Top Poker Stories of 2015 Pt 4 - October to December

To round off our recap of our pick of the poker news stories of 2015 we're taking a look back at some of the major talking points which cropped up between October and December. If you missed the first three parts of our rundown you can see part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.


Jennifer Harman and John Juanda Enter Poker's Hall of Fame

There weren't too many complaints when this years inductee's to the Poker Hall of Fame were announced as both Jennifer Harman and John Juanda have more than earned their stripes.

Juanda is one of the biggest ever live tournament winners, with over $18m in prize money, 5 WSOP gold bracelets (including a WSOPE Main Event victory) and Harman also has a couple of gold bracelets in her back pocket as well as a fearsome reputation as one of the toughest live highstakes cash game competitors around.

Juanda and Harman were up against Chris Bjorin, David Chiu, Bruno Fitoussi, Carlos Mortensen, Max Pescatori, Terry Rogers, Matt Savage and Dave Ulliott

Both players were understandably proud of their achievement;

“I appreciate the recognition”, said Juanda. “It’s an honour to see my name among so many players I have admired and respected throughout my career: Chip Reese, Erik Seidel, Dan Harrington, Daniel Negreanu. Thank you to all the fans who nominated me and the HOF and media members who voted me in.”

“It’s truly an honour to be selected into the HOF”, added Harman. “Poker has been an unbelievable journey for me and to have the respect of my peers is truly amazing. I want to thank everyone for the amazing support. I’m so happy!”

You can read more about the latest poker Hall of Famer's in our article from October 27th

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Kevin MacPhee Rounds off a Stellar WSOP with WSOPE Main Event Victory

You could say it was a good year for US pro Kevin MacPhee at this year's WSOP. In total he cashed 10 times during the series, and prior to the WSOPE Main Event he had already secured a gold bracelet in Vegas when he took down the $5k NLHE Turbo event for just shy of half a million bucks, having finished 4th in a $1500 NLHE event for over $142k earlier in the series.

It was fitting, however, that the biggest moment from his super-series came in Berlin, where he enjoyed his biggest ever win back in 2010 when he took down EPT Germany for over $1.3m. He was to notch up his second seven-figure career win in late October when he outlasted a 313 strong field in the €10k WSOPE Main Event to win €883k ($1.001m) after coming the final table with a huge chip lead.

MacPhee still had to outlast some fierce competitors at the final table, with big names Andrew "luckychewy" Lichtenberger, JC Alvarado, and Erik Seidel all making the final 7.

MacPhee finally wrapped up the event heads-up against David Lopez after a to and fro battle. In the end it was a cooler for Lopex which sealed the deal for MacPhee after his pocket Kings were cracked by MacPhee's A 4. Read more on MacPhee's victory here.

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Poker players go nuts for Hearthstone

The latest strategy card game making waves among the poker community "Hearthstone" got some great press courtesy of some of Pokers biggest names in November.

As far back as early 2015 the game was being talked about, with the likes of Benny "toweliestar" Spindler, Mike "Timex" McDonald, and 2011 WSOP ME Champ Pius Heinz all mentioning playing the game.

However, the biggest poker names to take up Hearthstone by far were PokerStars pros Betrand "ElKy" Grospellier and Daniel "KidPoker" Negreanu, and in November the pair got together to face off in a public Hearthstone battle at video game convention BlizzCon in early November.

Negreanu came out on top in the showmatch, but it was Grospellier who ended up being signed by leading worldwide esports organisation Team Liquid for their Hearthstone division a week after the showdown with Negreanu. ElKy continued to also represent PokerStars as a valued member of their roster of pros whilst also undertaking his Team Liquid obligations.


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Players Organize PokerStars "Strike" in Protest to VIP Program Changes

One of the biggest poker stories of the last couple of months has been the reaction to PokerStars shoddily handled VIP program changes. First, the news of the not-so-popular changes was accidentally leaked on their Russian website, forcing the management to hastily announce that as of January 2016 the rewards for reaching the coveted Supernova and Supernova Elite status would be dramatically slashed, before being abolished altogether a year later.

