won two single-day high-roller events that were just two days apart -- earning more than $1.35 million in the process. Initially, Kenney, defending his title from last year, finished in a "disappointing" seventh place in the $100,000 high-roller event (which was won by poker pro Jason Koon). Then, the New York native took his revenge by topping a 69-player field in the $50,000 event, before subsequently besting a 59-player field in the $25,000 event. Overall, Kenney won more than $1.75 million at the PokerStars Championship Bahamas (which has since changed its name back to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure). Not bad for a week's worth of work.

Additionally, Kenney won the $100,000 high-roller event in Monte Carlo and Event #3, the $50,000 buy-in for the Poker Masters series (see below). Overall, Kenney won more than $8.5 million in 2017.

Carlos Monti / Rational Intellectual Holdings / PokerStars BlogKevin Hart made a big splash in the world of poker throughout 2017.

Hollywood actor/comedian uses "Hart" and "Central Intelligence" to play poker

Throughout the year, many A-list celebrities, including athletes, actors and actresses, tried their hand on the felt. To kick off 2017, actor and comedian extraordinaire Kevin Hart registered for the high-roller and main event at the PokerStars Championship Bahamas. He joked with the players throughout the entire event, and most players had only kind words to say about the affable megastar.

Overall, Hart helped increase the visibility and popularity of the game of poker. During the year, he also participated in a hilarious PokerStars campaign with eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt and six-time WSOP bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu.

Ema shows the boys who is boss

As the tour entered its 16th season, the World Poker Tour had never had a female champion in an open event. In 2008, Van Nguyen won the WPT Celebrity Invitational, no woman had ever won one of the main tour events that was fully open to the public. Over the initial decade and a half, several women have made televised final tables. One such player was Ema Zajmovic, who made the final table in November 2016 at her hometown casino, the Playground Poker Room in Montreal. At that final table, longtime WPT host Mike Sexton won on home turf by beating a stellar final table to become a WPT champion .

As the WPT returned to Montreal in February this year, Zajmovic had one goal in mind: to win the title that had eluded her the previous November. Amazingly, she once again made the final table, and this time she accomplished her objective -- lifting the championship belt over her head and taking home just more than $200,000 to break that unlikely drought.

Courtesy of the World Poker TourAt his third career WPT final table, longtime commentator Mike Sexton overcame a massive chip disadvantage and broke through for his first WPT title, in Montreal in 2016. One year later, he retired from his role as ambassador and commentator for the tour.

Ambassador Sexton bids adieu to WPT

One year after capturing his first WPT main event title, and after being the face since the tour's first broadcast 15 years ago, Mike Sexton announced in May that he would be stepping down from his commentary seat to become the Chairman of PartyPoker. After subbing in for Sexton when the "Ambassador of Poker" final tabled some WPT main events in recent years, Tony Dunst permanently took over for the poker Hall of Famer, starting with WPT Season XVI in 2017. Co-host Vince Van Patten remained in the booth to work with the newly appointed Dunst.

No more November Nine! WSOP Main Event returns to July

The November Nine concept was a revolutionary idea when it was introduced in 2008. The concept of "who will win?" continued the suspense of the WSOP main event and increased ESPN viewership after a couple of down years; it also allowed players time to seek out endorsements. However, WSOP management decided that 2016 was the last year of the November Nine, and early in 2017, it announced that players would have just two days off after making the main event final table before they returned to the felt to fight for the most coveted bracelet in poker and the $8.15 million first prize.

Poker, poker, and more Poker Is A "Go"

Poker Central announced an extensive streaming schedule for the WSOP that aired on its newly launched online service, PokerGo. The subscription streaming channel aired numerous events, and it all kicked off with the $111,111 High Roller For One Drop and wrapped up with the WSOP main event. Viewers were familiar with many on the announcing team, including ESPN's Lon McEachern, Norman Chad, Kara Scott, Ali Nejad and David Tuchman, but were introduced to fresh faces, such as Nick Schulman, who has received rave reviews.

Courtesy of Caesars/WSOPJames Moore won the World Series of Poker's "Super Seniors" event two years in a row.

He is so much "Moore" than a "Super Senior"

In 2015, the WSOP added a Super Senior's Event where the minimum age requirement was 65 years old. After this inaugural event, James Moore, a 65-year-old from New Hope, Pennsylvania, won the event an event with 1,476 entrants, taking home $230,626 and the 2016 title. One year later, Moore came back to defend his title -- and did he ever. Moore went back-to-back, and the second time around he did so in a record field of 1,720 entrants and first-place earnings of $259,230. Even his winner's pictures look eerily similar, as the champion wore the same hat and white collared shirt in both photos.

The last time a player won back-to-back events in two consecutive years was Tuan Le; in both 2014 and 2015, he captured the $10,000 2-7 limit triple draw lowball championship. However, Le had to defeat field sizes of only120 (2014) and 109 (2015) to make that happen.

Side Note: In 2018, the WSOP has lowered the age requirement of the super seniors event to 60 years old.

