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With 2015 rolling to a close, many of us are crunching the numbers to see whether we’re going to finish the year ahead or if we’re going to chalk 2015 up to “variance.” Poker players and the industry as a whole have experienced a myriad of wins over the last year. Below we take a quick look at the top 5 poker winners in 2015.

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Poker on Twitch

Online poker streaming had been gaining in popularity over the last couple of years but it exploded in 2015 thank in large part to Twitch. David Huber gave an excellent tutorial about setting up a Twitch account and followed up with which Twitch accounts to follow in 2016.

The best way to describe Twitch is that it is an interactive live streaming poker show with more variety than Hee Haw or Carol Burnett. (It’s ok if you don’t get that reference. That’s what Google is for.)

Jason Somerville, Jamie Staples and Daniel Negreanu are among the most popular channels on Twitch but other streamers include Dutch Boyd, Randy Lew and even noted author David Sklansky.

Negreanu on Somerville Twitch 1

Poker fans want to be entertained and the best Twitch streamers are those that are highly entertaining to players. If a program is not “pokertaining,” it is not going to last. Are we taking notes ESPN?


Despite the recent uproar over changes made to their VIP Program, PokerStars still emerged as one of the biggest winners in 2015. The company finally received approval from the New Jersey DGE to offer online poker in the state. After meeting certain criteria, PokerStars will be allowed to launch and that launch date is tentatively set during the first half of 2016.

On October 5, PokerStars had 253,692 entries into their .01 Common Cents Kickoff tournament. Granted, the tournament had a $97,463.02 overlay with $10k going to the eventual winner. However, it was still an amazing feat that shows the lengths they are going to bring in new players.

Many will point to the changes in the VIP Program as a major black eye to the company but according to recent reports, the poker ecosystem on the site actually improved during a planned boycott by pros upset over upcoming changes.

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PokerStars also recently announced four $1 million freerolls to be offered to players during 2016, events that will probably set a new world record at some point. The company is showing their commitment to bring in new players by abandoning the old way of doing business.

Poker is about winning money above all else. It’s how we keep score. PokerStars is just running up the score.

World Series of Poker Gimmicks

Heading into the 2015 WSOP, I called the series the “World Series of Gimmicks” based on some of the events planned for the summer. In the end, these gimmicks turned what could have been a down year for the WSOP into another winning year.

Let’s look at the numbers for a few events:

  • $565 Colossus – 22,374 (most all-time)
  • $1,500 Millionaire Maker – 7,275
  • $1,000 Turbo NL – 1,791
  • $1,500 NL Monster Stack – 7,192
  • $1,000 Super Seniors – 1,533
  • $1,111 ONE DROP High Roller – 4,555
  • $777 Lucky Sevens NL Hold’em – 4,422

And that’s not including the 4,193 players in the Seniors Event (not a gimmick but still impressive) and the 6,420 in the Main Event.

The WSOP Europe benefited from the €550 Oktoberfest Event, drawing in 2,144 players to set a new attendance record for a WSOP-E event.

One can see the wisdom of these gimmick events after seeing their impact and the sheer number of new players that they brought into the game. They made the WSOP more inclusive to amateurs and are events we expect to stick around for a while.

Brian Rast and Isildur1

Brian Rast and Isildur1 were the two biggest winners in 2015. Rast is tops among live tournament players and Isildur1 (Viktor Blom) is tops among online cash game players that have not opted out from tracking.

Rast earned $8.6 million in 2015 on the strength of winning the Super High Roller Bowl in July. He earned $7.52 million for that victory, the second largest prize awarded in poker in 2015.

He started the year with a 5th place finish in the Aussie Millions Main Event for $248k and in June, he won a 25k High Roller event at Aria for $500,000. He also finished runner-up in a $25k Aria High Roller tournament in October for another $192k.

Isildur1 one had an interesting year online. He was not only the game’s biggest winner in cash games, but he was also the second biggest loser. How is that you say? Isildur1 plays on both Full Tilt and PokerStars. On PokerStars, he earned $3.59 million, nearly $2.5 million more than his next closest competitor did.

On Full Tilt, Isildur1 dropped $1.36 million. Only Phil Ivey lost more money in 2015. (He finished 1st and 3rd on the losers list for a combined $3.7 million.

Isildur1 is up $2.23 million this year overall, that is still more than 2.5 times that of bbvisbadforme. Unless someone makes a late run, he will also finish as the only person to win more than $1 million this year in online cash games.

The Poker Players Alliance (Representing Online Poker)

Perhaps one of the biggest winners this year was online poker as a whole thanks to the tireless work of those at the Poker Players Alliance and their supporters. Thanks to their combined effort, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act has died in committee.

In addition, the efforts to the PPA and their supporters have helped to bring Pennsylvania to the cusps of regulating online gambling. This is something that I personally felt was a 50-50 shot for happening by 2017 and now it looks almost a lock for early 2016.

While I’m not going to give all the credit to the PPA, they did an excellent job of mobilizing online poker players and gambling supporters in 2015 and their voices did indeed make a difference. I look forward to what they can help the industry accomplish in 2016 and beyond.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.