As a banged-up 2020 finally rattles into the pitstop after countless laps around the roughest terrain, it’s safe to say we’re all looking forward to getting behind the wheel of something new.
But before you start browsing the 2021 dealerships (online, of course) we’re going to pop the hood and take a look at what kept 2020 running throughout it all.
It’s been a strange year, to say the least. But the poker world had plenty of action to keep us entertained.
While all PokerStars Live events were understandably cancelled, the wonderful world of online poker took centre stage in 2020 with incredible festivals, significant storylines and massive money prizes. The PokerStars Blog team was on the floor – ie. sat at home in beanbag chairs working at makeshift desks on coffee tables – to watch and write about all of it.
So let’s rewind back to January (Oh January, t’was a simpler time…) and then scroll our way through the most unique year in poker history.
Twelve months ago we kicked things off on a positive note, so that’s what we’ll do here.
As more and more poker boomers become parents, Jack Stanton explored the joys that parenting as a poker professional can bring, as well as the challenges. Featuring interviews with Max Silver, Niall Farrell and Celina Lin, this article from January gives a peek behind the curtain to what it’s like to play poker for a living with a family to support.
“When I started playing poker in my 20s, it was much more about taking shots,” Celina Lin told me. “Now I think about what a buy-in amount is worth for my baby, in terms of buying diapers, formula, future schooling, all that stuff. It’s a different perspective. From here on, everything we do, we really have a reason for it.”
Now, I’m not saying that PokerStars Blog writer Howard Swains is a clairvoyant, but he must have had some strong premonitions about the year ahead when he wrote about how to take care of your posture while playing online poker back in January.
Who knew that that’s all we’d be doing for the next 12 months? Swains, apparently.
The online poker calendar was off and running, particularly in Pennsylvania where the first-ever Pennsylvania Championship of Online Poker (PACOOP) took place. Things climaxed with the $300 buy-in Main Event that drew 640 entries and featured a $179,200 prize pool. After two days Ryan Gerber emerged as the winner, earning the first prize of $31,335.64.
“It’s funny,” the 32-year-old project manager told Martin Harris. “I joked with some of my friends that I don’t know what’s cooler, the money or the title of first PACOOP Main Event Champion. I’ll take both.”
The Bounty Builder Series wrapped up in February with “Zurba25pin” taking down the Main Event for $273,591, including $92,926 in bounties. Meanwhile, Portugal’s Rui “RuiNF” Ferreira was crowned the bounty king as the player to have won the most bounties throughout the series (that’s not the only series Ferreira would crush in 2020 – more from him later).
We also noticed poker popping up out in the real world. Swains took a look at the hilarious poker games played in the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm, while Harris learned about a new poker class on offer at John Hopkins University.
March was the month that everything changed. But it was also the month where we celebrated some poker legends.
The first was our very own Martin Harris who won the Best Media Content of the Year (written) award at the Global Poker Awards for his incredible book Poker and Pop Culture (check out an excerpt here).
That win was just one of four awards that PokerStars and its ambassadors bagged that night. Read all about them.
The other poker legend was one was lost. Kenny Rogers, a friend to poker and singer of the game’s theme song, sadly passed away.
In the online world, we were creating new legends like Alex “AAAArthur” Brito. The Brazilian turned $4 into $1.1 million when he won the massive Sunday Million 14th Anniversary edition, beating a field of 93,016.
From losing his job to taking a shot and becoming a millionaire, Brito’s story inspired us all and is well worth revisiting.
“Believe me, you must never give up. I’m an example,” Brito told Jack Stanton. “I’m just an aspiring poker player, a recreational player who has now managed to change life for his family thanks to poker.”
We also began to look back at the legends of European Poker Tours past, as James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton began their journey through old live footage.
EPT Retro saw them watch every final table from every EPT event, but that footage only told part of the story. Howard Swains has been to more EPTs than he’s had hot dinners, and he provided the backstory to every event right here on PokerStars Blog.
By April thousands of poker players had turned to PokerStars as their live games were unable to go ahead. To keep minds at ease, we examined how the PokerStars Game Integrity Team ensures a level playing field and keeps poker safe for us to play.
We also saw the first series of the Brazilian Series of Poker (BSOP) play out online. Find out who all the big winners were here.
