Time magazine just announced its “Person of the Year.”
So, let’s do the same thing for poker.
Following the criteria set forth by Time, being selected isn’t necessarily an endorsement, nor even an award. It doesn’t confer approval of the person’s deeds and actions, nor are the nominations limited only to poker professionals. Being chosen simply means the person has impacted the game more than anyone else over the past year. [See Footnote 1 below]
So, who has impacted poker the most in 2013?
I’ll announce my list of nominees in a moment.
But first, let’s give this process some historical context. Looking back most recently, who would have been most deserving? To answer this, I went back and reviewed poker’s leading news stories from each of the last four years. Then, I made my selections accordingly. The people selected below were the most talked about and most prominent individuals in poker for that calender year. Let’s see if you agree:
2009 — Phil Ivey edges out “Isildur1″ (later identified as Viktor Blom) as the top choice. While the online phenomenon known only as “Isildur” captivated the poker world with his unprecedented success in high-stakes online games, the greater intrigue was trying to guess his identity. That was disclosed the following year. Meanwhile in 2009, Ivey was in his tenth year of playing poker (legally), and he was an absolute beast. Ivey won two WSOP gold bracelets that summer. Then, he become the most talked about player in poker for nearly three months as one of the famed “November Nine” finalists. Add in his exploits playing online and cash games, and the choice for 2009 is clear. Ivey’s comprehensive success solidified his rock star status and reaffirmed public perceptions that he’s the greatest player in the world.
2010 — Ty Stewart deserves to be among the top candidates every year since 2009, when he initially assumed administrative control over the WSOP. However, 2010 was a banner year for the former National Football League executive who first joined the WSOP back in 2006. Stewart, who was the one to devise the “November Nine concept,” not only increased the WSOP’s overall numbers against declines just about everywhere else, he also expanded the WSOP Circuit in a big way (with national rankings and television for the first time), added corporate sponsors, and inked a long-term deal with ESPN, which agreed to carry the WSOP at least through 2016. Moreover, Stewart took WSOP-Europe and moved the annual series to France for the first time following a successful four-year run in London. Stewart’s impact on the game has been indelible from the start, but no more so than in 2010 when he established full control over poker’s biggest international brand.
2011 — Isai Scheinberg’s influence on poker has been monumental. As the founder of PokerStars back in 2001, Scheinberg built his company into the world’s largest poker site, and the most successful poker-related company in history. Yet 2011 turned into a serious crisis for Scheinberg — both personally and professionally. He was among those indicted in the U.S. Department of Justice’s dragnet, in what became better known as “Black Friday.” Schienberg has always been publicity shy. For this reason, his name has never been among the game’s most recognizable. But when indictments were announced, Scheinberg’s name and considerable influence became public knowledge. That PokerStars eventually paid a hefty fine and purchased its former rival Full Tilt Poker (in the process, agreeing to reimburse poker players who were burned when FTP collapsed) only adds to the legacy of the man who has become mystified as the Howard Hughes of poker.
2012 — Howard Lederer’s selection will surely raise eyebrows, but his direct involvement in the Full Tilt Poker scandal and public outrage over the way he and his cohorts handled the affair outraged tens of thousands of poker players all over the world. While Lederer somehow managed to avoid the hangman’s noose and walked away from the scandal without paying too high of a price (he was fined $1.25 million in December of that year, a mere fraction of his overall earnings), the court of public opinion had already tried him in absentia. So, when Lederer finally agreed to go before cameras and answer several hours of questions posed by PokerNews during the fall of 2012, the world expected to finally learn the whole truth about what really happened to all our missing money. Of course, we never got the answers were were seeking, just a lot of denial and runaround. Lederer’s dismal performance in what became known as “The Lederer Files” only added to the outrage and backlash against his former company that had given poker such a black eye. We continue to feel the fallout of this scandal to this day, since no (American) player has yet been paid back in full, the online industry continues to fight negative publicity, while Lederer and all those who did the dirty deeds walked free.
And now, on to 2013. [See Footnote 2 below]
Here are my ten nominees for “Poker Person of the Year,” along with a few short comments. Listed alphabetically, they are:
Sheldon Adelson — No person has had a greater negative impact on poker this past year than Sheldon Adelson, the doddering hypocrite who’s gleefully emptying out the bank accounts of his most loyal customers in Macau, as well as Las Vegas as the controlling partner of the Sands Corporation (The Venetian), while vocally expressing objections against legalized online poker in the United States on, get this, moral grounds. He’s pledged to spend “whatever it takes” to defeat online poker initiatives and has kick started a serious disinformation campaign against poker and online rights in his selfish crusade. He’s an awful man, but he’s also immensely rich and powerful, which merits his inclusion on this list.