Easy as 1, 2, 3

Several notable players had breakout years at the 2017 WSOP and won their first WSOP gold bracelet, including:

  • Liv Boeree and Igor Kurganov: Event #2: $10,000 Tag Team No-Limit Hold'em Championship
  • John Racener: Event #17: $10,000 Dealers Choice 6-Handed Championship
  • James Obst: Event #26: $10,000 Razz Championship
  • Chris Mooman: Event #27: $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em 6-Handed
  • Mohsin Charnia: Event #52: $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em (See more below)
  • Max Silver: Event 53: $3,000 Limit Hold'em 6-Handed
  • Chris Klodnicki: Event #66: $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em
  • Harrison Gimbel: Event #68: $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em (See more below)
  • Niall Farrell: Event #9 Europe: €25,000 No-Limit Hold'em (See more below)

The unusual trend in 2018 was the number of top players who captured their third piece of jewelry. This impressive list included:

  • Doug Polk: Event #6: $111,111 High Roller for One Drop
  • David Pham: Event #12: $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em
  • Frank Kassela: Event #13: $1,500 No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Draw
  • Adrian Mateos: Event #15: $10,000 Heads-up No-Limit Hold'em Championship (NOTE: at age 22 years old, Mateos is the youngest ever to own three bracelets)
  • John Monette: Event #22: $10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Draw Championship
  • David Bach: see below for more details
  • Brian Yoon: Event #47: $1,500 Monster Stack

Double dose, twice over

Since 2000, there has always been at least one multiple WSOP bracelet winner every year. This year, the trend continued with two players winning multiple bracelets, including one player winning one live and one online.

  • David Bach: Winner of Event #11: $1,500 Dealer's Choice and Event #30: $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship
  • Nipun Java: Winner of Events #10: $1,000 Tag Team no-limit hold'em and Event #71: $1,000 Online no-limit hold'em Championship

Courtesy of Caesars / World Series of PokerMohsin Charania was one of three players to complete poker's Triple Crown in 2017.

Trifecta of players for Triple Crown

Entering 2017, there were only five players who had earned the "Triple Crown" of poker, and it had been five years since a new member had joined this elite club. This distinction is defined as a champion who has captured a World Poker Tour (WPT) main event title, European Poker Tour (EPT) main event title and World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet.

In 2008, Gavin Griffin became the initial member, capturing the WPT Borgata Winter Open main event. Then, in 2009, Englishman Roland de Wolfe became the second player, followed by Jake Cody and Bertrand "ELKY" Grospellier, both of whom completed the trifecta in 2011. The last member "inducted" into this club was Davidi Kitai, when he captured the EPT Berlin in 2012.

In 2017, three more players joined this quintet, bringing the total number of Triple Crown players to eight:

Moshin Charania

Originally from the Chicago area, Moshin Charania has been playing on the poker circuit for more than a decade. His initial breakout victory was in 2012 when his pocket queens outraced French player Lucille Cailly's AK, earning him a European Poker Tour title and €1.35 million. The following year, he captured the 2013 WPT Grand Prix De Paris in France. Four years later, Charania closed out the elusive Triple Crown with his victory in this summer's Event #52, a $1,500 no-limit hold'em tournament, by outlasting 1,579 other entrants. He defeated the founder of Poker Central, Cary Katz, and the title earned him a bracelet, $364,438 and the honor of always being known as a Triple Crown winner.

Harrison Gimbel

After waiting more than five years to award the fifth Triple Crown winner in poker, it took less than 10 days to add another member to this elite club. Harrison Gimbel burst onto the poker scene in 2010 by winning the EPT PokerStars Caribbean Adventure main event for $2.2 million. Four years later, he captured the WPT leg of the achievement at Thunder Valley outside of Sacramento at the 2016 WPT Rolling Thunder main event. This summer, he won his first bracelet in Event #68, a $3,000 no-limit hold'em tournament, by overcoming a field of 1,349, for which he took home $645,922.

Niall Farrell

After the WSOP left Vegas and headed to the Czech Republic for WSOPE, all eyes were focused on Chris Ferguson and his pursuits of the WSOP POY award (see more below). For a moment, Niall Farrell initially upstaged these players by capturing the €25,000 high-roller, earning €745,287 for first place and becoming Scotland's all-time career tournament earnings leader. During this final table, he navigated through four previous WSOP main event final tablists, including 2013 main event champion Ryan Riess and two members of this year's WSOP main event final table, Benjamin Pollak and Antoine Saout. With his previous victories in the 2015 EPT Malta main event and the 2016 WPT Caribbean Poker Party main event, Farrell became the eighth and latest player to capture poker's elite Triple Crown.

John Locher/AP PhotoJohn Hesp, shown here with eventual champion Scott Blumstein, was the breakout star of the 2017 World Series of Poker main event.

Blumstein wins the bracelet, while Hesp captures the hearts of poker fans

After an intense five and half weeks in Las Vegas, The WSOP Main Event, the most anticipated tournament of the year, kicked off with three Day 1 flights. At the end of registration, the WSOP management announced that this year's version was the third-largest in history with 7,221 entries -- up 7 percent from 2016. Only 2010, with 7,319 players, and 2006, with 8,773 players, topped the 2017 version of this event.

