Year in Review: Top 10 Poker Moments that Marked 2023
Last Updated: January 3, 2024
Another year is behind us, and it was quite a big one for poker players around the globe, as the game experienced a rejuvenation of sorts, reminding us of the good old days of the Moneymaker Era when poker was expanding at lightning speed.
Poker operators went back to their roots in 2023 and threw some of the biggest live events in poker history, supporting their online brands, while big name players like Phil Hellmuth, Andrew Robl, and Garrett Adelstein all added chapters to their future biographies.
2023 was a year of prosperity and expansion for the poker industry and one that everyone involved with the game will want to repeat in 2024, if not in terms of personal results, than certainly in terms of the overall atmosphere that surrounded poker throughout the 12 months.
Now that the ball has dropped and another new year has kicked in, let’s take a quick look back at 2023 and the moments that truly marked the year in the poker world for the players, fans, and everyone else involved.
#10 – Matt Berkey Takes Nik Airball to School
Feuds between poker players are nothing new, but most of them typically end in a Twitter war that never spills over to the green felt.
Unlike many other poker players who are willing to talk but not put their money where their mouth is, Nik Airball decided it was time to stand behind his words and actually challenge his rival Matt Berkey to a heads up match for a cool million dollars.
Unfortunately for Airball, he was heavily outmatched from the very start, as the “Solve for Why” coach took only 58 hours to relieve the “King of LA” of his million dollars in cash.
The two played live $200/400 heads up at the Resorts World Poker Room in Las Vegas, and despite not being a heads up specialist, Matt truly shook Nik’s world and demonstrated the importance of skill in the game of poker.
It could have been worse for Airball too, but he was prudent enough to take the option to stop the challenge before the 100-hour mark after losing exactly $1 million, cutting his losses and learning an important lesson for the rest of his career.
#9 – Garrett Adelstein Makes His Return
A brand new generation of poker heroes arose over the last few years in the live cash game arena, as live streamed games gave us a unique insight into the world of private high stakes poker games played in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and beyond.
Garrett Adelstein emerged as the biggest name on that list, as his stoic demeanor, aggressive playing style, and classy approach to the game and his opponents have made him a true hero for thousands of poker fans.
Unfortunately, Adelstein was absent from the poker world for most of 2023 as a result of a big scandal from the end of 2023, which included a hand played against Robi Jade Lew on popular Hustler Casino Live stream.
Garrett’s hiatus finally came to an end in late 2023, as he made a couple of appearances on live streamed games hosted by Bally Live Poker and WPT, and once again crushed his opposition, which included the likes of Andrew Robl, Patrik Antonius, and Eric Persson.
Hopefully, Adelstein will stick around and continue to play on live streams throughout 2024, and we will be fortunate enough to see the legend play many hours at the live felt against some of the toughest competitors out there.
#8 – WSOP Makes Its Debut in the Bahamas
When you hear the word WSOP, you probably think of the Las Vegas festival played every summer, but the truth is that WSOP is an international brand with many stops around the world.
WSOP Circuit events go on all year around, while WSOP Europe has become a staple on the poker calendar and an important yearly stop for European poker players.
This year, for the first time, the WSOP brand was displayed in the Caribbean as well, as the inaugural WSOP Paradise was played at the beautiful Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
The festival attracted thousands of players despite the prices of flights and accommodations and the overlap with other major poker festivals, once again demonstrating the reach of the WSOP and GGPoker brands.
Considering the massive success of the inaugural WSOP Paradise, we can expect the festival to make a return in 2024 and beyond, although the exact dates and schedule are yet to be released.
#7 – Phil Hellmuth Wins His 17th WSOP Bracelet
Few players in the world can boast with as much tournament poker success as Phil Hellmuth, and when it comes to WSOP in particular, the Poker Brat remains the undisputed king for the time being.
In 2023, Hellmuth extended his WSOP bracelet record, winning his 17th overall WSOP bracelet in Event #72: $10,000 Super Turbo Bounty.
The poker champ beat a field of 642 players and a final table that included none other than Phil Ivey, winning $803,818 in the process. More importantly for Phil, he won bracelet number 17, which means he moved another step away from everyone chasing after his record.
As things stand, it will take a number of years before anyone gets close to Hellmuth’s numbers, especially as he continues to play a full schedule every summer and continues to win bracelets quite regularly.
Of those chasing after him, only Erik Seidel made a significant breakthrough this year, winning his tenth bracelet, which put him on par with the likes of Phil Ivey and late Doyle Brunson.
#6 – GGPoker Introduces Game of Gold
It’s been an amazing year for TV poker, as shows like High Stakes Poker, No Gamble No Future, and Hustler Casino Live dominated the headlines throughout the first ten months of 2023.
The end of the year was marked by the appearance of a brand new poker show released by GGPoker, which proved to be a massive success from day one.
Game of Gold, as the show was dubbed by its producers, put together elements of a classic poker show and a reality show, and brought some of the most famous poker players in the world together to create one of the most thrilling poker shows ever created.
Season One of Game of Gold featured high stakes action, intricate strategic decisions, disagreement and drama, and ultimately a historic win for Maria Ho, one of the best female poker players ever to play the game.
While season two of Game of Gold has not yet been announced, poker fans across the world are looking forward to seeing the show come back, hopefully in an even more comprehensive and entertaining format and with even more big names like Phil Hellmuth or Tom Dwan joining the action.
#5 – WPT Throws the Biggest Guaranteed Poker Tournament Ever
December 2023 was a truly impressive month for poker as a whole, as some of the biggest poker events of the entire year were crammed into a period of just over a month.
No event marked the end of the year more than WPT World Championship, which offered an incredible $40,000,000 guaranteed prize pool for a buyin of “just” $10,000.
WPT brought out more online and live qualifiers than ever before, and attracted many of the game’s biggest stars to Wynn Las Vegas, but it was still not quite enough to cover the guarantee in full.
Instead of running a late hyper turbo flight, which many suggested they do, WPT took the loss and made up over $2 million in cash from their own pockets, holding true to their promise despite the circumstances.
The 2023 WPT World Championship proved to be one of the best-run and most player-friendly high stakes events of the year, and will surely be coming back in December 2024, likely with an even bigger guarantee and more hype surrounding it.
#4 – WSOP Online Main Event Sets Online Prize Pool Record
Looking back, it is hard to remember a year with as many big poker stories as 2023, as the year gave us so many big moments in both live and online arenas.
In October 2023, GGPoker was able to throw the biggest online poker tournament of all time, as more than 6,000 players ponied up the hefty $5k buy-in for the WSOP Online Main Event, creating a prize pool of over $28,000,000, the biggest in online poker history.
The crowning moment for the event came at the very end, when poker streamer Bert “girafganger7”Stevens took the whole thing down on his live stream for $2,783,432, marking the biggest live stream win of all time.
Not only was GGPoker able to break a record, but they also had thousands of players tune into the final table action in real time, supporting girafganger7 on his quest to becoming an online poker world champion.
Stevens’ celebration in front of a live audience became viral and reinvigorated thousands of his fans, giving them a new hope and a new reason to return to the felt and chase the dream their hero had just turned into reality.
#3 – Poker World Pays Homage to “Texas Dolly”
The saddest news of 2023 for the entire poker community came on May 14, as it was confirmed that Doyle Burnson, the biggest legend of the game, had passed away at the age of 89.
Texas Dolly, as he was affectionately called by those who knew him, was one of the most influential personas in poker, and his death marked an end of an era for the game itself.
Brunson was a dominant force at the tables for decades, the first player to win a million dollars in poker tournaments, and a 10-time WSOP champion, a record few other players will ever be able to match.
The author of “Super System,” widely considered the original poker Bible, Brunson will be remembered in stories and legends by poker players across the globe for decades to come.
Throughout 2023, poker players and companies involved in the industry paid their homage to “The Godfather of Poker” in their own ways, all demonstrating the incredible impact he had on the game and everyone in it.
#2 – Tom Dwan Wins the Biggest TV Cash Game Pot
It was a huge year for live cash game poker as well, as several of the biggest live streamed games in the history of the game were played throughout 2023.
The massive million dollar buy-in game played in May 2023 saw some of the game’s hottest names like Doug Polk, Tom Dwan, and Nik Airball take to the felt and battle it out for obscene amounts of money.
It was expected that the game would produce some insane pots, and it was only fitting that none other than Tom “durrrr” Dwan would take down the biggest of them all.
The high stakes poker legend, who has been crushing live cash games for well over a decade, despite the Phil Hellmuth curse, won a pot worth $3.1 million with nothing more than a pair of Queens, calling down all three streets in a 5-bet pot against Wesley Fei.
Had Fei actually had Aces or Kings, he would have been on the receiving end of the biggest pot in the history of the game, but unfortunately he could only produce Ace-high when Dwan correctly made the river call for nearly $800k in cold hard cash.
Dwan once again demonstrated his fearlessness and willingness to play for any stakes, while Fei showed that he is certainly an up-and-coming player who is not afraid to bluff even against the very best of them.
#1 – WSOP Main Event Breaks Attendance Record
The biggest poker story of 2023 was the WSOP Main Event, which attracted 10,043 players over the four Day 1 flights and thus broke the record as the biggest WSOP Main Event in the history of the game.
The record was previously held by the 2006 WSOP Main Event, which was famously won by the trash-talker Jamie Gold, who was there on Day 1D in 2023 to announce “shuffle up and deal” at the start of the day.
Daniel Weinman, a member of “Team Lucky,” won it all, with the likes of Shaun Deeb and Matt Glantz railing the experienced pro as he took his hot run all the way and banked just over $12 million for his victory.
Weinman’s was significant for him and his friends, but the overall turnout to the Main Event and WSOP overall marked a big milestone for the game, as it proved once more that there is still more room for growth in poker, despite all the obstacles.
WSOP Main Event was just one of many live poker events that broke attendance records in 2023, giving us plenty to look forward to in 2024 and beyond.