Rep. Joe Barton — The Republican congressman from Texas has become poker’s greatest champion in Washington. Against the national platform of his own political party and opposed to the wishes of many conservative voters in Texas, who oppose any form of legalized gambling, Barton has been a true maverick. He’s introduced a bill in Congress which would legalize and regulate online poker at the federal level. He also ripped apart his opponents in the most recent committee hearings about online gambling.
Gov. Chris Christie — Another maverick politician who was the most influential person in the legalization of online poker in New Jersey. Christie has shown some remarkable bravery that’s uncharacteristic of many politicians, going against his party on the issue of online gambling. Furthermore, he’s stood up to the professional sports leagues in federal court to get try and get legalized sports gambling approved for New Jersey. Without Christie’s support, online poker in the U.S. would be floundering right now.
Mitch Garber — As the head of Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE), Garber is perfectly primed to rule the poker world should the WSOP brand be able to successfully leverage it’s land-based popularity with online poker players. The company’s launch earlier this year in Nevada proved successful despite the high start up costs, and now the WSOP appears to be going well in New Jersey, with a 40 percent market share. Garber is sitting on what’s a game changer for everyone, and he knows it. Add his partial ownership and control over the WSOP, including high-profile events such as the “Big One for One Drop,” an extravagant charity event which he co-founded, and it’s easy to understand why he’s one of the game’s most influential figures of 2013.
Lonnie Harwood – Successful women in poker are always a popular topic, and rightfully so. Following two years grinding smaller tournaments around the country, Harwood enjoyed a record-setting breakout year at the 2013 WSOP, winning not only a gold bracelet, but posting the best results in history for any woman. But what makes Harwood especially suitable as a nominee is her networking and peer group, which is essentially the next generation for the game.
Phil Ivey — It seems Ivey should be a perpetual presence on this list every year. However, the big news story of 2013 was Ivey’s involvement in a financial dispute with a casino in the U.K., which created international headlines. Whatever really happened, the episode only added to his mystery and mystique.
Daniel Negreanu — Arguably the world’s most influential poker player due to his outspoken (and sometimes reckless) nature, Negreanu enjoyed a stellar year in tournament poker. At the time of this writing, he tops most of the performance rankings. He also locked up the WSOP “Player of the Year” title for the second time in his stellar career after winning the inaugural WSOP-Asia Pacific Main Event Championship. Negreanu also sparked a major controversy this past summer with the Tournament Director’s Association (TDA).
John Pappas — As head of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), Pappas has done some amazing work, keeping the issue of legalizing poker in the public eye. He’s managed to keep the PPA afloat despite the obvious challenges, and continues to serve as the voice of poker players at the highest levels. Pappas recently testified before a Congressional committee and works tirelessly on issues which are important to poker players. He certainly deserves to be a nominee this year, since much of the groundwork laid by his organization now appears to be producing results.
Ryan Riess — The latest world poker champion always deserves some consideration as the biggest story of the year. The Michigan native pulled a major upset at the final table and won the biggest poker prize of the year.
Matt Savage — Matt Savage is a master of using social media to be involved in virtually every discussion relating to poker. He’s consistently on Twitter and Facebook, and around the world in various cardroom and tournaments. Savage probably deserves some kind of “Poker Person of the Decade” award for his considerable influence in the game, since first coming onto the scene as the WSOP Tournament Director back in 2002. He’s now in change of tournaments on the World Poker Tour, and continues to be a major influence in the game as one of the founders of the Tournament Directors Association (TDA). [See Footnote 3]
Unknown — I’m leaving one space blank. In case I forgot someone, please shout out your pick and why they deserve to be the 2013 “Poker Person of the Year.”
I expect to make my 2013 “Poker Person of the Year” announcement next Friday, December 20th. In the meantime, I welcome reading any opinions and feedback. Who would you chose as the “Poker Person of the Year?”
Footnote 1: Among those selected Time’s “Person of the Year” have been some real monsters — including Haile Selassie, Adolf Hitler, Chiang Kai-shek, Joseph Stalin (twice), and Ayatollah Khomeini. If I had selected a “Poker Person of the Year” for 2006, when UIGEA was passed, that year’s selection would have undoubtedly been Sen. Bill Frist.
Footnote 2: In the interest of full disclosure, I have worked for (and with) for a number of the individuals on these lists — including Ty Stewart, Isai Scheinberg, Mitch Garber, and Matt Savage.
Footnote 3: Honorable mention goes to WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel, who has overseen more major tournaments and total prize money than anyone else in poker history.