In just three years, World Series of Poker Europe has become one of tournament poker's premier international events. WSOP Europe began in 2007, when three gold bracelet events were awarded for the first time outside Las Vegas.
In 2008, four gold bracelet tournaments were played at London’s Casino at the Empire, which has hosted all WSOP Europe events, to date. Then last year, four gold bracelets were awarded again to the winners, increasing the cumulative total of WSOP titles presented in Europe up to eleven.
With five upcoming tournaments soon to be played September 14-28, WSOP Europe will have awarded a grand total of 16 gold bracelets by the end of this month.
Despite its relatively new standing as a major international poker attraction, WSOP Europe has already provided us with numerous exciting memories. Let’s now take a look back at ten magical moments from what is indisputably one of the world’s top annual poker events. The countdown begins:
Memorable Moment # 10: Jesper Hougaard Wins Two Gold Bracelets in 2008 –
Danish poker pro Jesper Hougaard from Copenhagen, initially burst upon the poker scene two years ago when he won his first WSOP title. After winning $610,304 in his No-Limit Hold'em victory (Event #36) which took place earlier in Las Vegas, Hougaard won another championship title just three months later in London (WSOP Europe Event #1), which was played in September 2008. In doing so, he became the first player in history ever to win WSOP gold bracelets on both continents.
Memorable Moment # 9: Phil Hellmuth’s Grand Entrance (2009) –
Not all memorable moments necessarily take place at the poker table. Love or despise him, Phil Hellmuth sure puts on a show. Four years ago, Hellmuth initiated what has become an annual media circus staging a series of dramatic entrances into the WSOP Main Event. Every year since then, Hellmuth has dressed in attire which would be discomforting otherwise, but somehow seems appropriate for the game’s master showman. He’s dressed as World War II General George S. Patton and prizefighter Rocky Marciano. At last year’s WSOP Europe Main Event, the 11-time gold bracelet champion came dressed (and partially undressed) as Roman emperor Julius Caesar. He arrived at the front of the casino on a white horse. There’s no telling if Hellmuth’s well-orchestrated vanity charade will continue this year, and on into the future. Indeed, no one knows quite what to expect until Hellmuth shows up and actually takes his seat. But one thing is certain: He’s sure to raise eyebrows and attract attention.
Memorable Moment # 8: Daniel Negreanu Becomes Top Tournament Money Winner in Poker History (Temporarily) –
The 2009 WSOP Europe Main Event championship included some great drama. Phil Ivey had become the leading overall tournament money winner in history once he was guaranteed a seat at the final table among last year’s November Nine. However in London, Daniel Negreanu eclipsed his rival when he ended up finishing second in the WSOP Europe Main Event championship. As runner up, Negreanu collected the equivalent of about $800,000 and catapulted to the top of the all-time career tournament money-winners list. He also became the first player to achieve back-to-back WSOP Europe Main Event final tables, finishing fifth in 2008 and second in 2009. However, Negreanu’s celebration was short lived. Ivey regained the top spot when he finished seventh among last year’s November Nine. Going into the 2010 London series, Ivey is now significantly ahead by nearly $900,000. So, Negreanu needs to make a major move soon, or Ivey will continue to distance himself from every potential rival. 
Memorable Moment # 7: Doyle Brunson Defeats Annette Obrestad in Heads-Up “King Versus Queen” Match –
In 2008, a one-of-a-kind attraction featured poker legend Doyle Brunson playing against 2007 WSOPE champ Annette Obrestad in a special heads-up match. Billed as the "King Versus Queen," Brunson represented old school America against the young up-and-coming European poker prodigy. Played on the Main Stage inside the Empire Casino, a large crowd turned out to watch the generation duel. In a best two-out-of-three series, Brunson ended up winning the match 2-0. However, on both swing hands, Obrestad actually started off with the best cards. In the first match, her straight lost to a higher straight. Then in the second match, her top pair with best kicker lost when Brunson managed to spike a second pair on the turn of what turned out to be the final hand. Obrestad graciously congratulated the 10-time gold bracelet champion, while Brunson signed over a copy of his highly-acclaimed two book series (Super/System 1 and 2) to the reigning "Queen of Poker."
Memorable Moment # 6: English Poker Pro J.P. Kelly Wins Gold Bracelet on Home Turf --
Since its inception, all WSOP Europe tournaments have been played in London. However, it was not until the third year that a national from the host nation won a gold bracelet title. That moment finally occurred when John-Paul (JP) Kelly from Aylesbury, UK won the first event played in 2009, which attracted 608 entries. England's gold bracelet draught finally ended with Kelly’s victory. He also won a gold bracelet in Las Vegas earlier in the year, matching Hougaard's double-dip feat.
Memorable Moment # 5: Barry Shulman-Jeff Shulman/Like Father-Like Son –
If results from a single year could somehow represent a mini-dynasty, the Shulman Family was king in 2009. Two Shulmans came inconceivably close to locking up two of the most coveted titles in poker in the same year. Two months before the events in London started, Jeff Shulman made it to the November Nine. During the recess, he attended WSOP Europe along with his father Barry Shulman, himself a former gold bracelet winner. Although Jeff was eliminated, Barry went on to win the WSOP Europe Main Event championship, for which he collected $1,283,687 in prize money. With one gem in poker’s kingly crown already set, six weeks later Jeff took his seat at the WSOP Main Event final table in Las Vegas. He ended up finishing in fifth place. Nevertheless, the Shulmans’ combined performance in 2009 -- in both Las Vegas and London -- will most certainly be remembered as one of the greatest father-son feats in tournament poker history.
