Poker is a game of ups and downs. Bankroll swings and bad beats. One minute you could be raking in a big pot, the next, your access to U.S. Poker sites could be shut down. The past few days have undeniably been a low point in the long history of the game, so what better time to wallow in a few of poker’s most crushing disappointments.
5. The WSOP Circuit
There’s nothing more prestigious in poker that a World Series bracelet. Players will fight tooth and nail to get their hands on that sliver of gold and to earn the respect of their peers. The top players are constantly compared by the number of bracelets they’ve earned, with the likes of Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu on a lifetime quest to overtake Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, and Phil Hellmuth.
World Series Rings? Not so much. No pro is ever lauded for their large ring collection or goes all out to win one. The Harrah’s attempt to create a new icon of poker success has been a down and out failure.
The WSOP-C launched to much fanfare in 2005. In the heart of the poker boom, the WSOP would go on tour, bringing its brand of high-class cards to casinos across the U.S.
After a successful start, the tour quickly began to corrode. Slowly but surely, attendance fell and the pros began to migrate to more lucrative fields. The WPT, NAPT, and EPT all seemed more alluring prospects, with bigger prize pools and greater prestige.
4. The Onyx Cup
Perhaps one day this aborted super high-stakes tournament series will reappear, but that seems unlikely.
Just weeks before Black Friday, Full Tilt announced that they were throwing caution to the wind. Soon, they told us, the best players in the world would gather together to compete in tournaments like no other. The fields would be stacked with only the best players and the prize pools would be astronomical.
The Onyx Cup events were to have buy-ins of between $100,000 – $300,000. In short, the kind of money that gets Phil Ivey to leave the sportsbook and play some actual poker. With Erik Seidel in their stable, Full Tilt also had the perfect figurehead for elite High Roller events.
Fast forward a few weeks and Full Tilt is announcing that the Onyx Cup has been canceled. With their owners indicted and bank accounts seized, the future of poker in the U.S. looks dicey. After all the build up, the Onyx Cup became just another casualty of the DOJ.
3. Jamie Gold/Jerry Yang
It’s hard to choose which of these two WSOP Main Event champions was the most disappointing. Jamie Gold alienated a lot of viewers with his brash attitude on the way to the title, but at least he’s played in the occasional tournament since his victory. Jerry Yang faded into the mist so effectively, it’s difficult to be sure that we didn’t all dream his victory in 2007.
It’s important to consider these champions in context. Had they been the latest in a long line of media-shy champions, there wouldn’t be nearly as much dissatisfaction. Jamie Gold burst onto the scene in the wake of three great Main Event winners. Chris Moneymaker in 2003 made the WSOP what it is today, Greg Raymer in 2004 was a character with real ability, and Joe Hachem in 2005 had made regular appearances around the world improving his game and promoting poker.
Gold and Yang did none of that. Perhaps because neither of them had the playing skill of their forebears or maybe they were just too self-centred to care? Either way, fair or not, there’s an assumption that the Main Event winner will take some time to promote poker in the mainstream. It’s the game’s yearly chance to break through and improve its stature among the populous. Champs that wholly reject that burden will always be looked upon with scorn.
2. Phil Ivey in the November Nine
I think everyone who knows what a poker table looks like was rooting for Phil Ivey to make the November Nine in 2009. Not only would his presence there be ‘good for poker’, it would add another layer of prestige to his legend.
Widely regarded as the best player on the planet, this was hyped as his opportunity to prove that was the greatest ever. Despite trailing far behind the chip leader Darvin Moon, he was still topping pundit’s lists of picks to take home the crown.
With that kind of build-up, anything but a victory would have been a flop. As it was he bowed out in 7th, without ever making much of an impact. In retrospect it was an incredible achievement, outlasting such a huge field, but at the time it was a damp end to what could have been the greatest poker story of all time.
1. The Durrrr Challenge
In 2008, Tom Dwan was the hot ticket in online poker. After bursting onto the scene with massive bankroll swings, he single-handedly made the nosebleed cash games on Full Tilt relevant. The cocksure young kid, only 22-years-old, issued a challenge to anyone with the bankroll and the balls to take him on.
50,000 hands across four simultaneous tables of high stakes No Limit Hold ’em or Pot Limit Omaha. If Dwan finished the victor, you pay him $500,000 extra, but if you win, durrrr will issue a $1,000,000 reward.
This kind of contest is one of beautiful things about poker. The best players putting their livelihood and their abilities on the line to prove who is the greatest of them all. These gladiatorial fights have fostered great excitement in the past. From The Corporation vs. Andy Beal right back to Johnny Moss vs. Nick the Greek.
The first to step up to the plate was online hound Patrik Antonius. The Finn and the American began their slugfest to much fanfare, but two years later, they still have over 10,000 hands to play. The only other player to take up the challenge is Dan “jungleman12” Cates, with the pair not even half way through their match.
In a few short months, the durrrr challenge went from being the most talked about thing in poker to an irrelevance. Nobody really cares who wins anymore, it’s taken far too long to sustain any kind of interest.
Worse, PokerStars came along and showed Full Tilt how to do it properly. Viktor “Isildur1” Blom – in many ways the new durrrr – runs his SuperStar Showdown almost every week online. He takes on all comers in a reasonable amount of hands at a scheduled time. The events are properly reported and analysed and have the potential to create big news. Since starting in December, Blom has already completed eight Showdowns. Mr. Dwan should take heed.