It was no surprise to see many "young guns" emerge again to claim many of the past year's major poker tournament titles and fill most of the spots around the final tables. But 2015 saw the old guard well represented in many of poker's marquee events as well.
This year's World Series of Poker Main Event final table bucked the recent trend toward youth with both 72-year-old Pierre Neuville (who finished seventh) and 61-year-old Neil Blumenfield (who finished third) making the final nine. And three of the year’s European Poker Tour main event champions were aged 40 and above, starting with Jean Montury (aged 40) winning EPT11 Malta and ending with Hossein Ensan (aged 51) taking down EPT12 Prague last week.
Highlighting the accomplishments of the more "seasoned" players on the tournament circuit were stellar years from three of poker's most decorated players — Phil Hellmuth, John Juanda, and Erik Seidel.
Hellmuth Wins Record-Extending 14th WSOP Bracelet
"I'm going to go down as the greatest poker player that ever lived."
So said Phil Hellmuth while celebrating his record-extending 14th career World Series of Poker bracelet, exuding the typical hubris we've come to expect from the Wisconsin native during nearly three decades' worth of tournament success. This summer Hellmuth topped a field of 103 to win the $10,000 Seven-Card Razz Championship and a $271,105 first prize, including beating out 2015 WSOP Player of the Year Mike Gorodinsky in heads-up play for the win.
The victory marked just the beginning of yet another year of WSOP successes for the "Poker Brat."
Hellmuth would go on to cash five more times at the WSOP, then once more at WSOP Europe in Berlin. He'd come close on a few occasions as well to nabbing a 15th title and extending his lead even further over Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, and Doyle Brunson, who presently sit tied in a distant second in the bracelet race with 10 apiece.
Those cashes included a sixth-place showing in the $111,111 No-Limit Hold’em High Roller for One Drop won by Jonathan Duhamel. The $696,821 Hellmuth earned for that showing represented his biggest cash of the year, and the finish also extended his lead for most career WSOP final tables to 52 (ahead of Men Nguyen's second-place total of 39). Hellmuth's 115 total WSOP cashes is also well ahead of the chase pack, with Seidel his nearest challenger with 93.
Hellmuth's summer at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino culminated with another in-the-money finish in the Main Event, a tournament that began with his being seated with Phil Ivey on Day 1c Daniel Negreanu knocking him out in 417th place.
A few days after that Hellmuth turned 51. But as he continues to prove, age need not prevent even the most accomplished poker players from trying to improve — even the old guys can learn new things at the table.
"I think I figured something out about razz in maybe 2012," said Hellmuth following his bracelet win this summer. It was two years ago he won his first non-hold'em bracelet, also in razz. "All of a sudden there was something about the game that just clicked. I was like wow, this game just makes sense, and then I won a razz bracelet."
Juanda Wins EPT Barcelona Main Event, Joins Poker Hall of Fame
While Hellmuth's success in Vegas was hardly a surprise given his consistent presence at the Rio every summer, it had been a while since we'd seen John Juanda at a tournament table. In fact, when the 44-year-old poker pro turned up to play at EPT Barcelona in August, it had been a full year since we'd seen him at all.
The five-time WSOP bracelet winner had been spending much of those intervening months living in Toyko and taking a break from poker, even mostly forgoing the high-stakes cash games in Macau which he has been known to frequent. Meanwhile much of his energy and attention was given to various prop bets, including one which resulted in Juanda training for six months in order to get into the best physical shape of his life.
But the instincts gained from a lifetime of cards easily returned for Juanda in Spain where he overcame a record 1,694-entry field to win the EPT Barcelona Main Event and a €1,022,593 first prize.
Juanda's decision to step away from the felt for a year definitely suggests the Indonesian-born player had decided to return on his own terms. The EPT Barcelona final table likewise showed Juanda dictating just how he wished things to proceed — the kind of thing you might expect from a player with plenty of experience winning big.
