Poker Heroes and Villains in 2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Really Bad

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Daniel Negreanu poker heroes 2015
Daniel Negreanu’s WSOP Main Event exploits have made him one of poker’s leading lights in 2015. A new documentary about him that has aired only in Canada so far has also stirred up renewed excitement. (Image:

Poker heroes and villains abound in an industry that has created plenty of both. So following another eventful year in the poker world, we’ve decided to look back at some of the year’s biggest protagonists and antagonists in the game.

From continued tournament success to tales of beating the feds at their own game, our recap of poker’s heroes and villains highlights who shined most brightly and who cast dark shadows on the game we all love so much during the last 12 months.

Top Poker Heroes of 2015

Daniel Negreanu

Once again, Daniel Negreanu has proved that with a lot of dedication to your craft and a small dose of luck, success at the poker table doesn’t have to be a temporary thing. Another storming run in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 2015 not only put him on the cusp of immortality, but proved he’s one of the best in the business.

Despite being an “old school” player, Negreanu has continued to defy the critics. This year, he almost made it onto the biggest stage in poker, missing the final table by two spots with a heart-wrenching bustout from eventual event winner Joe McKeehen.

Although he kept his cool by doing pushups in between hands, Negreanu ultimately came in 11th in the Main Event to earn $526,778.

Negreanu in the November Nine would have certainly attracted a huge amount of interest for the event, but his run was still enough to generate some major buzz within the industry and make him the standout player of the year.

Paul Phua

Taking on the FBI and coming out on top is never easy, but that’s exactly what Paul Phua managed to do in 2015. After being arrested for alleged illegal sports betting activities in 2014, the high roller and his legal team managed to gradually unravel the FBI’s case against him.

As early as February, Judge Andrew Gordon suggested that the way in which the feds had gathered evidence against Phua was illegal. After deliberately causing a network error at Caesars Palace (where the alleged operation took place during the 2014 World Cup), agents then posed as IT technicians and gained access to the multimillionaire’s suites in order to collect evidence.

In June, Judge Gordon ruled that the majority of the evidence must be dismissed and a month later the case fell apart completely when the FBI decided not to pursue the poker enthusiast any further.

Jennifer Harman

She might be one of the most humble poker players in the world, but Jennifer Harman is as bold as they come on the felt. In 2015, she continued to rake in six-figure pots in the largest cash games Las Vegas has to offer, but it was her successes away from the table that really stood out.

During an exclusive interview with CardsChat, Harman detailed her ongoing charity work with the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA). Her annual Celebrity Poker Tournament fundraiser for the organization raised thousands for the charity (and has raised over a million dollars to date from her many years of hosting this event). And of course, her induction into the Poker Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor, easily added to her heroine status.

And now, onto the bad guys…

Poker Villains of 2015

Christian Lusardi

The infamous Borgata chip counterfeiter faced a New Jersey judge in 2015 and saw his freedom flushed away for at least five years.

After introducing hundreds of fake poker chips into a tournament during the 2014 Borgata Winter Poker Open, Lusardi went on to dispose of hundreds more down the toilet at a neighboring casino.

After the toilet flooded and the block was traced back to Lusardi’s hotel room, he was arrested. Then, after some further digging, the North Carolinian was found to be a serial counterfeiter and guilty of bootlegging DVDs.

That crime earned him five years in prison, and while he was behind bars, he admitted to using fake chips at the Borgata and was sentenced to another five years of incarceration.

Darren Woods

A former WSOP champion, the UK’s Darren Woods was found guilty of cheating online poker players out of more than $1 million back in January of 2015.

Rumors of Woods’ illicit activities had been rife online for a number of years, but this year, a judge ruled that he must pay back £1 million ($1.5 million) or spend six years in jail for playing under multiple accounts and defrauding his then sponsor, 888poker.

Sheldon Adelson

In the same way that he was an enemy of the US online poker community in 2014, Sheldon Adelson has once again made the list this year.

Still intent on pushing through the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) regardless of how weak its credentials are, Adelson gained a new ally in the form of US Representative Bob Goodlatte (R- VA 6th District) who went to work lobbying on the measure’s behalf along with original co-sponsor Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Goodlatte even addressed a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations in March.

The bill then faced yet another hearing in early December, with co-sponsor Chaffetz at the helm, where it received little love once again. Sheldon got one more slap in the face when RAWA failed to be included for a second time in the end-of-year omnibus spending bill. But with his bankroll, this bill will probably see the light of day once more after the New Year.

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