PokerStars Big 20 – 2019: The greatest (and most unlikely) poker achievements

December 03, 2021inPoker

PokerStars is celebrating its 20th Anniversary: 20 years as the best known and most trusted online poker site. Here at PokerStars Blog, we are looking back year-by-year on those two decades, noting the landmarks and remembering all the remarkable moments, fitting them into the wider landscape of poker’s sensational development.

Today we’re looking back to 2019 when an Italian pro defied all odds to do the seemingly impossible: he won the $10,000 buy-in SCOOP Main Event for the second year in a row.

While this accomplishment was astounding, it’s just one of countless great achievements PokerStars has seen over the years, including two people who won two EPT titles, and a celebrated author who took down a major poker tournament just one year after first learning the game…

Gianluca Speranza was convinced he would win.

The Austria-based Italian pro, perhaps better known by his PokerStars screen name “Tankanza”, finished Day 1 of the 2019 Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) $10,000 buy-in Main Event fifth in chips. A solid start to Day 2 only indoctrinated his belief further.

Why was this poker pro so assured in his ability to manoeuvre through 662 of the best poker players in the world and take down one of the toughest online tournaments of the year?

That’s easy: he’d already done it the year before.

In 2018, Speranza outlasted a 654-player field and overcame a tough final table which included the likes of Chris “Big Huni” Hunichen, Thomas “WushuTM” Muehloecker, and the long-reigning world no.1 Niklas “Lena900” Åstedt. For that victory, Speranza won a massive $1,113,160.

Now he had his heart set on becoming the first player ever to win two SCOOP Main Event titles, in back-to-back years no less.

Gianluca “Tankanza” Speranza

He had his work cut out for him. The 2019 edition unsurprisingly produced another tough final table which included Dinesh “NastyMinder” Alt and–interestingly–the player Speranza beat heads-up for the title in 2018, “nailuj90”. Nevertheless, he was getting the job done.

Speranza ultimately struck a heads-up deal with Belarus’ “OMGitshunt” and went on to win it all once again, this time for $1,028,203, in what our Howard Swains described as “an unprecedented achievement, arguably the most unlikely online poker result ever documented.”

For whatever reason, the SCOOP series always seems to bring out the best in players. We’ve witnessed some incredible feats in the month of May over the past 12 years.

In fact, in the series’ very first edition back in 2009, Terrence “Unassigned” Chan pulled off something very special. He not only won a then-unprecedented two SCOOP events in one day, but they also happened to be in the very same event. Chan won both the Medium and High editions of the $530 Limit Hold’em for a mind-boggling one-night haul of $186,187.

But what Connor “blanconegro” Drinan managed to achieve in 2020 will be hard to ever beat. Drinan–who already had one SCOOP title from 2019–broke Shaun Deeb’s single series victory record by taking down five SCOOP titles in one year, and all five came within a nine-day period. Here’s a look at Drinan’s unbelievable results between May 9-17, 2020:

  • 2020 – 34-H: $530 PLO8 (8-Max) – $34,420
  • 2020 – 40-H: $5,200 PLO (6-Max) – $152,011
  • 2020 – 45-M: $215 NLO8 (6-Max) PKO – $28,358
  • 2020 – 56-H: $1,050 HORSE – $30,232
  • 2020 – 75-H: $10,300 PLO, 6-Max, PLO Main Event – $322,264

Collectively, that adds up to over $550,000 in prize money (plus, he also cashed in 25 other SCOOP events in 2020).

Five in one year for Connor Drinan

So far all we’ve looked at is online poker achievements. What incredible feats have taken place on the live felt?

We’ll start with Maria Konnikova’s epic ‘student to master’ journey which took place from 2017 through 2018. 


By January 2017, Konnikova had enjoyed New York Times Bestseller status with her first two books, 2013’s Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes and 2016’s The Confidence Game, and she was looking for a new subject to write about. Little did she know that what she settled on–poker–would become one of her true passions.

Konnikova decided to enter the poker world with little to no knowledge of the game; an effort to discover how the poker skills she’d pick up could be transferred to live a more successful life away from the tables. To help her, she began her tutelage under one of the all-time greats, Poker Hall-of-Famer Erik Seidel.

Twelve months later, she had gone from not knowing how many cards were in a deck to winning the $1,650 National at the PCA 2018, outlasting 290 players over several days to win her first live poker tournament for an $84,600 prize. Incredible.

Incredible win for Konnikova

Konnikova’s victory sent ripples of excitement through the poker world, much like Victoria Coren Mitchell had done (twice) before her.

Coren Mitchell became the first woman to win an event on the European Poker Tour when she took down EPT London in 2006 for $941,513. While great for the game, her result wasn’t surprising; she’d been grinding poker for years, after all, and was a skilled player. 

But Coren Mitchell really set the world alight when she became the first person to ever win two EPT titles. Her victory at EPT San Remo for $660,947 in 2014 was surprising, not because of who won but for how long it took someone to do it. We’d seen close calls before–Mike McDonald came very close indeed–but it felt like a weight was lifted when she became the sole member of the two-time club.

Vicky Coren Mitchell, two-time EPT champ

It would take another five years before anyone joined her, though. The man to do so was Mikalai Pobal of Belarus and his wait for a second title was also eight years long, just as Coren Mitchell’s was.

Pobal’s first success on the EPT came in 2012 in Barcelona when he won $1,237,928. Then in 2019, just before the world entered one of its craziest years in recorded history, Pobal walked right through the door that Coren Mitchell was holding open for him, winning EPT Prague for $1,115,981.

“I’ve thought about it a lot, but it was always just in my dreams and my hopes,” Pobal told us right after his victory. “Today they have come true. It’s great.”

Mikalai Pobal: Two-time champion!

We could be here all week listing all of the great PokerStars achievements, but the Big 20 celebrations must continue. Tomorrow we’re heading to 2020. Buckle up.


2018 – The year of platinum hunting
2017 – The oral history of the Fintan and Spraggy stream
2016 – The poker community gives back
2015 – The rise of the global game
2014 – The art of the streak
2013 – Is this the best final table ever?
2012 – A look back at some of poker’s best (and worst) innovations
2011 – Isuldur1 and the nosebleed cash games
2010 – Poker as a TV and streaming spectacle
2009 – The live poker boom hits its highest point
2008 – Where future superstars cut their teeth
2007 – The changing face of the sponsored pro
2006 – How poker prize pools ballooned
2005 – Reporting on poker will never catch on…
2004 – The Year of the EPT
2003 – Chris Moneymaker wins WSOP, sparks ‘poker boom’
2002 – The year of WCOOP
2001 – Electronic poker before PokerStars


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