This news upset a huge number of high volume grinders who had worked hard all year just to be told at the last minute that their hard work was not going to reward them with the payoff they had expected.

In protest, many of the higher stakes players got together in late November to plan a 3 day boycott of PokerStars from 1-3 December to send a message to the powers that be that their most loyal customers were not happy. The most vocal advocate of the strike was highstakes regular Dani "Ansky" Stern, who was very active on 2+2 and on Joe Ingram's podcasts, encouraging players to participate in the strike and to cashout as much as they could from PokerStars on those days.

Whether the strike was effective or not is a matter up for debate. It didn't appear to damage Stars bottom line, although that may have had more to do with planned promotional events they already had planned for those days bringing in additional players. PokerStars claimed it made no real difference, although Stern said he was very satisfied that so many regular players deserted the tables for 72 hours.

PokerStars lead pro Daniel Negreanu was quick to point out his objection to the way in which the changes were handled, more or less saying he thought the company he represented were being deceitful by not honouring VIP rewards earned in 2015 for 2016. Other pros reacted even more strongly, with both Alex "Kanu7" Millar and Ike Haxton turning down new contracts with PokerStars in protest to the changes.

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Alex Masek Extends WSOP Circuit Ring Lead with 9th Victory in L.A.

Alexandru Masek already held the record for the most WSOP Circuit gold rings after winning his 8th in St Louis back in March 2014. Since then he had come close on several occasions to winning a 9th, with a 4th, a 3rd, and four 2nd place finishes but it wasn't until the 10th December that he was finally able to cross the finish line as he took down a $365 buy-in event at the Bicycle Casino tour stop in LA for $12,000.

It took a big slice of luck, however, for Masek to realise his ambition after he called an all-in on the turn when heads-up with Erick Lee. Masek had top pair (aces) but was way behind Lee's flopped bottom two pair. Unfortunately for Lee, Masek spiked a third ace on the turn to claim his 9th piece of WSOPC jewellery.

It was a good month for prolific WSOPC winners, as USA based Romanian Valentin Vornicu landed his 7th Gold Ring at the same tour stop, winning the Main Event for an impressive $197k

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Amaya Order to pay Commonwealth of Kentucky $870m

In what seems to be a fairly ludicrous decision, the state of Kentucky has been awarded not far short of $1 billion from Amaya Gaming after losing a suit brought about by Kentucky against the owners of PokerStars back in 2010.

The state was seeking damages in relation to the amount spent at the site between 2006-2011 claiming that online poker constituted illegal gambling in the Commowealth of Kentucky.

The state was initially awarded $290m, but they invoked an archaic statute which allows third parties to collect residents’ illegal gambling losses if bettors don’t act within six months. The same law then permitted the state to seek triple damages - and Judge Thomas Wingate duly obliged, raising the award to an eye-watering $870m. The PPA (Poker Player's Alliance) tried to stake a claim for the monies to go back the actual players who lost it, but the prosecution argued that the PPA were simply puppets of Amaya who were looking for damage limitations (if it had been the players who had been awarded the money, they wouldn't have been able to seek "treble damages" - makes sense huh??

Unsurprisingly Amaya intend to appeal against the ruling with Executive VP of Corporate Development and General Counsel of Amaya, Marlon Goldstein saying, "This is a frivolous and egregious misuse of an antiquated state statute to enrich the contingent-fee plaintiff's attorneys hired by the Commonwealth and not the people of Kentucky. Given that PokerStars only generated gross revenues of approximately $18m from Kentucy customers during the five years at issue, a damages award in exces of $800 million is notable only for its absurdity,"

Considering the amount actually wagered by Kentuckians between 2006-11 at PokerStars was in the region of just $18m, the award seems quite outrageous. It didn't help Amaya that the ruling calculates damages based on gross losses of players without any reduction for winnings, bonuses or free play.

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