The Top Poker Players of 2021

Poker requires skill, precision, time, and dedication to learn how to play, no less play well. These are essential traits for making it big at anything in the United States. Thinking about that, it’s not a surprise that some of the world’s best poker players came from the USA. The USA is constantly at the top of the winners’ table at the annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Today we’re going to be looking at some of the best of the best of 2021

Phil Ivey

Having been featured in a number of poker shows on television like High Stakes Poker and even having been the face of Full Tilt Poker before the two entities fell out, Phil Ivey sure has quite the resume. Nicknamed “The Tiger Woods of Poker” for being the youngest player ever to have won seven WSOP bracelets, he’s already surpassed that total and is going into 2022 with nine bracelets in total, the most recent high-stakes game of the nine bracelets coming from 2013’s WSOP APAC in Australia. He’s probably the most diverse of all of the top bracelet winners. His titles include H.O.R.S.E., 2-7 Draw, and No-Limit Hold’em. Phil Ivey could easily take the top spot in money earned from Antonio Esfandiari. Ivey’s currently sitting second place with $21.2 million won, and the all-time WSOP bracelet table, sitting fourth, four bracelets behind Phil Hellmuth, Jr.

Phil Hellmuth, Jr.

Also known as “The Poker Brat,” this Madison, Wisconsin native is famous for his knowledge and prowess at the No-Limit Hold’em tournament tables. He’s constantly entertaining and fascinating to watch. Phil Hellmuth, Jr. currently sits sixth in all-time money-earning, having almost $18 million in tournament winnings, and sits at the top of the WSOP bracelets list with 13. 

Antonio Esfandiari

Antonio Esfandiari, also known as “The Magician,” was born in Iran but moved to the United States as a child. He’s one of the “Second Generation” of poker players who benefited from the televised boom of the game back in the early 2000s. Esfandiari put himself on the map with his WPT titles, and WSOP bracelet wins. As the game gets younger and younger with the fearless internet poker pros, Esfandiari isn’t fazed, having won first place at the inaugural $111,111-buy-in Big One for One Drop Event at 2012’s World Series. His first prize win was $18.3 million, and he immediately followed it by hitting the final table of the Big One the next year. He now boasts over $26 million in all-time earnings, sitting comfortably at the top of his table.

World Series of Poker During the Pandemic

The World Series of Poker Tournament was recently held from September 30, 2021, to November 23, 2021. They complied with an emergency directive from the state of Nevada that allowed them to allow players to take off masks while seated at the player tables if they could show proof of a complete vaccination. They stated in an article that they’d be complying with the state of Nevada’s directives for immunization, and they did a relatively good job, considering the circumstances.

Their website says that it’s mandatory for players to be fully vaccinated for at least 14 days prior to their participation date, so for the players who had signed up to start on the 30th of September, their vaccination needed to be complete by Thursday, September 16th. They disallowed negative COVID-19 tests as substitutes for vaccination and said that medical or religious exemption weren’t allowed as well.

That’s also not to say that they weren’t allowing masks at all. If they made you feel comfortable, they were also complying with the CDC’s guidelines to the appropriate face masks.

They also had guidelines that they followed, saying that if you answered yes to any of these questions, to please refrain from attending: 

  • Within 14 days before attending WSOP, you have tested positive or been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19;
  • Within 48 hours before attending WSOP, you have experienced symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g., a fever of 100.4F or higher, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking muscle pain/achiness, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, nasal congestion, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue or any other symptoms associated with COVID-19 identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention);
  • Within 14 days before attending WSOP, you have traveled to any international territory identified by federal or applicable state or local governments as subject to travel or quarantine advisories due to COVID-19.

The tables are the only place they’ll be allowed to take masks off in the presence of other patrons. Nevada is currently under a mask order, so if you’re spectating or walking around, you would be required to wear a face mask.

WSOP Millionaire Maker

sarang ahuja gold bracelet

The other weekend I played in the Millionaire Maker event at the World Series of Poker, in what turned out to be the 6th largest tournament field in history – I guess a lot of people find the idea of becoming a millionaire appealing. Go figure. Unlike some of the other WSOP events, like Monster Stack and The Colossus, the title of Millionaire Maker is not hyperbole. The winner, Adrian Buckley, took home $1,277,193, so the event lived up to its name.

It’s definitely worth mentioning that this was Buckley’s first in-the-money finish, and his debut on the world poker stage. Having arrived as a complete unknown, he’s certainly in the limelight now. Not only did Buckley take down some serious heavy hitters at the final table, including Erick Lindgren, Mike Sexton, Justin Pechie, and David Miscikowski, all previous gold bracelet winners, he also faced long odds several times. From the WSOP website: “Indeed, this win was unlikely as they come, especially given the pedigree of competition later in the tournament.”

While a lot of players, myself included, can only imagine how Adrian Buckley must have felt right after he won, he did clue everyone in with some comments. “This is one-hundred percent surreal,” he was, unsurprisingly, quoted as saying. “This has been a crazy few days. It was the run of the century.” Just 15 years into this century, I suppose it might have been.

I wound up coming in 435th out of the 7,275 entrants, and cashing for $4,517. While I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t me giving the quote about how surreal it was to win the bracelet, it is definitely bitter sweet. Reflecting back, I am proud of my play and my ability to navigate through and ultimately finish in the top 6%. It may not have been the run of the century, but I guess it wasn’t too shabby either.

2015 World Series of Poker Dates Announced

sarang ahuja wsopThe dates for the 2015 World Series of Poker, which will take place at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, have been announced. It will begin on May 27th, with the final table set for July 14th, after which the competitors will have been whittled down to the top 9 players who will compete for the title the following November. As poker seems to gain more and more popularity every year, and plenty of financial incentive with millions in prizes up for grabs, the WSOP plans to host the largest tournament field in their history this year.

This will be the 46th World Series of Poker. In that time the tournament and poker playing in the US in general has expanded exponentially. There is an interesting statistic listed on the Word Series of Poker website: when the tournament began in 1970, there were fewer than 50 poker tables in the entire city of Las Vegas, and only 70 in the entire state of Nevada. Hilariously, the final round of that first tournament was held in a room about the size of a hotel room with about thirty fellow poker players watching. What a far cry from the huge poker rooms in casinos and national television coverage that is the norm today.

One other thing that has expanded since the early days of the tournament: the size of the pot. The WSOP website doesn’t say what the prize for the first year was, but the second year included 7 players posting $5,000 in a winner-take-all event. That means the total prize was $35,000. This coming year, the WSOP is again guaranteeing a $10,000,000 prize for the winner of the main event.

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