The biggest poker stories of a record-breaking 2023

Adam Hampton
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Posted on: December 31, 2023 8:30 am EST

The biggest-ever WSOP Main Event; the highest guarantee for a live tournament; the largest pot ever televised…the year was a big one for poker and PokerOrg has been there for every flop, turn and river.

With 2023 all but done, let’s take a tour through some of the stories that grabbed the headlines over the past 12 months.


January

The PokerStars Players Championship (PSPC) finally made its comeback in the Bahamas after a COVID-inflicted four-year break, and it was to set the tone for the year in more ways than one.

The field of 1,014 entries was just 25 players short of the first, pre-pandemic incarnation of the PSPC, instantly making it the second biggest $25k poker tournament in history. And speaking of ‘instant’, the event also saw the launch of our game-changing PokerOrg Instant feed, helping poker fans get closer to the action than ever before.

A huge field for a live poker event, and a dedicated crew bringing you all the news as it happened in novel and entertaining ways. A good start for 2023, and a great start for Aliaksandr Shylko of Belarus, who won PSPC Mark II for a little over $3.1 million.


February

Did you watch Patrik Antonius win the biggest televised pot in US history? PokerGO viewers who were tuned in to the $1k/$2k/$2k ‘No Gamble, No Future’ game bore witness to the Finn dragging a pot worth $1,978,000. That’s a Florida mansion, a villa in Tuscany, or a line of Twinkies 93 miles long (note: writing this before breakfast).

Finnish poker player Patrik Antonius on the No Gamble, No Future televised poker game
Patrik Antonius won almost $2 million in one hand vs. Eric Persson

Eric Persson was the unlucky one who lost this pot, shoving for $692k on the turn with no outs, no gamble and no future in the hand. If you missed it, and even if you didn’t, PokerOrg’s Terrance Reid wrote up a great hand analysis which in our (completely unbiased) view is definitely worth a read.

Staying on the theme of televised poker, February also saw two new poker documentaries hit our screens. To Be Determined and High Stakes: A Woman’s Seat in a $200,000 Poker Tournament tackle life at the tables in very different ways, but both come highly recommended and are available for free on YouTube right now – hit those links above to watch.


March

The 4th Global Poker Awards took place in early March, bestowing some glitter and attention upon some of our favorite people and events in the industry.

Among the notable names, Ethan ‘Rampage’ Yau won the Best Vlogger award (as well as the Fans’ Choice award for best Poker Personality), Kevin ‘K-Mart’ Martin won Best Streamer, and the Only Friends gang won Best Podcast. Our own Haley Hintze, a two-time GPA finalist herself, covered the story for PokerOrg.

Poker player Phillip Gruissem, pictured in 2019
Philipp Gruissem, pictured in 2019, made his comeback in style with an online win worth more than $800k

In the world of online poker, German high roller Philipp Gruissem announced his return to the game after taking a break to, among other things, have a baby. He returned in some style, taking down the GGPoker Masters Overlay Edition, turning $150 into $806,385 in the process.


April

When Nick Schulman announced the return of High Stakes Poker, featuring a line-up of players including Matt Berkey, Doug Polk and Nik Airball, it instantly became appointment viewing.

It did not disappoint. Wine flowed, shade was thrown, chips were grabbed in anger, and through it all Jennifer Tilly never once let the tiara slip. As usual, PokerOrg’s Brad Willis knew just what to say.

Online, GGPoker rolled out a number of changes to its rake structure for high stakes games, then rolled them back again after a number of affected players organized a successful boycott of the site. The story ended with GGPoker and the high-stakes community friends again, with high roller and GGPoker ambassador Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier singled out for praise for the way he helped resolve the situation.


May

In sad news, May saw the passing of the ultimate legend of the game: Doyle Brunson.

Brunson’s reputation as a gentle giant of poker was already firmly established, but the outpouring of respect, affection and admiration that followed news of his death ensured that it was a big story, reported well beyond the boundaries of the poker world.

As one poker legend passed away, another birthed a new live poker tour: The Moneymaker Tour launched its first ever stop this month at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. The Main Event cruised through its $500k guarantee, and further stops in Daytona Beach, Cincinnati (where the man himself made the final table) and back to the PBKC all proved successful, drawing big crowds and easily crushing their respective guarantees. There’s more in store for 2024.

Oh yeah, and remember that biggest ever televised pot we mentioned, back in February? Tom Dwan scooped an even bigger one just a few months later, winning a $3,081,000 pot, live in the Hustler Casino Live’s ‘Million Dollar Game’. Dwan believed in his pocket queens, check-calling all three barrels from ‘Wes Side’ Wesley Fei to enter the record books with enough money to buy a stack of egg mcmuffins over 36 miles high (still hungry over here).


June

The start of summer means World Series time, and this June brought about a first-ever bracelet for Isaac Haxton. Fans across the world quickly reacted with a whole range of questions like, “Wait, it’s not really his first, is it?” and “Really? His first? You’re sure?”. PokerOrg was right there with questions of our own – and Ike was there to answer them.

More news from the WSOP this month included a potential cheating scandal involving Martin Kabrhel, but that was a story which seemed to blow itself out rather than catch light. Another story of cheating also broke, with Ali Imsirovic ‘fessing up to multi-accounting on GGPoker while simultaneously denying a raft of other accusations.

Happier news came from Chris Brewer, who saw his cold streak officially end with victory in the WSOP Super High Roller and a $5,293,556 payday.


July

More summer, more WSOP news, and the winningest player in series history landed another bracelet. Phil Hellmuth won his 17th bangle in the $10k Super-Turbo Bounty event, along with $800k and some change. Do you think he ever wears them all at once?

