We’ve come once again to the end of the year and you know what that means! It is time to look back at the year gone by and remember both the good and the bad about the past 365 days that have gone by. In the world of tournament poker, 2017 saw a new tournament circuit enter the arena (and change before the year was up), saw a World Champion crowned who has admitted that he might be done with the game full time and seen the overwhelming dominance of the “High Roller” circuit on the overall tournament scene. Presented for your perusal are the top three stories (at least in our view) of the 2017 calendar year in no particular order.
The PokerStars Championships – Gone Before We Knew Ye
At the start of January, poker players flooded the Bahamas, but the event wasn’t the same as it had been previously. Instead of heading to Atlantis for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, the throngs were met with the PokerStars Championship Bahamas, the replacement for the PCA, and the new PokerStars Championships Series, replacing the European Poker Tour. While names don’t make a tournament, the new PCS Bahamas failed on many fronts.
For the most part (except for the eventual champion), nobody was pleased with the new PCS. In the span of ten days in the Bahamas, more than 90 tournaments were crammed into the proceedings; while poker players like some action, nine tournaments a day was a bit of overkill. Other factors that had once made the PCA something to look forward to – player parties, SWAG from PokerStars and other VIP treatment – disappeared too, leaving many saying they would never return for another event.
As the PCS went on, other tournaments on the schedule suffered in their attendance. Whether it was the resounding voice of the players who stated they wouldn’t take part in the PSC, the development of new challengers (the World Poker Tour picked up its pace on European events and partypoker introduced its MILLIONS series to resounding fanfare) or just simply realizing they made a mistake, by the end of the year The Stars Group (itself the former Amaya Gaming) decided to cut their losses and return to the old names for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and the EPT. Whether that alone will fix their ills or other actions are necessary (AKA treating players better) remains to be seen.
I’ve Done It All – Now What?
The World Series of Poker Championship Event, for the first time in a decade, was played straight through rather than the decade-old “November Nine” format. If it weren’t for anything else, that would have been enough to make it on most end-of-year lists, but there was more. While a sizeable contingent of the poker world widely praised that move, in an unprecedented three-night event the final nine played down to a champion who now could be considering retirement.
Eventual champion Scott Blumstein used a big double up through then-chip leader (and beloved amateur and grandfather) John Hesp to basically skate his way to the World Championship. Entering the final night of the tournament, he dominated Benjamin Pollak and Dan Ott, vanquishing Ott in heads-up play to capture poker’s World Championship and an $8.15 million payday.
Since winning poker’s greatest tournament, Blumstein has been making the rounds of the tournament poker world, but he admits that it doesn’t have the same draw as it did previously. In an interview with CardPlayer Magazine, Blumstein said he feels he’s “kind of beat the game of poker” and that there “aren’t many other goals that I can come up with right now.” While stopping short of saying he would completely quit the game, Blumstein said he is entertaining what to do with his life – and some of what he talks about aren’t poker related – post-WSOP.
Anyone Got a Spare $25,000…$50,000…$100,000 Laying Around?
In 2017, tournament poker was put on steroids by the number of High Roller and Super High Roller events that were a part of the circuit. Usually with buy-ins from $25,000 to $100,000, these tournaments were normally well outside the budget of the average poker player. As such, these events also became the primary domain of many well-heeled players (or, some would accuse, a group of players pooling money and reaping the rewards) who were vying for the different Poker Player of the Year awards.
Bryn Kenney was the leader of many of these awards for nearly all of 2017. While there is no doubt as to the skill of Kenney, the man didn’t play the WSOP at all in 2017 and, coming to the final week of 2017, is still in the lead (or near it) in those POY races…how? Kenney has primarily played the high dollar tournaments; in the entirety of his 2017 record, only four of his 29 cashes in 2017 was in tournaments with lower than a $25,000 buy in.
Should tournament poker be the domain of the nobility of the poker world? Part of the charm of the game is that the Average Joe can take down even the best in the game on the right day. By secluding themselves off in the High Roller world, they’re not exactly taking on all comers. Perhaps the ranking systems will find a way to drag these players (Kenney is far from the only one who does this) into the Main Arena but, until they do, their performances must be viewed with a bit of a jaded eye.
There were plenty of other occurrences during the year…what were some of your choices for the best in tournament poker for 2017?