The world was full of uncertainty in April, but one thing we knew for sure?
Conor “1_conor_b_1” Beresford was the top online tournament player in the world.
Beresford absolutely dominated the PocketFives rankings throughout 2020, only losing the top spot towards the end of the year. He absolutely crushed, winning a plethora of huge events like the High Roller Series Main Event in April, a Stadium Series title in August, and his first WCOOP title in September.
Speaking of big winners, all the stars were out in April (and when I say out, I mean ‘In at their computers’) to take part in the CALL for Action charity tournament, powered by PokerStars.
The event was organised by Hank Azaria (of The Simpsons, Heat and Brockmire fame) and film director and screenwriter Andy Bellin, who spoke to us about the inspiration behind it.
The lobby was a who’s who of celebrity poker fans: David Schwimmer, Neymar Jr, Ed Norton, Casey Affleck, Amy Schumer, Teri Hatcher, Michael Cera, Jason Alexander, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are just a few of the many names who took part.
Ultimately it was David Costabile of The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Billions who took down the event, defeating Brazilian international footballer and Bayern Munich star Douglas Costa heads-up win $100,000 for his chosen charity.
We were on hand to bring live updates from the event, but weirdly, we also took part.
Somehow, Blog writer Jack Stanton managed to sneak his way into a seat into one of the most star-studded poker tournaments of all time and win $10,000 for charity in the process. Here’s how he did it.
Back in the real world of online poker, May also saw the poker stars align for the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP).
It was the biggest SCOOP yet, with 371 tournaments over 33 days with buy-ins ranging from $2.20 to $25,000 (find out all the interesting SCOOP 2020 stats here).
There were three Main Event winners: “auercan” ($109 L – $371,750) “HayashiJoão” ($1,050 M – $920,066) and “Alexgirs” ($10,300 H – $920,595).
PokerStars Ambassador and Twitch superstar Fintan “easywithaces” Hand won his first SCOOP trophy, in what he described as a career-defining moment, streaming to more than 12,000 people live on Twitch. The reward for the PokerStars Ambassador was a $73,652.88 payday, but the money seemed almost by-the-by as Hand willed in the win through his sheer enthusiasm.
But Hand wasn’t the only PokerStars Ambassador to make headlines.
Both Lex Veldhuis and Benjamin “Spraggy” Spragg made Day 3 of the $10,300 SCOOP Main Event.
When Spraggy was out in 30th for $40,955, he sent his incredible 17,000 viewers over to raid Lex, who already had some 34,000 people tuning in.
As Lex continued to grind the $10K, his viewership peaked at an extraordinary 58,799. That was not only a new record for Lex but the most viewers for any poker stream ever.
“I think words fall short of what tonight’s session was,” Lex said. “I broke the world record for the number of viewers for Twitch Poker with 58,799. I live in a town with only 48,000 or so people who live here. That’s crazy.”
It also meant Lex Veldhuis’ stream became the no.1 ranked stream on the entire Twitch platform worldwide.
“When I saw the viewer amount I couldn’t believe it,” Lex said. “I was ranked no.1 on Twitch out of 125,000 live streams. It’s overwhelming how crazy that is. It feels like such a milestone.”
As for the tournament itself, Lex battled on but would ultimately fall in 15th after securing several pay jumps to $62,500.
The hottest player throughout the series was undoubtedly Connor “blanconegro” Drinan who won an incredible five titles in just nine days. Drinan won:
- Event #34 High ($530 PLO) for $34,421 (his first day of playing SCOOP)
- Event #40 High ($5,200 PLO Six Max) for $152,011 (two days later)
- Event #45 Medium ($215 NLO8 Six-Max PKO) for $105,200 (less than 24 hours later)
- Event #56 High ($1,050 HORSE) for $30,223 (three days later)
- Event #75 High ($10,300 PLO) for $322,264 (three days later)
That’s a total of $553,504, all won between May 9 – 17, 2020.
Steve “Mr Tim Caum” O’Dwyer won the $25,000 Super High Roller for $521,597, while Rui “RuiNF” Ferreira was crowned player of the series after leading the contest from the very earliest stages all the way to its conclusion. Ferreira did not win a SCOOP tournament this year but instead reaped the rewards from an amazing show of stamina and consistency.
