The Top Poker Moments of the 2010s

The Top Moments in Poker of the 2010s

The new year always presents a great opportunity to pause and take a brief look back before you start moving forward. A new decade is even better and a perfect time to do a long sweep of the past decade and see what sticks out. So that’s what we’re doing here today. We’re taking a look at the top 10 poker moments and trends from the 2010s. Some were good, one was terrible, others were hopeful and several were fun for everyone involved.

So before we propel ourselves into what 2020 has to offer poker, let’s look back at some of the highlights from the 2010s. Think we missed something? Comment below and tell us your favorite moment or poker trend that emerged in the ‘10s.

1. Black Friday

We start with the ugly. The ‘10s started out with a strong forecast for online poker. The game was all over television, major online rooms like PokerStars and Full Tilt kept growing and they were negotiating deals with U.S. casinos.

Then, on April 11, 2011, players who logged on to PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker were met with a shocking notice. The United States Department of Justice had seized the domains for the sites and charged top company executives with offenses that included bank fraud and money laundering.

The sites were ordered to pay back their U.S. players and that’s when things got even worse. Absolute Poker and Full Tilt didn’t have money on hand to pay back players since they had been giving out exorbitant loans to their top pros and executives. PokerStars paid out its players and reached a settlement with the U.S. government that involved forfeiting half a billion dollars, buying Full Tilt for $781 million and then paying out their players as well.

The settlement was reached in 2012 and in that time, thousands of U.S. players who made their living off online poker were forced to find other jobs, transition to live poker or move out of the country. Some players lost it all and others were forced to adapt and fell in love with their new nomadic poker lives. There’s no doubt that Black Friday was the single most consequential event that shaped the poker world in the ‘10s and we’re still feeling ripples of that day today.

2. The Fall of the November Nine

The November Nine was an invention of the 2000s, but it saw its final year in the ‘10s. In 2008, the World Series of Poker decided to spruce up the Main Event by delaying the final table. The nine players to make it to the final table would take a break until November and then come back to play for the title.

There was a lot of buildup the first year and those November Niners became instant celebrities. Peter Eastgate went on to win that year and became the youngest player at the time to win the WSOP Main Event. After that, the November Nine became a poker staple and the title November Niner became a badge of honor in the poker word. When November came around, the stands of the Penn and Teller Theater were packed with fans and the months-long pent-up energy burst over the course of a few days. As the years went on, some of the fanfare dipped and after 2016, the World Series of Poker decided to scrap the November Nine completely.

The last player to win that format was Qui Nguyen, who took down $8 million for his Main Event victory. Since then, we’ve had an old-fashioned start-to-finish Main Event which somehow feels fresh all over again.

3. Negreanu nears the final table

This is another WSOP Main Event-related moment. Back in 2015, when the November Nine still existed, Daniel Negreanu came oh so close to making it to the final table. Negreanu was soaring throughout the Main Event and made the final 27 with a top 10 chip stack.

The final table stage was standing room only as one of the most popular and beloved poker players in the world was about to make the final table. With his larger-than-life personality and penchant for crossing over into the mainstream (like cameos in a Katy Perry music video, the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie and pretty much any poker show on television), Negreanu would’ve pumped new life back into the November Nine with months of promotion, late-night talk shows and more.

But Negreanu finished 11th.

It was late in the day and Joe McKeehen, the eventual champ, called Negreanu’s all-in with a flush and straight draws. Negreanu had top pair and survived the turn, but then the river brought McKeehen a straight. Negreanu took the beat hard, literally. He fell back off of his chair and landed flat on the floor. The moment was immortalized by WSOP photographer Joe Giron, who won the Poker Content of the Year Award at the American Poker Awards for that photo.

The final table bubble burst soon after that and Negreanu hasn’t scored a WSOP Main Event cash since.

4. The Big One for One Drop

The ‘10s saw an explosion of ultra-mega-super high rollers across the globe. Now it seems like there are giant buy-in tournaments all over the globe. We might finish the ‘20s off with a $1-billion buy-in on the moon. But back in 2012, there was just one: The Big One for One Drop.

The WSOP partnered with Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté to bring this massive tournament to life. Aside from the spectacle and millions of dollars, the tournament raised money for Laliberté’s newly founded charity, One Drop Foundation, which aims to bring safe drinking water to crisis areas. A total of $111,111 from each buy-in went to the foundation, while the rest went on to create a giant prize pool and one of the single biggest payouts in poker history: $18 million.

The tournament started off with clowns, acrobats and a light show as the world’s top poker players and rich businessmen from around the world came to play in the richest tournament in history. The tournament drew 48 players and Antonio Esfandiari came out on top to win $18 million and the title of One Drop champion.

There have been three more seven-figure One Drop tournaments and other massive buy-in tournaments have sprouted up in Macau and London. The title of the largest buy-in tournament now belongs to the £1-million buy-in Triton Million Charity Tournament.

5. The PSPC

While the PokerStars Players Championship didn’t have the ginormous buy-ins of the tournaments above, it did come in at a hefty $25,000 and gave hundreds of free entries, called Platinum Passes, to players around the world.

The yearlong buildup along with the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” allure of the Platinum Passes gave the PSPC a magical aura reminiscent of Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP Main Event win. Hundreds of recreational and amateur players were going to be playing in one of the biggest tournaments in the world with some of the best players in the world. And all the best players did show up; there was no way they could pass up the value of playing a $25,000 tournament against hundreds of amateurs.

