Top Poker Pros and Most Outstanding Player Performances of 2016

4 min read

What a year 2016 was in the poker universe. A few pros did something so incredible this year that we’ll all be talking about it for years to come.

Poker tournament newcomer Qui Nguyen put on quite a show at the 2016 WSOP Main Event, which he swept for the $8 million top prize.  (Image: Richard Bryan/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

One player made the most ridiculous bet ever, got motivated, and almost won the couldn’t-be-possible-to-win bet, thanks to arguably the greatest week in the game’s history. Another pro came out of “retirement” to win millions just for fun. And a nail salon owner is your reigning world champion. There were so many amazing performances this year, it wasn’t easy to narrow things down.

The Fabulous Fedor-a

There’s no reason to beat around the bush here. Fedor Holz was, without question, the most impressive performer throughout the year, and maybe ever. The Average Joe couldn’t even dream of winning a million bucks. Yet Holz wouldn’t dream of going more than a few months without a seven-figure paycheck.

The 23-year old German won more than $1 million a record four times this year. His most thrilling victory came in the $111,111 buy-in WSOP High Roller for One Drop event. Holz took 1st place for $4.9 million. Afterwards, he claimed to be “retired,” and then went out and won another $1.4 million a month later in Barcelona, because retirement isn’t as much fun as advertised.

Jason Mercier’s 2016 World Series of Poker (WSOP) run can’t be overlooked, either. He won Player of the Year, plus two bracelets and a 2nd place finish within a week. No player in history has ever gone on such a sick week-long heater at the WSOP. What made this even more interesting was his 180-1 bet with Vanessa Selbst that he would win three bracelets in one summer. He made her sweat, but couldn’t quite pull it off. Selbst claimed the bet had been cancelled out regardless, saying she made it while under the influence of a few too many adult beverages.

In any other year, Benjamin Zamani would be getting more adulation from the poker community, but he had some zingers to compete with there. He was outstanding in 2016, claiming WPT Player of the Year. Zamani finished in the top five spot three times in WPT events, and cashed in eight WSOP tournaments. The Floridian now has $3.7 million in lifetime winnings to keep him warm at night.

Best Individual Tournament Performances in 2016

No one in the poker world had heard of Qui Nguyen prior to ESPN’s WSOP Main Event coverage. Now he’s an international sensation. The former nail salon owner came out of nowhere, channeling his inner Chris Moneymaker, to win poker’s most prestigious event.

But, unlike some champs in the past, such as Jamie Gold and Jerry Yang who essentially won by getting lucky, Nguyen earned this victory. During heads-up play against Gordon Vayo, a much more accomplished pro, Nguyen outclassed his opponent hand after hand. He was more aggressive and, after nine hours, eliminated Vayo to win the top $8 million prize.

Doug Polk also deserves some recognition for pulling off one of the most impressive online poker accomplishments ever, in a tournament he didn’t even win. Polk finished 3rd for $450,000 in the PokerStars World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP). Why is that so significant? He set a record for the most money won while live streaming a poker tournament.

If 2016 is merely an appetizer for what is to be served up to poker fans in 2017, we’re all going to be in for a delicious meal.

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