After a grueling week of flops, turns and rivers, the final 27 players recognized that the final table was in sight. Would Michael Ruane make back-to-back final tables? Would Ben Lamb and Antoine Saout make a second WSOP main event final table of their own? While Lamb and Saout entered their names into the record books, Ruane fell one spot short as the 2017 WSOP Main Event bubble boy in 10th place.

At the final table, chip leader Scott Blumstein dominated the final table from start to finish and ultimately won the main event bracelet and the $8.15 million first prize. However, Englishman John Hesp, who finished in fourth place, went on to capture the hearts of all poker players alike over the course of the ESPN broadcast. His cordial and gregarious personality was exactly what poker needed, and he earned praise for making poker fun again from players, fans and even the commentators. His signature flamboyant outfits and hat helped endear Hesp to the crowd, as he quickly became a 2017 WSOP fan favorite.

Ivey and Devilfish enter the hallowed halls of the Poker Hall of Fame

From the 10 people who were nominated for the Poker Hall of Fame in 2017, two new members were elected this year. With the recent rule that a new member must be at least 40 years old, the 10-time bracelet winner, Phil Ivey, was sure to be a first-ballot member. However, the sentimental choice for many among the players contingent of the committee was David "Devilfish" Ulliott. Always a fan favorite, especially in his home country of the England, Devilfish passed away in 2015 of cancer. Both of these men earned long-awaited inductions into the Poker Hall of Fame.

"Durrrr" returns to Poker after Dark

After becoming one of the most popular players in the world, Tom Dwan disappeared from the poker spotlight over the past few years. During his hiatus, he was rumored to be playing high stakes cash overseas in Macau and was also criticized for not completing his Durrrr online challenge, especially against fellow superstar, Dan "Jungleman" Cates.

However, with this year's reboot of Poker After Dark, Dwan will return to the public eye, playing on the cash game streamed by Poker Central. With his unique aggressive style, many believe that these will be must watch events on PokerGo.

Purple is the new black

The inaugural Poker Masters, hosted by the Aria Casino in Las Vegas, was a series of five high-roller tournaments in which the player with the most cumulative earnings would be the first to win a now-coveted Purple Jacket.

The German players who were tearing up the high-roller circuit were prohibitive favorites, and one player in particular had a week to remember at the Poker Masters. Steffen Sonthemier final tabled three of the initial four $50,000 buy-in events to take the lead entering the final $100,000 buy-in event. However, due to a flawed leaderboard system (see the WSOP POY below as well), Sonthemier needed to win the final event to secure a win and the newly created Purple Masters Jacket.

Fortunately for the creators of the event, Sonthemier left no doubt by doing just that, besting fellow German Christian Christner heads-up for the title, taking home and additional $1.5 million.

Courtesy of World Poker TourArt Papzyan won the World Poker Tour's Legends of Poker main event, denying Phil Hellmuth his first WPT title. He followed it up with a second main tour win at Maryland Live.

Two WPT titles in five weeks becomes an "Art" masterpiece

After capturing his first WPT main event title in Los Angeles at the Legends of Poker over a star studded final table that included J.C. Tran, Phil Hellmuth and Marvin Rettenmaier, Art Papazyan proved that he wasn't just a one-hit wonder. He followed it up with an incredible encore by winning the WPT Maryland Live Main event. This rare feat made him only the eighth player in WPT history to win multiple main events in the same season. Heading into 2018, it should come as little surprise that he's the clear WPT POY points leader.

U.S. online poker joins forces...in three states

In recent years, U.S. online poker has returned, but only within the boundaries of three specific states: Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. However, in October, New Jersey announced that it will combine with the other two states where poker is legal to share player pools. Although the specific timing is still yet to be determined, this agreement is a positive sign for the future of online poker in the United States. With additional states passing online poker legislation, including Pennsylvania, U.S. poker players all hope it is only a matter of time until additional states will join forces -- ultimately leading to regulated poker back in the U.S.

Controversial POY formula leads to unfavorable WSOP winner

For many professional poker players, the WSOP POY is an extremely coveted title. With some believing that there was too much emphasis on buy-in events of $10,000 or higher, the WSOP revamped their formula. However, these new calculations seemed to give too much focus on min-cashing, resulting in numerous players complaining about the new system as well.

Nevertheless, heading into WSOP Europe, several players had a legitimate chance to win the WSOP POY title. In years past, poker fans would root for their favorite players as the WSOP POY race draws to a close. However, this year, as the players traveled to King Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, many fans were unfortunately rooting against the much maligned 2000 WSOP main event champion, Chris Ferguson. In the end, with a record 23 cashes this year, including 17 in Las Vegas, Ferguson defied any ill will and added his name to the annals of WSOP history.

Bernard Lee

ESPN Staff Writer
Bernard Lee is a columnist for ESPN.com. Since finishing 13th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Lee has earned over $2 million in career earnings, including six poker titles. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Bernard is poker columnist for CardPlayer and All-In Magazines and also the host of a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show".

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