We spoke to Ferreira after his incredible SCOOP performance, and he provided some great words of wisdom for aspiring poker players. “When you first start to play, you fail a lot, you know?” he says. “You fail, and you fail, and you fail, and you fail, but you never give up. I know I sound like a cliche, but it’s true. I failed so many times when I was starting.”
We began the summer by taking a look at some of the most exclusive private poker games in the world, including the now-infamous Molly’s Games, the Triton Super High Roller cash games, and the Silicon Valley private cash games.
We also saw one of poker’s most private players–the great Phil Ivey–back in the newspapers. Ivey was back in court, and Howard Swains explored why he’ll be there again and again.
June was also the month that Maria Konnikova released her massively-anticipated book The Biggest Bluff, chronicling her journey from bestselling author and complete poker novice to a poker champion talking shop with some of poker’s elite. Martin Harris reviewed the book here.
On PokerStars, the Summer Series saw Fedor “CrownUpGuy” Holz win a high roller, while Ole “wizowizo” Schemion, Thomas “WushuTM” Muehloecker, Parker “Tonkaaaa” Talbot, and Dominik “Bounatirou” Nitsche won High Roller Club titles.
While those guys had great months, plenty of other poker players were stuck in the middle of downswings. To help, we spoke with several SCOOP 2020 champions to get their tips on how you can break free of a downswing.
With no World Series of Poker Main Event to keep us entertained throughout July, the poker world looked ahead to August and the beginning of a brand new poker series: Stadium Series (more on that in a minute).
In the meantime, we looked at some of the world’s best (and most famous) poker commentators, and looked into why you should always tag players and make notes when playing on PokerStars in ‘Mike McD, KGB, and the Oreo Cookie’.
The Stadium Series on PokerStars dominated poker headlines in August with 106 events and $55.4 million in prizes awarded.
Here’s a look at the biggest winners of the series:
- $721,235.15: Fernando “fviana” Viana in Grand Final – High: $5,200 buy-in
- $266,006.35: Caio “Pessagno” Pessagno in Grand Final – Medium: $530 buy-in
- $261,489.46: Parker “Tonkaaaa” Talbot in Weekly Final – High: $2,100 buy-in
Stadium Series was also a huge success on Twitch, both in terms of viewers and for PokerStars Ambassadors.
PokerStars’ army of streamers played a full slate of Stadium Series tournaments and some enjoyed huge success — both in terms of viewers and tournament position.
- Lex Veldhuis won Heat 16-H, banking $96,143.60, in front of a peak of 24,955 viewers during an 11-hour stream.
- Fintan “easywithaces” Hand finished third in Heat-18-H picking up $57,299.20 in front of a peak of 9,774 viewers.
- Ben “Spraggy” Spragg finished third in Heat 25-H, winning $70,633.50 but also breaking his record for peak viewers. At his highest point, 30,415 viewers tuned in.
PokerStars also launched the now wildly successful Grand Tour in August. The fast-paced Progressive Knockout races were a big hit as we showed you how to play Grand Tour and provided some Grand Tour tips from OP-Poker.
We then started to look ahead to September and the biggest online poker series of them all: the World Championship of Online Poker, or WCOOP.
In anticipation, Martin Harris took a walk down memory lane and brought us the 10 most memorable moments in WCOOP history, from “POTTERPOKER” to “I wont million”.
Harris was also busy engaging with the world of mind sports as the Mind Sports Olympiad went online for the first time. Throughout August, players from all over the world participated in more than 90 tournaments featuring close to 50 different games including poker, chess, backgammon, Go, bridge, and draughts. Games like Acquire, Catan, Quoridor, Entropy, Agricola, Lines of Action, and Hive were also in the line-up as well, along with many more.
The entire poker world turned its gaze to WCOOP in September and the prestigious series didn’t disappoint.
“The 2020 World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) took place against a backdrop of global uncertainty,” Howard Swains said. “Almost every country in the world was in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, and major poker events all shifted online. It meant that while live poker was practically non-existent, players were spoilt for choice with respect to the online game, and they never had a greater selection of games in which to invest their bankroll.”