Memorable Moment # 4:Three Players Make Both WSOP and WSOP Europe Main Event Final Tables–
Making it to the November Nine is an incredible achievement, and is the dream of a lifetime for most poker players. However, a rare few players have managed to outdo themselves by not only making it to the final nine players out of thousands of entrants in Las Vegas, but to the WSOP Europe Main Event finale, as well. Most players confess that the European tournament, while not nearly as large, poses nearly as big a challenge because of the formidable strength of the competition. Indeed, WSOP Europe does attract a stellar field of talent. So, it has been remarkable that on three occasions players have made it to final tables of both WSOP Main Events in the same year. The first to do so was Ivan Demidov (Moscow, Russia) who took third place in Europe and then finished second in the 2008 WSOP Main Event. Last year, two players matched the same feat. Antoine Saout (St. Martin des Champs, France) finished seventh in Europe and then took third place in the 2009 WSOP Main Event. James Akenhead (London, UK) also final tabled both events, coming in ninth place on both occasions.
Memorable Moment # 3: Europeans Destroy Americans in First Annual Caesars Cup –
In poker, few special events live up to their hype. But one attraction exceeded all expectations. In 2009, the first annual Caesars Cup was held during WSOP Europe, which was a team competition patterned after the Ryder Cup in golf. Two teams, made up of Europeans on one side and Americans on the other, competed for bragging rights and the first trophy of what is expected to become a biannual competition. The best two-out-of-three series not only proved to be successful, but were wildly entertaining as well as unpredictable. Best of all, players and spectators on both sides became passionately embroiled in the battle which created a number of agonizing and electrifying moments. The European team, captained by Annette Obrestad defeated the American team, which was led by Daniel Negreanu. Perhaps most unforgettable was the symbolic importance of the European victory. The European team was comprised primarily of young up-and-coming players who were more Internet savvy. Meanwhile, the American team was considerably older and far more accomplished in WSOP lore. The faceoff was very much "old school" versus "new school," with Team Europe’s victory ultimately representing a sort of changing of the guard in tournament poker. Europe’s (some would say upset) victory also sowed some visible seeds of bitterness within the American camp and created what is destined to be a heated rivalry in the years to come, in this every other year event.
Memorable Moment # 2: Annette Obrestad Becomes the Youngest Gold Bracelet Winner in History –
When the first WSOP Europe Main Event championship began in 2007, no one could possibly have foreseen the seismic shift that was about to occur over the next five days. Annette Obrestad, an unknown 18-year-old female from Norway who was primarily an online player stunned the poker world by winning the inaugural Main Event championship, thus becoming the youngest gold bracelet winner in WSOP history. She not only broke the record held previously by Steve Billirakis, she shattered the mark by nearly three full years. It’s difficult to imagine anyone breaking Obrestad’s record soon. Should someone challenge the mark, the victory would have to occur in Europe where the legal age to play and compete is 18. The minimum age to play in the WSOP in Las Vegas is 21. Obrestad played in this year’s WSOP for the first time, where she cashed four times.
Memorable Moment # 1: John Juanda Triumphs in Longest Final Table in WSOP History --
No one who was there will ever forget the course of events which unfolded on October 2-3, 2008. It began innocently enough during the early afternoon. It continued on into the evening. Then, it went way past midnight. It continued until sunrise the following day. It finally ended about noon -- 22 brutally long hours after it had first began. It took nearly one-full day to determine the 2008 WSOP Europe Main Event champion. Even the television crew, which was filming the finale for broadcast on ESPN, later admitted they almost ran out of video cassettes. The lone survivor who ultimately outlasted 362 players, three shifts of casino employees, a cleaning crew, several bartenders and cocktail waitresses, and hundreds of caffeine-weary spectators was four-time gold bracelet winner John Juanda, who became the first American to achieve victory at WSOP Europe. In a masterful performance, Juanda overcame a 7 to 1 chip deficit at one point and plowed through an eye-blurring 484 hands -- almost half of which were played heads up against Russian Stanislav Alekhin – en route to his most satisfying poker triumph. Everyone who was there for the poker marathon of all marathons, unquestionably the longest final table ever on record of any major tournament, is unlikely ever to dispel the spectacular poker that was played at that final table, nor forget the excruciating emotional and physical toll it took on just about everyone who was there witnessing the most epic of all poker battles.
Alas, WSOP Europe is spectacular. No other tournament anywhere in the world has become so prestigious in such a short period of time nor has provided so many great moments in just three years.
No doubt, many more incredible moments are still to come. The 2010 chapter of WSOP Europe is to be written this month at Casino at the Empire, located in London. It’s not too late to come and compete for five WSOP gold bracelets on this year’s schedule. And perhaps if you play your cards right, maybe you too will create a memorable moment or two and become part of poker history.
For more information about this year's events at WSOP Europe, please click HERE.
Footnote 1: As of September 5, 2010 the all-time career tournament winnings leaderboard shows Phil Ivey with $13,531,757 versus Daniel Negreanu with $12,668,866 – a difference of $862,911.
Footnote 2: The list of greatest moments are the sole opinions of Nolan Dalla. Others may disagree as to which moments belong and how they should be ranked.