The prospect of a delayed final table for the WSOP Main Event left the poker world in an anticlimactic mood, even as the final bracelets in 2008 WSOP preliminary events were awarded in early July. The immense ME field was whittled down to a final nine that offered an interesting mix of background and poker experience, even if there was no true "big-name pro" among them. Once the ME's final-table lineup had been determined, the poker world returned to more of an everyday feel, with a variety of poker news and happenings keeping us occupied for the rest of the month. These were among July's biggest poker stories:
Dennis Phillips Leads as WSOP Main Event Final Table Set
July 14th marked the end of nearly two weeks of 2008 WSOP Main event play, leaving the poker world with no winner. Instead, the nine finalists emerged with lives changed and facing the prospect of a 117-day wait until the final table resumed in November. While the pros and cons of the delay provided one of the year's most heated poker debates, Dennis Phillips, a middle-aged truck company manager from St. Louis, headed back to the Midwest secure in the knowledge that he held the lead, whenever play resumed. Phillips was joined by Ivan Demidov, Scott Montgomery, Peter Eastgate, Ylon Schwartz, Darus Suharto, David Rheem, Craig Marquis and Kelly Kim, who quickly became known as poker's "November Nine".
WSOP Main Event Attendance Tops '07 Mark
The 2008 World Series of Poker might not have featured the largest-ever Main Event field, but it set plenty of other attendance and payout records through the course of its 55-day run. While the Main Event's 2006, pre-UIGEA attendance mark of 8,773 was never in danger, big turnouts for the final two of four opening sessions swelled the overall player attendance to 6,844, topping 2007's 6,358 and exceeding most onlookers' expectations. The solid attendance numbers assured a first prize for the event of more than $9 million, the second richest tourney prize ever.
Hellmuth Denied 12th WSOP Bracelet
In one of the final preliminary events of the 2008 WSOP, Phil Hellmuth, Jr. was denied a possible 12th gold bracelet, which would have extended his own mark and put him two clear of his nearest challengers, Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan. Hellmuth came to the final table in the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. tourney, Event #51, in second place, but was unable to continue his recent final-table mastery and exited in third place. James Schaaf outdueled Tommy Hang to win the title and the accompanying $256,412 in winnings.
California Considers Intrastate Online Poker
A bill sponsored by California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) that would call for the establishment of intrastate online poker in California (available only to California residents) inched its way forward through the California legislature as July progressed. The California Gambling Control/Intrastate Online Poker Legalization Act, AB 2026, moved out of committee and onto the floor of the California State Assembly for a full vote, where it remained at end of year. The concept of a California-only online room received a boost in 2007 from a circulation submitted by online player Anthony "Tuff Fish" Sandstrom, though Sandstrom's idea as originally proposed was defeated. Still, the concept of California online poker remained in play as by year's end, California faced immense budget shortfalls and new revenue streams received increased consideration.
Expanded 2008 WSOP-Europe Schedule Announced
2007 marked the first official appearance of the World Series of Poker in Europe, and early in July, WSOP officials announced that as expected, the WSOP would return to London in the fall in a bigger and better way. The 2007 series offered only three events, but the breakthrough win in the inaugural WSOPE Main Event by Norwegian prodigy Annette Obrestad assured plenty of interest in the WSOPE's second year. This time around the WSOPE scheduled a second event and was associated with the same London Clubs International casino properties associated with the first year's events, and online site Betfair was also announced as returning in its role as title sponsor.
U.S. Trade Office Stonewalls European Union, Antigua Delegations
Negotiations between the United States and other countries affected by the Bush Administration's failure to adhere to its World Trade Organization commitments exposed the American side as dealing in bad faith during July. US Trade Office representatives met briefly with Antiguan officials and achieved no real progress during their trade summit, this after the U.S. unilaterally declared itself in compliance with a WTO decision concerning one facet of online gambling; the WTO had awarded Antigua a $21 million judgment, which the U.S. promised, in essence, to ignore. The same core issues led to a European probe and planned summit between EU and American trade officials, which the U.S. cancelled at the last moment with little explanation. The U.S. government's willingness to turn the issue into a broader trade battle in the midst of a precarious economic environment remained firm as the year wore on, despite quizzical commentary from a wide range of politicians and international trade experts. The impasse remains in place as 2009 arrives.