We interviewed many of the amazing WCOOP champions crowned in 2020, including Preben “prebz” Stokkan, Kevin “care_teddy” Van Veen, and the player who led the Player of the Series race for much of the contest, Yuri “theNERDguy” Martins.
Our Main Event winners in the three buy-in tiers were Andre “PTFisherman23” Marques (High), ‘1mSoWeeeaK’ (Med), and ‘klimono’ (Low), all of whom will go down in the WCOOP history books.
Head here to find out exactly how Andre “PTFisherman23” Marques won the WCOOP Main Event for $1.14 million, featuring interviews from the final table players.
The total prize pools for the series came in at $99,945,229.85, while the total number of entries hit 1,120,910. Check out our breakdown of all the WCOOP 2020 stats here.
Then take a look at our 5 unforgettable moments from WCOOP 2020.
Outside of WCOOP, Martin Harris sat down for a chat with Peter Alson to discuss his new poker novel, The Only Way to Play It, which was released in September. The book received high praise, particularly from Rounders writer Brian Koppelman: “Here is the poker novel I’ve been waiting years for someone to write,” said Koppelman. “It doesn’t just feel true. It is.”
What’s this? Live poker? In 2020?!!
Yep, over in Russia the EPT Sochi was able to still go ahead. Ruslan Bogdanov took down the title becoming the only live EPT champion of 2020.
Online, we saw Brazilian crusher Pedro “PaDiLhA SP” Padilha win the Bounty Builder Series Main Event. His victory over a field of 5,581 entries in the $530 event was worth $259,570.11, including $90,784.78 in bounties, bigger than any of his previous online successes.
Martin Harris continued to interview his favourite poker authors in October. This time he spoke with Joseph Walsh, writer of the legendary California Split, about his new memoir Who Says It’s Over.
And while we’re on the subject of great storytelling, PokerStars Blog wanted to help you tell better bad beat stories. That’s why we invited an award-winning master of storytelling, Matthew Dicks, to help you get your bad beat stories up to scratch.
While Ruslan Bogdanov was the only live EPT winner of 2020, November saw the prestigious tour hit the online felt for the first time in its history.
In the build-up, Howard Swains provided us with some excellent EPT trivia from the tour’s rich 16-year history.
EPT Online had a schedule akin to that at a live stop, with plenty of juicy side events to keep players in action. But all eyes were on the $5,200 Main Event.
The tournament was riveting all the way to the end when Sweden’s “WhatIfGod” defeated arguably one of the best No Limit Hold’em tournament player in the world–Timothy “Tim0thee” Adams–to clinch the title, the trophy, and the enormous $1,019,081 first-place prize.
Moving into December, there was exciting news right off the bat.
A brand new poker extravaganza called Blowout Series would be replacing the Winter Series on the December schedule. In fact, it’s going on right now!
But for those of us with more modest bankrolls, there was also the MicroMillions. With its $4.6 million in prize pools, it wasn’t so micro after all. Head here for a full recap.
There was big news from the PokerStars offices in time for Christmas: football superstar Neymar Jr returned to the world’s largest online poker site in a new partnership.
“When I’m not playing football, I love playing cards,” Neymar said as the partnership was announced. “Competing with my friends is a huge passion of mine, I love the sense of community, the fun, and the unpredictable moments that can occur in any game. As a true poker fan, I am excited to start a new chapter with PokerStars. Together we’ll be creating moments for our community and fans all over the world.”
In short: Neymar is IN!
We too were all in(doors) during November and December, and most of us were watching the awesome The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix.
What you might not have realised on the first watch is how important poker was to the original script, as Jen Shahade explained on PokerStars Blog.
If you watched the show and it made you curious about chess, here are six ways that poker compares.
Perhaps chess and poker aren’t enough to keep your brain turning. Just in case, we also invited you to take a break from poker puzzles and try solving the mystery of ‘Cain’s Jawbone’.
Finally, James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton wrapped up the year with special guests Phil Helmuth, Aaron Sorkin and Joshua Malina on the incredible 200th Anniversary show of the Poker in the Ears podcast.
Thanks to all of you for reading the PokerStars Blog this year. From all of us, we wish you a very happy new year in 2021.
Previous Years in Review: