There’s been no shortage of big stories in the poker world lately. From legal disputes to Twitch bans to the murder case of Susie Zhao, poker has seen plenty of headlines.
There’s also some good news. Poker Central has announced a big heads-up battle between Phil Hellmuth and Antonio Esfandiari.
The WPT also honored longtime commentator Mike Sexton. Here’s a look at some of the interesting stories of late.
WSOP poker streams bring plenty of controversy
Online streaming has been a great source for poker fans following the WSOP Online action this summer. Those media efforts have also brought some controversy.
Mike Matusow made waves earlier in the series after being eliminated from a tournament. He then went on a vulgarity-laced rant via his YouTube stream. Many reacted negatively to his antics, which included threats of bodily harm.
Daniel Negreanu had his own expletive-filled rant over the weekend. After a viewer made a negative remark about his wife, Negreanu went off. He didn’t apologize for the antics but offered an explanation on Twitter.
Moral of the story:
Be yourself. If sometimes that includes you being an idiot or an asshole, feel free to laugh at yourself
You don’t have to be proud of it, but you also don’t have to beat yourself up over it
No one is perfect. Trying to be is exhausting
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) July 28, 2020
Negreanu received plenty of criticism and was even banned by Twitch. However, fans can still catch his stream on YouTube, Facebook Live, and Periscope.
“When someone comes after me, it triggers me more than it should,” Negreanu said during Monday night’s stream. “In this case the guy just triggered me so I went off on him.”
Negreanu: High rollers hurting the poker industry
Beyond the Twitch controversy, Negreanu made more news last week in an interview with the UK’s Daily Star. He argued high roller events are killing televised poker.
“I think there is a real danger here, with the trend that we have seen, where you almost have to be too cool for school, you don’t get excited and you don’t show any emotion,” he told the newspaper. “Frankly, I think the high roller circuits are damaging poker more than you could imagine.”
The social aspect is a big part of the game, Negreanu argues. He believes players sitting quietly throughout an event with little or no table talk bores viewers and hurts the game.
“I think they are doing more damage by taking the personality out of the game to be prim and proper,” the GGPoker ambassador says. “Poker wasn’t designed to be that way. Poker is an antagonistic game, it’s a stick the needle in game where you say ‘I got you sucker, let’s go.’ That’s what it’s all about.”
WPT honors Mike Sexton with cup naming
The World Poker Tour honored longtime commentator Mike Sexton on July 21. The tour’s ultimate trophy has been renamed the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup.
Sexton has been playing since the 1970s and has a WPT and WSOP title. He also helped design the original partypoker software. He remains the company’s chairman and was elected to the Poker Hall of Fame in 2009.
The Sexton Cup is the WPT’s biggest achievement with each winner’s name etched on the trophy.
“I was thrilled to get my name on the WPT Champions Cup in Montreal in 2016,” Sexton said in a news release.
“In 15 seasons in the commentator booth, I can attest first-hand how difficult it is to win a WPT main event. I thought being inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame would be the greatest moment of my career, but to have the WPT Champions Cup named in my honor and be part of the experience for all WPT champions moving forward is truly the highest peak in my 40 years in poker.”
Phil Ivey legal battle comes to an end
The controversy surrounding poker legend Phil Ivey finally cleared up in July. The 10-time WSOP bracelet winner reached an undisclosed financial agreement with MGM Resorts.
The two battled in court over millions Ivey and an accomplice won from the Borgata. Ivey’s dispute with MGM began in 2012 when he and gambling partner Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun visited the property four times.
They played Baccarat using a method known as “edge sorting” to win $9.6 million.
Edge sorting involved using minute differences on card backs to identify them. Also in 2012, Ivey won £7.3 million ($11 million) playing at Crockfords Casino in London.
Crockfords refused to pay more than £1 million and Ivey sued. Crockfords argued that the pair requested a certain type of playing cards favorable to them.
The pair also requested Chinese-speaking dealers to ensure a favorable game. Ivey lost his case even in front of the UK Supreme Court.
Borgata, which already paid Ivey his winnings, sued to recover losses in 2016. A New Jersey court sided with the casino but Ivey appealed.
The legal process dragged on for years. MGM even pursued Ivey’s assets and WSOP winnings in 2019.
Last September, a federal appeals court referred the parties to mediation. MGM and Ivey reached an agreement, ending one of the more interesting poker-related legal battles.
In February, a Hollywood production company announced a new movie focusing on Sun’s life. Ivey may be featured as a character in the film.
Poker case goes back to the courtroom
More poker jurisprudence made news last week. A Vermont player’s lawsuit against the Golden Nugget was revived by a New Jersey appeals court.
The suit came after Michael Bandler traveled to the casino in 2015. He’d been set to play in a tournament with a $150,000 prize.
“The tournament started, but was canceled by the casino due to a low number of registered players,” the Associated Press notes. “Bandler was given a small amount of prize money for winning one of the events.”
He charged the casino with false advertising and fraud. The casino argued the $150,000 was never guaranteed and that the tournament announcement noted that it could be canceled.
A lower court dismissed the case, but the appeals court ruling means the suit can go forward. The court noted that consumer fraud laws apply in the case.
The court also noted that the casino’s disclaimer is disputed and was in small print.
Police investigate murder of poker player
A disturbing crime involving a poker player surfaced over the weekend. The badly burned body of Susie Zhao was found on July 13 in Michigan’s Pontiac Lake Recreation Area.
Two hikers found the poker pro’s body in the park, near the town of White Lake Township, northwest of Detroit.
So sad to hear the news that one of my long time poker friends Susie Zhao was found dead.
Only 33 years old. So tragic. We were just chatting the other day on Facebook messenger about coping with the quarantine.
Rest in peace Susie. https://t.co/FTjGT04Xfl
— Allen Kessler (@AllenKessler) July 22, 2020
Local police and the FBI are investigating the murder. Zhao has almost $223,000 in live tournament winnings.Her biggest cash came in the 2012 WSOP Main Event, finishing 90th for $73,805.
“She was one of the bubbliest and most vivacious opponents I’ve ever had,” poker player Clayton Fletcher noted on Twitter. “She was a very strong player who also liked to have fun at the table.”
Hellmuth, Esfandiari set for ‘High Stakes Duel’ PokerGO debut this week
Last week, Poker Central announced the debut of High Stakes Duel on the PokerGO app. There should be plenty of fireworks in the first episode – a heads-up battle between Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Hellmuth.
The episode streams live from the PokerGO Studio in Las Vegas on Thursday, July 30 (9 p.m. ET) in a unique tournament format. The first round has a $50,000 buy-in and the loser can get a rematch prior to the next round.
If there’s no rematch, the winner takes on another challenger. The stakes double each round with a potential prize pool of $12.8 million in Round 8.
“This series is different than anything we’ve created before in poker,” Poker Central executive producer Mori Eskandani said in a news release. “If you’re a fan of the game, you definitely don’t want to miss this. The stakes and rivalries will be on another level.”
Esfandiari says the matchup’s a culmination of a decade of efforts to face Hellmuth.
“For 10 years I’ve been challenging Phil to a heads-up match where the winner shoots the loser with a taser gun,” he said, “so going head-to-head in High Stakes Duel has been a long time coming.”
Poker Central extends deal with NBC
In other Poker Central news, the company has renewed its partnership with NBC Sports. The deal runs through 2022 and allows for Poker Central’s major tournaments to be broadcast on on the network.
The agreement includes the Super High Roller Bowl, US Poker Open, and Poker Masters. The partnership calls for Poker Central and NBC Sports to jointly develop new programs.