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Best of Gary Trask

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Top-10 Most Fascinating (Poker) People of 2008

12 December 2008

Barbara Walters has got nothing on me. Well, except maybe for about 40 years in age, a couple $100 million in net worth and three ex-spouses, but those are simply minor details.




What I'm referring to is when it comes to presenting a list of fascinating people, Ms. Walters can't compete. Sure, her edition of the 10 Most Fascinating People of 2008 that aired on ABC last week may have included a record-breaking Olympic swimmer, Academy award nominees and a generation-changing president-elect, but, come on, does she really think those people can measure up to Casino City's 10 Most Fascinating (Poker) People?




For instance, there's no way a flake like Tom Cruise could come out of nowhere in a field of nearly 7,000 players to win the world's most prestigious poker tournament like our No. 1 person, Peter Eastgate, did in 2008. Or can you imagine Will Smith trying to multi-table his way to two FTOPS victories in a span of less than 24 hours like Yuval Brohnstein, our No. 6 person did? And, of course, teen singing sensation Miley Cyrus could never captivate the poker world like our No. 9 person, Tiffany Michelle, did this past summer. (Well, maybe she could if she wore crazy-looking hats and made a deep run into the Main Event, but that's beside the point.)




Anyway, enough with the petty comparisons. We hope you enjoy the inaugural edition of Casino City's 10 Most Fascinating (Poker) People. And please, feel free to forward this link to everyone you know. Good old "Babs" got 13.2 million people to tune into her little TV show. If we want to keep up with that pace, we're going to need some help.




10. John Juanda

John Juanda was already considered one of the most accomplished players of all time. But the 37-year-old's victory at the 2008 World Series of Poker Europe in October sealed the deal.




Not only did the win gave Juanda his fourth-career bracelet, but he did it in record-breaking fashion as the length of play at the final table in London was 19 hours and 10 minutes, which shattered the previous record for longest event in WSOP history by more than three hours. Juanda, who was born and raised in Indonesia and arrived in the U.S. in 1990, now has 45-career WSOP cashes to his name and 23 final table appearances.




9. Tiffany Michelle

Let me be perfectly honest. If this were a list of the "10 Most Likable Poker People of 2008," Ms. Michelle would not have even been considered. But the fact that she was so "unlikable" during the World Series of Poker Main Event this summer definitely lands her on the "most fascinating" list.



Michelle enjoyed a fast ride to stardom this summer at the Main Event. A year ago at this time she was a TV personality covering poker. This year she threw her collection of goofy hats into the proverbial ring and got involved with the $10,000 Main Event. The deeper she went in the event, the more attention she received. Now keep in mind, if she was just another 20-something male making a run at the Main Event crown, there really wouldn't have been any story here. But since she is an attractive woman who wore outlandish outfits and gawky jewelry, she had the normally sarcastic poker blogs eating out of her hands and the ESPN cameras focused in on her.




She was even more enticing after she caused a mini-controversy by adding another sponsor logo to her apparel midway through the tournament. In addition, her behavior at the table was deplorable. She didn't make a lot of friends with her antics (example: celebrating every time another woman got knocked out or calling the clock on tablemates during big hands) and snide comments ("Oh, I remember you. You're the guy who takes forever to make a decision."), but I have a sneaking suspicion that all part of her act. When ESPN began airing the WSOP telecasts, Tiffany quickly became the player that everybody "loved to hate." It was good for Tiffany because it gained her attention and it was good for ESPN because it created a villain; a female version of Phil Hellmuth, if you will.

In fact when we interviewed ESPN Senior Producer Jamie Horowitz before the November Nine, he told us the three things that most people mentioned to him about the WSOP coverage were Phil Hellmuth's deep run into the Main Event, the truck-driving, St. Louis Cardinals hat-wearing chip leader and the disdainful Tiffany Michelle.






In the end, Michelle's impressive run ended when she finished 17th. But she gained much more than a $300,000-plus paycheck. She became a certified "somebody" in the poker world and it appears she's going to be able to cash in one that for the foreseeable future.




8. Phil Hellmuth

The Poker Brat didn't add to his record-total of 11 bracelets this year, but that didn't stop him from getting major face time on ESPN.




Hellmuth

Phil Hellmuth appeals to god for better cards during the Main Event. (photo by Gary Trask, Casino City)



Before the Main Event even started, Hellmuth made news by breaking the record for career cashes in the WSOP with 65. He also made a deep run into the final table of the $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. Event.




But those were simply warm-up acts. Once the Main Event started, Hellmuth was at his very best, entertaining the railbirds with his antics every day as he made his deepest run into the Main Event since 2003. He continuously berated fellow players – particularly those with an online background – and he even got so animated that he got penalized for repeatedly calling Cristian Dragomir "an idiot." That penalty, of course, was overturned the next morning, which caused a major stir.





The bottom line: When your star shines as bright as Phil Hellmuth's, you don't need to win tournaments to gain attention or be named a "fascinating" person by a certain Web site.




7. Phil Ivey

Speaking of guys who can get their fair share of the spotlight by not winning bracelets, we present the estimable Phil Ivey.




First off, Ivey came into this year's WSOP when he cashed in for $1.5 million by winning his first WPT title at the LA Poker Classic at the beginning of May. Then as soon as he hit Vegas for the WSOP, word quickly spread that he was taking action on whether or not he would win a bracelet and the action went as high as $1 million.



The result had Phil playing in a lot more events at the WSOP as usual. He seemed bent on winning proving his fellow players. He even showed up at a re-buy event with $100,000 in chips at his disposal. He made even more of a scene when word leaked that Phil had placed some major dough (it was rumored to be as much as $2 million) on his LA Lakers to defeat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals and at times he could be seen sitting at the poker table paying more attention to the TV with the basketball game on than the cards being dealt in front of him.



In the end, the Celtics took down the Lakers and Phil fell short in his quest for another bracelet. As a matter of fact, he was bounced from the Main Event on Day 1. Do the math and Phil dropped may have lost more than $3 million of his plentiful stash in less than one month.




6. Scotty Nguyen



Scotty Nguyen is one of the most celebrated and recognizable poker players in the history of the game. When he suffered a major meltdown in the late stages of the 2007 Main Event that actually made him so distraught that he wouldn't leave his house, there was much sympathy for him. So when he stunned everybody by winning the prestigious $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event this year it could have been a shining comeback moment for him.




Instead, the win was overshadowed by Scotty's repeated final-table drunken tirades (see video above), which were captured by the ESPN cameras for all to see. In fact, ESPN analyst Norman Chad said on-air, "Tonight, Scotty left his class in a beer bottle."




Nonetheless, this was a huge win for the Prince of Poker, who found it in himself to have a sober moment after victory and recognize the late Chip Reese, for whom the championship trophy is dedicated to. Nguyen claimed more than $1.9 million and pushed his career earnings to nearly $10 million. He also snapped a seven-year drought by winning his fifth bracelet, which helped him joined an exclusive club of five-time WSOP gold bracelet winners that includes Bones Berland, Allen Cunningham, Ivey, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Ted Forrest, Berry Johnston and Stu Ungar.




5. Yuval Bronshtein

Even before he pulled off the implausible at FTOPS IX, Yuval Bronshtein was already a fascinating character.




The brash 24-year-old – who often wears a Mohawk-haircut of some sort – began playing poker when he was a freshman at the University of Maryland. Two weeks into the second week of his senior year, he decided he was making a good enough living playing poker online so he dropped out in order to play full time.




His poker prowess was put on display in August when he not only became the first player to ever win consecutive events in Full Tilt's Online Poker Series, but he did so in a span of less than 12 hours by multi-tabling the two tournaments. The two victories earned Bronshtein $172,387, or about $7,500 per hour. Not bad for a college drop out.




But what we liked best about Bronshtein was how he told us how much he is driven by "making history." When we interviewed him the day after this astonish feat, Bronshtein said, "I don't think it's something that anyone will duplicate ever again. That's what I want more than anything else; to do things that no one has ever done before."




