Every year, millions of players take the poker tables in pursuit of fortune of fame. Some win, some lose, but only a select few manage to leave a significant mark on the game. 2012 saw its share of amazing poker stories. Three high achievers put their stamp on this year with feats that are worth going down in history books.
Greg Merson is without a doubt the player of the year, and not just because he won the WSOP Player of the Year award. He defeated 6,597 other players for the ultimate prize in poker – the World Series of Poker Main Event. It was a remarkable achievement, given that he was down to two and half big blinds with about 150 people left and looked settled for a minimal payday.
Instead, he worked his way to a few double-ups and subsequently to a place in poker folklore. In the November final table, he was able to maintain a dominant position at or near the chip lead and gradually used his short-handed skills to win the big prize. Together with that most-coveted bracelet he garnered over $8.5 million. This was a nice addition to the over $1 million he won at the WSOP $10,000 Texas Hold’em No Limit Six Handed event. The two bracelets that Merson won are by far the two toughest, most competitive Texas Hold’em events, making him the most worthy candidate for the Player of the Year honor. Merson is still young and will have plenty of opportunity to establish himself as one of the game’s greats.
Merson’s may have won the two hardest Hold’em tournaments and netted almost $10 million, but this was not near the biggest prize this year. This year’s WSOP had a No Limit $1 million buy-in event, where 11.11% of all proceeds went to the One Drop Foundation, which helps provide safe drinking water in third world countries.
Antonio Esfandiari took the bracelet and over $18 million in prize money, the biggest official pool in poker history. The fact that there were only 48 buy-ins somewhat takes away from the prestige of the feat and skews the prize money for comparative purposes. In a way, Merson’s achievements are still more impressive, despite bringing only slightly more than half the monetary prize. Esfandiari, however, is unlikely to care much with the size of his current bankroll.
Somewhat in the shadow of Merson and Esfandiari, but still quite impressive, was the ever-present Phil Helmuth. He won the World Series of Poker Europe and was the forerunner for Player of the Year until very late. Merson only unseated him with a win at the Main Event, which he managed. Furthermore, Helmuth managed his first WSOP win in a non-Hold’em event, taking the Seven Card Razz event. The two victories increased his bracelet tally to 13, extending his all time lead. Overall, it was a very strong year for Big Phil.
To sum up, 2012 definitely belonged to Merson, Esfandiari, and Helmuth. There is no doubt that millions of contenders are dreaming to emulate them in 2013 and have their moment in the poker spotlight.