The poker world's annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas and the 2008 World Series of Poker had barely started when June began, and as expected, news and results from the Rio dominated the headlines throughout the month. The series came to be known as the "Year of the Pro" as a steady procession of big poker names took turns collecting bracelet gold at the Amazon Room's feature table. Among the stars who added jewelry to their collections by June's end were Dario Minieri, Mike Matusow, Rob Hollink, Daniel Negreanu, Vanessa Selbst, Barry Greenstein, Kenny Tran, Max Pescatori, David Singer, Sebastian Ruthenberg, David Benyamine, Jesper Hougaard and Layne Flack. And somehow, there were even bigger stories to be told:
Scotty Nguyen Wins $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. Title
Besides the Main Event itself, marquee value at the World Series of poker has been awarded to the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. championship. The event's high buy-in and mix of limit-poker variants has made it a favorite for poker's elite cash-game crowd, and the event's annual roster of entrants reads like a "Who's Who" of poker. Scotty Nguyen captured the title and the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy (named for the poker legend who won the event in its 2006 debut), at a final table that served up a bit of controversy in addition to the riches and prestige. Nguyen triumphed over Michael DeMichele to win $1,989,120. DeMichele collected $1,243,200 as the runner-up, while Erick Lindgren collected $781,440 for third and Matt Glantz took home $568,320 for fourth.
John "The Razor" Phan Becomes Double Winner
The 2008 WSOP saw plenty of stars breaking through to their first bracelet wins, but John "The Razor" Phan was the only player who struck gold twice in the 2008 WSOP. Phan's first win came in Event #29, $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em, where he topped Johnny Neckar and a strong final-table contingent to collect $434,789. Seven days he repeated the feat by taking down Event #40, $2,500 Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, where he bested Shun Uchida to win $151,896.
Congressional Hearing Held on UIGEA, Clarification Bill Falls in Committee
If poker's attention drifted away from Las Vegas during June, it was only for a day or two late in the month when the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, held a hearing on internet gambling in conjunction with Frank's own push of legislation seeking to clarify the UIGEA. Despite widespread testimony exposing the UIGEA's many shortcomings, a conservative committee bloc pulled together by minority chair Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) sent Frank's "Payment Systems Protection Act" to a narrow committee defeat on a 32-32 tie vote. Frank and other proponents of a regulated U.S. online gambling environment promised to introduce renewed legislation at a later date.
Erick Lindgren Wins First Bracelet
Erick Lindgren had long been the Phil Mickelson of the poker world. Mickelson had been a top player for a decade before he won his first golf major, and had been regarded for years prior to that as the best player to have not won a major. Lindgren was much the same in poker terms – recognized as a top player in both tourneys and cash games, he had somehow never won a bracelet. That changed in Event #4 of the 2008 WSOP, when he took down the $5,000 Mixed Hold'em title by defeating Justin Bonomo. The win was worth $374,505 and started a great summer for Lindgren, culminating in his being named the 2008 WSOP Player of the Year.
The Brothers Hinkle
Brothers Grant and Blair Hinkle had logged some impressive results in tournament play before the 2008, despite being relative newcomers to the tournament scene. By the time the WSOP was complete, the two had established a unique record – each won a WSOP bracelet during the summer's 55-event run. Grant Hinkle's came first, early on, when he captured Event #2, $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em, taking home $831,462. Blair's came later in the series, in Event #23, $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em, where he eliminated six of the other eight finalists to win $507,563 and complete a record-setting family performance.
Nenad Medic Captures $10,000 PLHE World Championship
The $10,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em World Championship at the 2008 WSOP drew not only a stellar pool of entrants, but produced one of the finest final tables at the World Series in recent years. Andy Bloch led this final as it began, with a fierce lineup that also included Patrik Antonius, Mike Sexton, Kathy Liebert, Nenad Medic, Chris Bell, Phil Laak, and online stars Amit Makhija and Mike Sowers. The see-saw final ultimately went to Nenad Medic, who secured the biggest win of his career, worth $794,112, by topping Bloch ($448,048) during heads-up play. Liebert finished in third for $306,064, with Sexton fourth for $248,160.