The tournament took place at the 2019 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas and drew 1,039 players. In the end, it was a Platinum Pass winner who took things down. Spanish player Ramon Colillas won his pass playing small buy-in tournaments across Spain and turned that ticket into a $5.1-million payday. Before that, he only had about $10,000 in live tournament earnings.

The PSPC is continuing on into the ‘20s and the second iteration will be held in Barcelona this August.

6. Poker on the go

Being able to play poker with strangers from around the world at any stake from the comfort of your home was easily the greatest poker development of the ‘00s. The ‘10s made things even more convenient and portable by bringing that technology to the palm of your hand.

Every major poker site launched some form of mobile poker last decade, allowing you to take your game on the bus, the bank, or even the halls of Congress. There was probably no bigger-profile game of smartphone poker than when the late John McCain was caught playing poker on his iPhone during a three-hour Senate hearing on Syria.

Maybe the ‘20s will see some new technology that allows us to play poker in our dreams.

7. Crazy years for crazy players

The ‘10s marked some pretty insane years for a bunch of younger players who don’t have the mainstream name recognition like Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu or Phil Hellmuth.

Bryn Kenney had the most recent wild year that made him the highest-earning player in poker history. Kenney started the year off by winning the Aussie Millions Main Event for almost $1 million and then he had four more $1 million-plus scores throughout the year. Kenney won $3 million in March for finishing second in the Triton Super High Roller in South Korea and then won more than $4 million in May after winning two Triton Super High Roller events in Montenegro.

Then Kenney won nearly three times that combined amount in August. While he didn’t win the £1-million buy-in Triton Million, he negotiated a deal during heads-up that saw him win the biggest chunk of change in the tournament: $20.5 million. Kenney finished 2019 with a total of $30.3 million in live tournament earnings.

The year before, Justin Bonomo came close by winning $25 million. Bonomo started that year off with a seven-figure score too. He won $1 million on January 6 for finishing second in the $100,000 Super High Roller at the PCA and then won $4.8 million in March during the Super High Roller Bowl in Macau. In May, Bonomo took another smooth $5 million for winning the $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl in Las Vegas and then won double that during the WSOP. Bonomo’s ridiculous year topped off with a $10-million victory in The Big One for One Drop.

These two ridiculous years came after Fedor Holz’s astounding 2016. During that year, Holz won six high roller and super high roller tournaments and finished the year off with $16 million in live tournament earnings. Again, Holz started off his crazy year with a seven-figure score in the first few days of the year. Holz started off his run by winning $3 million in the Triton Super High Roller in the Philippines on January 3, 2016.

It seems like the secret to having a ridiculous poker year is by winning $1 million or more in January. Easy enough.

This trend was vastly different from the ‘00s. In that decade, every top-earning player of the year was the WSOP Main Event champion.

8. From broadcast and blogs to streaming and vlogs

Back in the day, we had poker blogs and were forced to get our televised poker fix sandwiched between salacious or geriatric commercials at 3 a.m. Now there’s a never-ending stream of poker content thanks to YouTube, Twitch and others.

At the start of the decade, TwoPlusTwo Forums and poker books were the most popular ways to study the game; now there are a ton of training sites, videos and coaches to help players take their game to the next level. Back in 2010, players would post a few key hands online with analysis, now you can watch some of the top pros stream their play almost live and hear them talk through their reasoning.

The ‘10s also saw the launch of PokerGo, a dedicated subscription poker channel that gives you poker content 24-7. It has all the biggest tournaments, classics and they develop their own original poker content.

If you want to live and breathe poker while you’re not playing, then the ‘10s really was a dream come true.

9. Rise of the machines

Despite several attempts to include dogs or monkeys in poker, the game has remained exclusively human. There was one successful non-human contender that appeared in the ‘10s, though; in fact, it was not alive at all.

While you’ve been able to play poker against computers for years, 2017 saw the emergence of a sophisticated AI called Libratus that was able to take on and beat some of the game’s top players. Over the course of 20 days, Libratus battled Jason Les, Dong Kim, Jimmy Chou and Daniel McAulay. The machine went on to beat all four players and come out on top with $1.7 million in play money.

It was a huge development over the previous AI, Claudico, which lost against four poker players in 2015. Libratus showed a huge improvement in being able to deal with incomplete information. The machine wasn’t built to play poker either. In an interview with The Guardian, Noam Brown, a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon who helped create Libratus, said they only gave Libratus the rules of poker and told it to learn the game on its own.

After every night of play, Libratus would learn and adapt from that day’s play and get even stronger. The players said the experience was tough and demoralizing. There’s no doubt that AI will keep advancing as we move further into the ‘20s.

10. Legalize it

We end the list with a hopeful note and a bit of a bookend. While the start of the decade seemed to bring the end of online poker in the United States, the end of the decade saw its resurgence.

At the close of 2019, six different U.S. states have legalized online poker. Out of those six, Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania all have fully functioning online poker rooms while West Virginia and Michigan are still waiting for the rollout.

There are several other states working on legalizing online poker now that the floodgates have opened. One of the biggest contributors to legalizing online poker has been the courts. In 2012 a federal judge ruled that poker was a game of skill and then a 2018 Supreme Court ruling struck down a law that banned sports betting and gave states the right to legislate on the matter themselves. Now that several states are revisiting their online gaming laws, poker is getting thrown into the mix. What will really see poker skyrocket again is if large states like New York, California, Texas and Florida legalize it and enter a shared player pool agreement with other states.

While that might be a few years away, the ‘20s is looking pretty good for poker players in the United States.