But the big, big, BIG news from the WSOP in July was, of course, the record-breaking field for the Main Event. The previous record of 8,773 was blown out of the water, with 10,043 players stumping up the $10k for the big dance. The prize pool hit over $93 million, with more than 1,500 players making the money. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that, when the dust settled, it was an established pro who took it down as Daniel Weinman broke another record with his $12.1 million win.


August

With the summer winding down, focus shifted to the WSOP Circuit and the battle to emulate Phil Hellmuth in dominating the record books for wins.

The good-natured duel between Ari Engel and Dan Lowery entered top gear during the Graton WSOP Circuit stop. They entered the series tied for third place on the all-time list, but in what seemed like the blink of eye Ari Engel won another, then another, before the two faced off in yet another tournament, playing heads-up for the title.

Like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed – but with much more sitting down and occasional breaks for dinner – the two gladiators shared a mutual respect and a burning desire to win. Lowery won the match-up to keep the contest alive and well, but Engel would go on to win another at the Horseshoe Hammond in October to go clear at the top.


September

A cyber attack on MGM Resorts caused huge disruption to everything from the casino floor to the hotel reservation systems, digital room keys, credit card payments and a whole lot more. The story ran and ran, costing the company an estimated $100 million and, at time of writing, no arrests announced.

An altogether different online threat was also at large during September, as Benny Glaser torched the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker. Of his 25 COOP titles, Glaser won no fewer than 7 this month, and still somehow missed out on the Player of the Series title.

Glaser spoke to PokerOrg’s Mo Afdhal about setting the record and crushing the games at PokerStars, all while having problems with the client that meant he often had to restart the software during crucial hands.


October

Another month, another headline at PokerOrg containing the phrase ‘biggest ever’ (it really has been an amazing year for poker). This time it was the WSOP Online Main Event breaking records, notching up more than $28 million in prize money and paying out $2,783,432 of it to Bert ‘girafganger7’ Stevens, who topped the field of over 6,000 runners. The video of his win is worth a watch, if only to see just how much one man can celebrate, sitting down in a room on his own.

Staying with online poker, October saw a number of controversies around GTO Wizard’s Fair Play Check functionality. Players were banned, unbanned, condemned and apologized to. It’s certainly keeping the game integrity teams busy.

Meanwhile, in the live arena, Isaac Haxton came close to another big win in the PokerGO Tour PLO Super High Roller Bowl, but it was Jared Bleznick who ultimately won the title, and the $1,292,000 that came with it.


November

Conversation and debate are what the poker community thrives upon, and November’s debut of GGPoker’s Game of Gold brought a whole new set of topics to discuss. Like, why is Charlie Carrel half naked? How could a team starring Daniel Negreanu and Jason Koon go out first? Where did they get all that delicious-looking food (sorry, still hungry)?

Back in Las Vegas, however, PokerStars was bringing its particular flavor of live poker back to the masses with the long-awaited return of the North American Poker Tour. After a 12-year break, the red spade crew came back to town and put on a hell of a show. Sami Bechahed is a poker dealer who clearly knows how to pay attention at work, because he’s racked up over $1 million in tournament winnings, including almost $275k for victory at NAPT Las Vegas. Not bad for a hobby.

Sami Bechahed, winner of the North American Poker Tour Las Vegas Main Event in 2023
Sami ‘The Dealer’ Bechahed in action at NAPT Las Vegas

Across the Atlantic at the World Series of Poker Europe, a former basketball pro was knocking out opponents like he used to knock down jumpers. Austria’s Max Neugebauer only had a few cashes on his resume before the WSOPE started, and was the short stack with only six players left. He then eliminated all but one of the remaining players to book the win, bag the bracelet and the €1.5 million prize.


December

The final month of the year was dominated by huge events, with three of the world’s biggest and most prestigious live poker tours scheduling overlapping series.

EPT Prague might have claimed to have ‘got here first’, with December its traditional place in the calendar. Padraig ‘Smidge’ O’Neill pulled off a miracle comeback to claim the Main Event title and over €1 million, to the delight of poker players everywhere who enjoyed seeing one of poker’s ‘good guys’ land the win.

Over in the Bahamas, WSOP Paradise brought some Caribbean sunshine into the lives of those who made the journey. Stanislav Zegal won the Main Event, and $2 million, after qualifying for a package via a cheap online satellite. That feels like a story we’ve heard before somewhere…

And finally, the promise of a $40 million guarantee was enough to bring players in their droves to the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas, albeit not quite enough to avoid the overlay. While it’s easy to put a number on the financial cost – the $2m+ shortfall must have stung – the goodwill generated by the WPT and Wynn is harder to quantify.

The general feeling from those we’ve spoken to is that the WPT World Championship was a great example of how to put on a successful tournament series. Three players we’re sure will agree are Mikita Badziakouski, who won $7.1 million in the Big One for One Drop, Calvin Anderson who won the WPT Prime Championship for $1.3m, and Dan Sepiol who took down the massive Main Event, navigating an enormously talent-rich final table to emerge with the title and $5,282,954 in prize money.

Dan Sepiol poses with his winnings after victory in the WPT World Championships in 2023
Dan Sepiol closed out the year with a win worth over $5.2 million

What a year it was. We don’t know how 2024 could top that, but we’re sure it will! Thanks to all our readers for a great 2023, and make sure you stick around on PokerOrg – we’ve got some big plans, ideas and improvements coming very soon, and we can’t wait to show you!

Images courtesy of the WPT/PokerGO/PokerStars Live