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Records and Innovations of 2008

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Mar 02, 2009

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It is interesting how quickly a novelty becomes commonplace, and innovations become part of the routine. Nowhere is this more so than in the field of poker, which has seen itself televised, popularised, and Internet revolutionised in this decade. In 1999, there were 393 entrants in the $10,000 championship event at the World Series of Poker, whereas in 2008 there were 6,844. So quickly did the big tournaments' sizes rocket that barely an eyebrow seems to be lifted by the new throng of players. Walking into a convention centre filled with nothing but poker tables and the noise of riffling chips, where your top prize will exceed $9 million, and your highs and lows may be filmed for television along with your hole cards? Standard.

It is hardly surprising then that continuing to provide a bigger, better spectacle is important for the industry both live and online, and nothing says "bigger and better" than breaking a record, loudly and publicly, or trying something for the first time, and hoping it's another runaway success. While Las Vegas is peerless in terms of scale where live poker is concerned, there have been changes in the UK which deserve a mention as 2008 seamlessly drifted into 2009, and online frontrunners too have been making their bids for fame and therefore customer-base related fortune.

The Grosvenor UK Poker Tour, which has just wrapped up its second year, brought its original innovation in the form of player-friendly structured events linking the Grosvenor casinos and introducing at least 200 people to Thanet who might otherwise never have known where it was. Of course it's now just part of the itinerant player's calendar, and overseer Jonathan Raab has a new job as poker manager at the Victoria Casino in London. He's nominated for a European Poker Award in Innovation for his work on a tour which is now part of the British poker landscape (and included for the first time in 2008 a Champion of Champions event).

British players seem, in general this year, to have been offered more ranking events than they are able to attend, with the Gala Casinos British Poker Tour, Amateur Professional Association Tour, and Virgin tours providing unprecedented scope for spending money on hotels and trains in a pretty much unending cycle.

There was also, for those whose budgets extend that far, a £20,000 buy-in high rollers tournament staged by PokerStars for the first time, tagged on to the end of European Poker Tour London (and won by Jason Mercier) representing the growing trend in showcasing super-elite small-field tournaments.

Also nominated for Poker Innovation is Rob Yong, who continues to prove that the Dusk Till Dawn club in Nottingham will give things a go if the players seem to want them. From supplying a Norwegian speaking dealer for a short-handed high-limit cash game during the Norwegian Open festival to hosting a four-day super-deepstacked event with a World Series of Poker main event structure at the end of the year, it continues to accommodate. It did not, however, implement the most unusual innovation of the past year - the delayed final table.

This was undoubtedly the most controversial decision made for the World Series main event in 2008, and whether or not it will be repeated remains to be seen. In any case, they got to announce a record as broken - this time for youngest winner. Peter Eastgate taking the title at just 22-years-old nabbed this one from Phil Hellmuth Jr. and gave this year's main event a superlative with which to spice up headlines.

Presumably it only gets harder to pin one of these down, however, especially in the live arena in the U.S. where the online ban and tough regulations leave the potential record-breaking events like the WSOP still hovering below their 2006 peak, and the youngest possible winner a 21-year-old celebrating his birthday. In the last few years Eric Froehlich, Jeff Madsen and Steve Billirakis have pipped each other to this title, but strictly the youngest bracelet winner is still Annette Obrestad, who took down the inaugural WSOP Europe main event at 19-years-old.

Mike McDonaldMeanwhile, young players continue to dominate the EPT, the record breaker in this arena being Mike McDonald who took down the German Open at just 18. Last year also saw the triple-crowning of Gavin Griffin, who added a WPT title to his EPT and WSOP victories, another unprecedented poker achievement. Whatever further crowns may be found to add (Asia Pacific Poker Tour plus Latin American Poker Tour plus Poker Million perhaps) there may be some time before this record is broken.

Online too, fields and prize pools have grown, as well as the understandable fascination with the nosebleed stakes cash games - their most familiar incarnation probably being Rail Heaven on Full Tilt which has seen a few contenders for "biggest online pot" come and go. Online championships ending in "OOP" have never been more popular. 2008 was also the year of the training site, with videos popping up all over the place made by household names to the online community, from CardRunners to PokerXFactor to DeucesCracked.

If you weren't watching someone more articulate than you press the buttons you wish you were pressing, you missed the main online development of the year. There are also some excellent and some unintentionally hilarious DIY versions should your YouTube be lacking focus.

Finally, wrapping up the year, PokerStars "World Record Week" promotion included the running of a 35,000 player tournament, breaking records for simultaneous players by a good way. It was odd to watch the registration change from "35,000 - Full" to "34,999 - Registering" over and over as individuals decided not to give it a go after all or even attempted some un-seasonal last-minute sabotage, which was never going to work. Even its mighty servers were struggling that Sunday, but somehow that huge event managed to snuggle side-by-side with the Sunday Million which guaranteed $2.5 million, a prize pool bested only by the World Championship of Online Poker main event.

Placing a record-breaker style promotion in the closing days of one year only serves to imply, of course, that the year just beginning will hold yet more examples of poker ingenuity and growth. It may be hard to picture after such a full year, but financial crisis or not, expect "biggest," "richest," and "youngest" to pop up again in 2009.

Jen Mason is a part of www.blondepoker.com. She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.