WSOP 2014: Looking back on a great PokerStars summer
The departure of Mathias de Meulder from the Main Event yesterday marked the official end of the summer for Team PokerStars Pro, as far as the World Series of Poker was concerned. De Meulder steered a short stack through as much of yesterday as he could, finishing in a well-earned 433rd place worth more than $25,000, before heading for the airport.
But while Team PokerStars may have no further part to play in proceedings here, it's still worth looking back over what was something of a vintage year, with several high watermarks along the way worthy of reflection.
The summer started with the usual news that Vanessa Selbst had won something. Like Germany in soccer, Selbst's wins almost register no surprise anymore and in terms of our reporting, the news is met with part awe, part terror. It has become the hardest job in poker, that of summoning up fresh superlatives to summarize yet another fantastic performance. See what I mean? "Fantastic." Pah. We've said it so many times the word has lost all meaning.
Selbst won the second Event of this year's Series, a mixed-max no-limit hold'em contest, earning a third WSOP bracelet, not to mention $871,148, after a lengthy heads-up battle against Jason Mo. Each year seems to bring with it a new record for Selbst. Her win this summer puts her within $75,000 of Annette Obrestad as the highest earning woman in WSOP history.
Selbst is used to being the headline act at poker festivals, but she had competition this year for top billing from a team mate who earned their first bracelet this summer, and their second come to think of it. For 2014 was indeed the Summer of George.
George Danzer cuts something of a unique jib on the poker circuit. It helps to have a full Mohawk and look like a man who arrives on a motorcycle having been chased by the police. In reality Danzer's personality is the exact opposite, and the affable German pro became one of the most popular winners when he won the bracelet in the $10,000 Seven Card Razz.
The WSOP was making history with the event, the first Razz event in the Series' 45 year history, and the highest ever Razz buy-in. It also proved to Danzer he had what it took to win a WSOP title, after sometimes doubting whether his bridesmaid status would ever lift. He'd even missed out again earlier in the series, coming fifth in the $10,000 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball.
Danzer though was not done. Now watched by his girlfriend Nicole, Danzer was back in front of the cameras just a couple of weeks later, winning the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Split-8 or Better, proving himself to be one of the best players of events that cost a lot to play and take 15 minutes to say. Two bracelets for Danzer, both from highly competitive disciplines. Now he can let his hair down.
Team PokerStars was not done winning bracelets.
Life's little pressures are no doubt relieved by the financial windfall of a WSOP Main Event win. But pressure often remains in a purely in a poker sense.
Even after winning the biggest tournament in the world, it's not uncommon for winners still feel that they need to prove themselves. Joe Hachem said just that after winning in 2005 as he took honours in a WPT event. Others have since have gone on to win a second major title. So if it was vindication he was looking for Joe Cada, Main Event winner in 2009 got his this year.
Cada overcame what was best described as an All-Star final table in the $10,000 no-limit hold'em six-handed event, earning $670,041. To take down his second bracelet, Cada beat Jeremy Ausmus heads-up, but had conquered a table that also featured the likes of Max Silver, JC Tran, Erick Lindgren, Dario Sammartino, Martin Jacobson and George Danzer. But then who wants to win easy?
"I didn't adjust well enough to my new image and how people were playing against me after I won," said Cada. "It was hard to get away with certain things as I had before, such as playing an aggressive style," he said. "But I was able to adapt after that and have done decently at the WSOP since."
There may have been no more bracelets, but there were still landmark achievements to follow, notable those of Daniel Negreanu.
We wrote extensively about Negreanu over the past week. He's easily the most approachable of the big name pros, and the most genial, forever mixing work with a little pleasure at the table. But while he's never short of time for people who want a picture or an autograph, his game remains one of the most fine-tuned in the business, and he used it this summer to become the highest earning player in World Series history.
Coming off the back of a Player of the Year award in 2013, Negreanu finished second in in the $10,000 2-7 Draw Lowball event and went on to finish second in the Big One for One Drop, the biggest poker tournament in the world. The $8,288,001 he took for second place catapulted him above the previous Big One winner Antonio Esfandiari. Some $29,796,381 in tournament earnings so far. Not yet 40, it's hardly surprising that Ty Stewart speculated that he would be a first ballot entrant to the Poker Hall of Fame.
Other Team Pros ensured their summers were worth the effort.
Humberto Brenes may have kept the shark in the cage, but he still managed to record ten cash finishes over the summer. For the record that took his total number of World Series cashes up to 82, the first coming 27 years ago, a 14th place finish in the 1987 Main Event, won by Johnny Chan.
Other notable performance came from Jason Mercier, who reached two final tables, both in $10,000 2-7 games. Cult hero Alex Kravchenko nearly won his second bracelet in the $1,500 Seven Card Stud event, settling for the runner-up spot. Meanwhile Gabe Nassif of Team Online also reached two final tables in both the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha, and in the $10,000 limit hold'em.
Three bracelets, some great performances, and a few records along the way. Perhaps you don't always need a Main Event win to guarantee some poker history.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter. Photos by Joe Giron and Jayne Furman/Poker Photo Archive