This year marked the 15th anniversary of Chris Moneymaker‘s historic, poker boom-sparking World Series of Poker Main Event win.
However, 2018 was more than just a celebration of poker’s past. In fact, 2018 will likely go down as one of poker’s most memorable post-boom years.
A new all-time leading money winner emerged. The youngest WSOP Main Event winner in history almost got there again. US online poker looked like it was growing for the first time since the first time. Plus, controversy surrounded poker’s newest power couple and a former WSOP Main Event runner-up sued the World’s largest poker site.
As the year closes, we can see a number of stories made attention-grabbing headlines in 2018. However, just like we did last year, US Poker has boiled it down to an easily digestible top five, aimed at pleasing your poker palate. Here’s US Poker’s Top 5 Biggest Poker Stories of 2018, starting with number five:
5. The shared liquidity launch
Considering May 1, 2018 marked the biggest day for online poker in the US since Black Friday, this story should have been higher up on this list.
It was the day tri-state shared liquidity launched. The day the pooling of players from all three US states currently offering online poker began. It was a day full of hope, but those hopes were quickly dashed.
WSOP.com’s Head of Online Poker Bill Rini called it “a monumental day for online poker in the United States.”
From the WSOP.com perspective, it certainly was. It is the only operation that runs online poker sites in more than a single state. Therefore, WSOP.com and software partner 888 Poker were the only ones to really benefit from shared liquidity.
A network that included the WSOP.com sites in New Jersey and Nevada, 888poker in New Jersey, and the 888-powered Delaware online poker network’s Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway certainly used this to its advantage. In fact, it rose to the top of all three markets almost immediately.
Players were able to compete for WSOP bracelets online from New Jersey for the first time this year. Plus, a couple of online series run on the network showed overlays aren’t mandatory in legal US online poker events.
Revenue numbers disappoint
Revenue numbers in New Jersey are the only ones that have ever been worth writing about. However, by the end of the year, they dropped to their lowest levels since launch.
New Jersey more than doubled the size of the legal US-wide online poker market when it jumped aboard this multi-state agreement. However, it’s apparent now it’s going to need to double again at least once more before it can move the needle significantly.
Pennsylvania will launch online poker in a fenced-in market in 2019. That will be a big story. However, it’ll be an even bigger one if PA signs on to the multi-state agreement and the legal US-wide online poker market truly starts to become something worth paying attention to.
4. Gordon Vayo sues PokerStars (and loses)
Anytime a WSOP Main Event runner-up sues the world’s largest online poker site it’s going to make headlines. However, the drama that unfolded with 2016 WSOP Main Event second-place finisher Gordon Vayo suing PokerStars took this story to the next level.
Vayo first alleged PokerStars refused to pay him almost $700,000 he won in a 2017 Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) event. He claimed they falsely accused him of breaching the site’s terms of service by surreptitiously playing the event from inside the US.
Vayo claimed to have been in Canada at the time and provided evidence of such. Then he said PokerStars lowered the bar, insisting it was “not inconceivable” he was in the US at some point during the event and refused to pay.
Vayo went as far as accusing the site of freerolling US players, taking relocating players’ money when they lose and creating reasons not to pay when they win.
There was some argument over whether the case should be heard in California or the Isle of Man before the big drama bomb dropped.
PokerStars accused Vayo of forging the documents he was using as evidence he was in Canada during the 2017 SCOOP. Instead of denying it, Vayo and his lawyers dropped the suit.
If that’s not an admission of guilt, I’m not sure what is. Moreover, if Vayo’s lawsuit against PokerStars isn’t one of the biggest poker stories of 2018, someone else should be putting together this list.
3. Poker’s new power couple accused of soft play
Poker Twitter loves a good old fashion controversy and found one coming out of the $5,000 Mid-States Poker Tour Venetian Main Event in June.
Real-life couple Alex Foxen and partypoker pro Kristen Bicknell both made it to the final three alongside Aussie standout Kahle Burns. They offered to talk chop, but Burns refused. After that, there were at least a couple of instances that could very well be construed as soft play or collusion.
The most egregious appeared to be a hand that began with Burns’ stack in the 750,000 range and Foxen and Bicknell on about 2.2 million each.
Foxen raised the button with two jacks. Burns folded the small blind. Bicknell looked down at two aces in the big blind and three-bet. Foxen called and hit top set. Bicknell bet 200,000 and Foxen flatted. The turn came a king and after Bicknell checked, Foxen bet 375,000. Bicknell snap-called and checked a brick-like river. Foxen bet 600,000 and Bicknell found a fold.
According to numerous players on Poker Twitter, two foes not involved in a relationship would have played for stacks there.
Soft play intrinsic three handed
I’m in the camp that thinks two players with equal sized stacks are less likely to play for it all with a third shorter stack still in. However, a heated debate raged on throughout the next few weeks on Twitter as to whether Foxen and Bicknell soft-played each other.
The only consensus reached seemed to be that players need to be open about their relationships with others at final tables, be they personal or financial. Plus, chopping with poker’s power couple three-handed is probably a good idea.
Burns may still be heated, but the controversy and accusations that surrounded the situation didn’t seem to effect Foxen or Bicknell. The rest of the year was outstanding for both. In fact, they lead the GPI Player of the Year and GPI Female Player of the Year races headed into the last couple weeks of 2018.
2. Joe Cada’s summer of the ages
2009 WSOP Main Event champion Joe Cada didn’t become the first player to win two World titles in poker’s post-boom era this summer, but he sure came close.
The youngest WSOP Main Event winner in history managed to finish fifth in the second-largest WSOP Main Event in history for $2.15 million at the 2018 WSOP. Plus, Cada earned a pair of WSOP bracelets along the way, his third and fourth.
Cada wasn’t really a contender for WSOP Player of the Year honors, but his performance in these select events was certainly memorable. The quiet kid from Michigan was undoubtedly a fan favorite and handled the attention with an admirable graciousness throughout.
He’s in his early 30s now and proving his 2009 WSOP Main Event win was more than just a 21-year-old kid getting lucky.
Cada certainly gave the poker media something to write about this summer and his 2018 WSOP should be remembered as one of the top stories of the year until he does something to top it again.
1. Justin Bonomo becomes poker’s top earner
His politics and penchant for over-sharing his opinions on social media might annoy you. However, there’s no denying Justin Bonomo‘s 2018 is one of the best years a poker player has ever had.
At $25,428,935 in earnings heading into the last few weeks of the year, he’s already earned more cash in tournaments this year than anybody ever has. Along the way, he won three of the biggest buy-in tournaments this year, including:
- HK$2 million Super High Roller Bowl China in Macau
- $300,000 Super High Roller Bowl in Las Vegas
- $1 million 2018 WSOP The Big One for One Drop in Las Vegas
The One Drop win itself was worth $10,000,000, propelling him up to what is now $43,463,089 in lifetime earnings and the top spot on poker’s all-time money winners list.
Unfortunately, so much of what he has accomplished has come in high roller events. That means Bonomo might end up having the best year ever. However, that still may not be enough to win the 2018 GPI Player of the Year award.
Regardless, the year he’s put together should ensure he’ll be at the top of every top stories of 2018 list. Including, of course, this one.