I’m sure everyone has their own opinion of what they feel were the top moments in poker in 2012, but the following are what I thought were deserving of the “Top 10” moments of 2012. Agree or disagree, I hope it’s a fun read for you. OK, here we go!

10) The kickoff televised event of Season XI on the WPT

the PARX Poker Open Poker Classic in Philadelphia, PA. This was the WPT’s first visit to Philly and to PARX and the casino was quite impressive. What really impressed me, however, were the six finalists – all from the East Coast and all in their 20’s! The young guns just get better and better! Kudo’s to the champion, highly respected Anthony Gregg, a terrific player from Maryland. Another reason this event made my Top 10 is because they have swing dancing in the lounge at PARX every Wednesday – and I like that.

9) Pokerstars buying Full Tilt

This was big news in the poker world. I’m sure many (those players outside the US who got paid) feel this should rank higher and others (US players who haven’t been paid) may feel this shouldn’t make the list at all because it only refuels their anger and frustration.

8) Antonio “the Magician” Esfandiari’s

Feat of making the final table of the Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic for the third consecutive year – a feat that’s never been done before in WPT history. Antonio Esfandiari won this event two years ago, made the final table last year, and came to this year’s final table with the chip lead. Although he didn’t win (Ravi Raghavan did), making a final table in the same event 3 years in a row gets a special salute from me. And speaking of a feat that’s never been done before, how about Greg Raymer winning four events on the Heartland Poker Tour? The “Fossilman” was solid as a rock in 2012.

7) Season X WPT Player of the Year Race

This was the closest POY race in WPT history. Will “the Thrill” Failla won the kickoff event of Season X (Legends of Poker) and held the POY lead nearly all year but all the buzz didn’t start until March 2012. Well liked and easy going Joe Serock then had back-to-back 3rd place finishes to take the POY lead with two events left.

After boldly predicting he would get the POY lead back, Will “the Thrill” then re-gained the POY lead by making the final table with one event to go. The WPT Championship was very exciting because numerous players could take the POY title with a high finish (with Will “the Thrill” busting out early like he did). Joe Serock had to finish in the top ten to win the WPT Season X Player of the Year – and he did! Nice going, Joe!

6) Women at the WSOP

The women performed extremely well at the 2012 WSOP. A few won open events including Allyn Jaffrey Shulman and Vanessa Selbst and there’s still a buzz about the women who finished 11th (Elisabeth Hille) and 10th (Gaelle Baumann) in the main event. VERY impressive! (That was a pretty tough beat for a guy I know that took 25-1 that no woman would make the November Nine.) Nice job, ladies!

5) WPT National China at MGM Grand Sanya

This event, held December 14-17, 2012, was the first major poker tournament ever held on Chinese soil. It was sold out and included Poker Hall of Famer’s Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan and was hosted by WPT Champions Club member David Chiu. The winner was Zheng Hua Lei. Hats off to WPT CEO Steve Heller and WPT President Adam Pliska for bringing the WPT to China. In my view, this historical event could lead to massive inroads into the Chinese market. It not only deserves to be a top moment of 2012 – it could become a top moment in poker history.

4) Phil Hellmuth

Phil, the all-time bracelet winner at the WSOP, captured his 12th bracelet by winning the Razz event and 13th by winning the main event of the WSOPE. Oh yeah, he also finished 4th in the $1M buy-in ONE DROP tourney. And incredibly, for the third time, Phil finished 2nd in the WSOP Player of the Year race! To me, because of the consistency, this is far more impressive than winning that award once. Incidentally, for Phil to lose the POY race, Greg Merson had to win the main event – and he did. Phil also gets kudos’ from me for going to so many charity poker events (more than any other player), nearly all of them as M/C.

3) Back to back WPT wins by Marvin Rettenmaier

“Mad Marvin” won the season ending WPT World Championship at Bellagio (for $1.2M) in Season X and then came back to win the first event of Season XI, WPT Cyprus, to accomplish a feat that’s never been done before in WPT history – win back to back events on the World Poker Tour. CONGRATULATIONS, Marvin! Those wins propelled Marvin to become BLUFF magazine’s Player of the Year. And kudo’s to Dan Smith for becoming Card Player magazine’s POY.

2) Greg Merson

Greg won two bracelets at the WSOP as well as the 2012 WSOP POY. And let me add that he won his bracelets in big-time events. He first captured the $10k buy-in six-handed NLH tourney (a really tough field) and then won the main event ($8.5M). And as I mentioned in #4 above, to win the POY award, he had to win the main event! I thought the top three finishers in the main event – Jake Balsinger (3rd) and Jesse Sylvia (2nd) – all played terrific and I believe all will be good ambassadors for poker. A big salute to Greg Merson for getting not one, but two banners to go up in the WSOP hallway – the 2012 main event champion and WSOP Player of the Year.

1) The ONE DROP tourney

No event in poker history created a buzz like the $1M buy-in ONE DROP tourney. It was Guy Laliberte’s (founder of Cirque de Solei) creation and hats off to him for making it happen. For months, the ONE DROP was not only the talk of the players and poker media, it made it to mainstream media (Wall Street Journal & others) as well. The ONE DROP charity benefited over $5M from this event alone and hopefully, millions more because of the publicity generated by this poker tournament. This can only bring favorable light to the poker world.

The top two finishers are true super stars of the poker world – champion Antonio “the Magician” Esfandiari ($18.3M) and runner-up Sam Trickett ($10.1M). And lucky for all of us, they’re great ambassadors for poker as well. Antonio became the all-time money winner in poker tournament history (over $23M) by capturing this title. And even though Antonio busted me in 9th place in the ONE DROP (at least I made the money), I still love him and all he does for poker. The guy truly is magic.

Good luck to everyone in 2013! ~ Mike Sexton

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