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With Christmas fast approaching, it is that time of year where everyone starts looking back on the year that was. Poker is always full of ups and downs. Some are anticipated while others catch you completely off guard.

Below are seven surprises we didn’t see coming in 2016. Some were pleasant surprises and others we wish we could unsee but cannot.

Mike Sexton Wins First WPT Title

How many of us got into poker as a result of watching it on ESPN or the Travel Channel. Most of us have listened to Sexton call a World Poker Tour final table but how many of us actually imagined him winning an event.

When Sexton made the final table at the WPT Montreal Main Event, the poker world tuned in with hopes that he would shock the world. As he navigated his way through to heads-up play, poker fans believed that there was a chance but it didn’t appear that the poker gods were willing to cooperate.

This heads-up match was very reminiscent of the WSOP Main Event final. Benny Chen seemed to be playing the part of Qui Nguyen and Sexton was Gordon Vayo. As his stack shrank and shrank, some surely were feeling bad for Sexton as he was getting so close only to be struck down.

Then with just five big blinds, Sexton got lucky with J-10 against A-8 to double up. The poker world hoped that Sexton could find a way to come back, but was this going to be his “one time?”

Amazingly, it was. A few hands later, Sexton found himself in the chip lead. Chen then picked up K-J and decided to shove and Sexton looked down to pocket queens. Sexton made the easy call and the flop seemed destined to hit him.

Read More: Why Poker Players Should Celebrate Mike Sexton’s WPT Win

The flop fell Q-9-4 and Sexton had a massive lead with a set. Of course, this is poker and you can’t win a title without a sweat. As such, the turn fell the Ac to give Chen a Broadway draw.

How do you get to Broadway? Don’t play Mike Sexton. The river fell the 2d and Sexton is a WPT champion. How about that?

James Romero Comes Out of Nowhere to Win WPT Five Diamond Poker Classic

Imagine you have only won about $5,000 in your life playing poker and all of a sudden, you’re at the final table of an event paying $1.9 million. You’re the chip leader but you’re facing some of the best players in the game today.

That’s exactly what happened when Portland’s James Romero won the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic last weekend. He came out of nowhere to not only make the final table as chip leader, but also dominate it on route to becoming a poker millionaire.

Poker is a great game because everyone has a chance to win and James Romero proved it in dramatic fashion.

Daniel Negreanu Has Worst Year of Decade

Daniel Negreanu has his worst year of the decade in 2016 and his second worst year this century. Negreanu only made $302,452 this year and all but one of those scores came at the 2016 World Series of Poker.

While some might find it a stretch to claim that winning $302k is having an “off year,” we are talking about Daniel Negreanu. Prior to this year, his worst year this decade was in 2000 when he won “only” $638,825.

Negreanu hasn’t won less than $500k in a year since 2001. Keep in mind, winning $320k in 2001 was more on par with winning around $2 million nowadays.

Poker players are going to have off years. Of course, when you’re Daniel Negreanu, your off year would be a career year for others.

Todd Brunson Elected into Poker Hall of Fame

Many agree that the list of finalist for the 2016 Poker Hall of Fame was weaker than prior years. Carlos Mortensen was considered a lock by most everyone and the focus of whom the second inductee would be received much debate.

Several sites predicted either David “DevilFish” Ulliott or Chris Moneymaker as the likely second person inducted. One player that was seldom mentioned as having a legitimate shot was Todd Brunson.

We’re not saying that Brunson didn’t deserve to get into the Hall of Fame, but there aren’t many that expected 2016 to be that year. Personally, he was #8 out of 10 on my list when I ranked the finalists. I don’t know a single person that had him in their top three – or even their top five.

Read More:

Mortensen & Moneymaker Likely 2016 Hall of Fame Selections

7 Snubbed Players Who Should Be in the Poker Hall of Fame

3 Ways to Change the Poker Hall of Fame Selection Process

Next year, Phil Ivey is the “lock” for induction. Who will be the other inductee? Will it be someone everyone expects or will we have another surprise?

Chris Ferguson Returns to the World Series of Poker

Howard Lederer setup the poker world up for his return prior to the start of the 2016 WSOP via an apology issued through former-adversary Daniel Negreanu. What nobody was expecting was the return of Chris “Jesus” Ferguson to the felt.

Ferguson made his return during the $10k Stud Championship and busted quickly but that was one of the few events he whiffed this summer. Despite the poker world rooting for him to fail, he cashed in ten events and final tabled the $5k NL Six-Max.

It became clear that Ferguson had no problem playing the villain during the series as he refused to answer questions publicly about what happened at Full Tilt Poker. There were a couple of player account of him discussing matters, but a public apology never came.

It’s safe to say that Ferguson will receive “X-Pac heat” for the foreseeable future.

One Drop Bars Pro Players and Suffers Mightily

When the 2016 One Drop Extravaganza was announced in July, the poker community was stunned to learn that pro players were being barred from participating. Guy Laliberte made this move in an attempt to generate amateur participation in the event.

While this looked great on paper, it proved disastrous in practice. Also, the term “amateur” appeared to be used lightly as several notable players still entered the event. The $1 million buy-in event managed to pull in 22 players but overall the festival was a disaster.

All other events with the exception of the €100k NL failed to draw more than a single table. The heads-up event drew just two players. On the final day, the much hyped 1 million cash game ended up getting cancelled.

One can assume that if this returns in 2018, pros will be involved in some capacity.

US iPoker Failed to Grow in 2016

At the start of the year, I was one of a few writers that speculated that US iPoker would not grow in 2016. Many debated me and Jennifer Newell even put up $20 to back up her beliefs that someone would pull the trigger.

By the time we reached summer, even I was beginning to drink the Kool-Aid. New York stunned the world when the Senate actually passed an online poker bill. Pennsylvania was make serious progress towards regulation, so much so that they seemed to be a lock to be the fourth state to regulate the game.

California made some progress in their regulation efforts but insider-trading charges against Amaya’s now former-CEO David Baazov reignited the bad actor debate and once again, a bill failed to even come to a vote in the Assembly.

Just when Pennsylvania seemed destined to pass an iGaming bill, progress slowed to a crawl and then to a complete stop. Despite having funds earmarked in the 2017 budget, lawmakers were unable to get a bill passed so we are back to square one for 2017.

Looking forward, Pennsylvania and New York appear to be the two “states to watch” in 2017 while California is quickly becoming an afterthought. At one point, there were estimates that at least 10 states would be regulated by 2020. Now we will be lucky to get to #4 by 2020.

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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.