In four-handed play, Juanda — then the short stack — nixed a deal while noting he didn't wish to forgo a chance at a seven-figure payday. Soon after that he'd triple up in improbable fashion, using king-jack to outdraw his opponents' ace-king and pocket fours, then chip up further into the lead before finally ousting Steve Warburton in heads-up play for the win.
Juanda followed that with a runner-up finish in the HK$500,000 Super High Roller at the Asia-Pacific Poker Tour 2015 Asia Championship of Poker in Macau in November, worth nearly $720,000 USD. He'd add a couple more cashes at EPT Prague this month to carry his career earnings up over $18 million-mark, good for fifth on the all-time money list.
The icing on the top for Juanda's year was his induction into the Poker Hall of Fame. He'd been a finalist twice before, but his EPT Main Event win may well have encouraged voters to select him this time around. That was Juanda's thinking, at least, when we caught up with him shortly after the news of his induction had broken:
Juanda was inducted along with Jennifer Harman, bringing the total number of Poker Hall of Fame members to an even 50.
Seidel Enjoys $5 Million-Plus Year
Another Poker Hall of Fame member enjoying a remarkable 2015 was Erik Seidel. The eight-time WSOP bracelet winner was claiming to us at this year’s WSOP "I don't even think I know how to play." But his results for the year suggest the 56-year-old New Yorker still knows a thing or two about the game.
Seidel collected over $5 million in tournament cashes during the year — only topped by Super High Roller Bowl winner Brian Rast and runner-up Scott Seiver, and 2015 WSOP Main Event champion Joe McKeehen.
Numerous final tables (including one at the WSOP Europe Main Event) and victories in an ARIA $25,000 High Roller and the EPT Grand Final €100,000 Super High Roller helped keep Seidel hovering inside the top 10 of the 2015 Global Poker Index Player of Year rankings throughout the year.
Take a look at this 2015 for Seidel, a year that saw 12 of his 17 tournament cashes come at final tables:
|Event||Buy-In||Entries||Finish||Prize (in USD)|
|PCA 8-Handed Turbo (Jan.)||$5,300||104||7th||$23,460|
|Aussie Millions Challenge (Jan.)||A$100,000||70||6th||$395,070|
|Aussie Millions LK Boutique Challenge (Feb.)||A$250,000||25||5th||$427,519|
|ARIA High Roller IV (Feb.)||$25,000||12||1st||$159,230|
|WPT L.A. Poker Classic Main Event (Feb.)||$10,000||538||42nd||$26,780|
|EPT Grand Final Super High Roller (Apr.)||€100,000||58||1st||$2,222,222|
|ARIA High Roller IX (May)||$25,000||49||2nd||$354,000|
|WSOP Seven-Card Razz Championship (June)||$10,000||103||11th||$22,597|
|WSOP Omaha Hi-Low Championship (June)||$10,000||157||18th||$20,941|
|WSOP 2-7 Draw Championship (June)||$10,000||77||4th||$59,532|
|WSOP PLO Hi-Low (June)||$1,500||815||14th||$10,969|
|Super High Roller Bowl (July)||$500,000||43||7th||$860,000|
|WPT Choctaw Main Event (July)||$3,700||1,175||12th||$50,466|
|ARIA High Roller XV (Oct.)||$25,000||24||3rd||$57,600|
|WSOP Europe Main Event (Oct.)||€10,450||313||7th||$113,429|
|ACOP Super High Roller (Nov.)||HK$500,000||34||6th||$218,848|
|ARIA High Roller XXI (Dec.)||$25,000||37||4th||$71,040|
An impressive 12 months, to be sure. All told, the trio of Hellmuth, Juanda, and Seidel earned $8,145,820 in live tournament cashes in 2015. Indeed, the only thing getting "old" about these guys are the stories of their repeated successes.
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Be sure to stay tuned to PokerNews as we continue to count down the top stories from 2015.