For Bronshtein, it's not simply all about the Benjamins and we love him for it.




4. Ivan Demidov

Speaking of making history, Ivan Demidov did something this year that will never be duplicated as he became the first player in history to make two WSOP final tables in the same year.




First, the 27-year-old Russian outlasted a field of more than 6,800 in July to earn a spot in the coveted November Nine at the Main Event. While killing time before play resumed, Demidov entered the World Series of Poker Europe and ended up making the final table where he finished third. Then it was back to Las Vegas where he made it all the way to the heads-up portion of the event before falling to Peter Eastgate.




A year ago at this time, you probably never heard of him. But make no mistake about it, Ivan Demidov is going to be a name you're going to hear in poker circles for a long time to come.




3. Erick Lindgren

A lot of people were happy to see Erick Lindgren finally get earn his first WSOP bracelet. Lindgren is one of the more well-liked and personable players in the game so when he defeated Justin Bonomo during heads-up play for his first piece of WSOP jewelry in the $5,000 Mixed Hold'em Event, plenty of his peers were thrilled for him.




erick_lindgren

Erick Lindgren checks out the custom-made Harley-Davidson that was given to him as part of his winning the 2008 WSOP Player of the Year award. (photo by Vin Narayanan)




Further proving just how classy he is, Lindgren simply celebrated the win by pumping his index into the air and saying "Thank God. I finally got one." He then called his parents back in California to give them the good news and that he would be shipping to bracelet to them as a token of his appreciation.




Lindgren wasn't able to win a second bracelet at the 2008 WSOP, but he certainly came close. He finished third at the aforementioned $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament that was won by Nguyen and overall he ended the summer with more than $1.3 million in winnings and the WSOP Player of the Year Award.




When he was officially awarded the Player of the Year Award at the Main Event final table in November, Lindgren gave a heart-felt speech and told us that he would be giving away the striking Red Rock custom-made Harley-Davidson motorcycle that went along with award to his brother.




2. Dennis Phillips

When the November Nine was decided back in July, WSOP officials sat down each of the final tableists and told them to keep in mind that for the next 117 days they would be "ambassadors of the game." Apparently, Phillips, who was the chipleader, took this to heart. He accepted virtually every interview request (a total of about 200) that came his way. He threw out the first pitch at a St. Louis Cardinals game and visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and he made it his mission to use his newfound celebrity to help him raise awareness for a couple of his favorite charities.






When the action got underway for the final table, Dennis Phillips Nation simply took over the Rio. Phillips flew more than 100 of his friends and family to Las Vegas and there were hundreds of people in the auditorium mimicking Phillips by wearing the white, long-sleeve, trucker shirts and St. Louis Cardinal baseball hats. His fans were stunned to see Phillips almost go from chipleader to first player busted, but Phillips survived and made it all the way back to finish in third place.





Dennis Phillips may never win a big poker tournament in his life, but his impression on the game in 2008 – and at the Main Event final table in particular -- was undeniable.




1. Peter Eastgate

For those who watched him win the Main Event on ESPN, Eastgate may not have appeared to be a "fascinating person.' In fact, he looked almost embarrassed about winning the pile of $9.1 million that was placed in front of him after he knocked off Demidov in heads-up play.




peter_eastgate

Peter Eastgate



But a quick background check shows that Eastgate is indeed a great story. First of all, the 22-year-old from Denmark studied economics in college before becoming a poker pro just three years ago. He quickly became one of the top online professionals and now he's on top of the poker world as the reigning WSOP Main Event champ. Along the way, Eastgate broke Phil Hellmuth's record as the youngest person to ever win the Main Event.




Through it all, Eastgate handled himself with dignity and class and appeared to be mature well beyond his 22 years, especially considering he was in a foreign country while making a run at winning the most-anticipated final table in WSOP history. He was a gracious and well-deserved winner of the Main Event and that makes him a no-brainer choice as our No. 1 Most Fascinating Poker Person of 2008.









Top-10 Most Fascinating (Poker) People of 2008 is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT