Preface:  This year marks the tenth anniversary of the World Series of Poker being played at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  During this series, we’ll occasionally take a look back at the highlights from each of the past ten years.  Today’s feature looks back at the most memorable moments from 2011.

The 2011 World Series of Poker was the Rio’s seventh year in the role of host, and the fourth year of the November Nine format.  However, anyone expecting this series to be more of the same would be in for several surprises.

This tournament was the most widely covered in history.  Not only were almost all the gold bracelet events streamed over the Internet (with a 5-minute delay), the Main Event Championship was broadcast on television with several hours of nearly-live non-stop coverage for the first time (on a 30-minute delay).  This made the WSOP seem much more like a sporting event, with on-the-spot updates and interviews directly from the tournament floor beamed to ESPN viewers.  This highly-ambitious project proved difficult to repeat and was only done for this year.

There were 59 gold bracelet events offered on the schedule, starting with a new twist.  The highly-successful WSOP Circuit, which ran during the ten months when the summer series wasn’t in action, played its inaugural National Championship just prior to the start of the WSOP.  Sam Barnhart became the maiden National Champion, earning $300,000 in prize money and a braclet.  He went on to enjoy a huge breakout summer at the WSOP, cashing 17th place in the Main Event – good for another $379,000.  Most remarkable was the fact that Barnhart’s journey all began by winning a $200 satellite a few months earlier while the WSOP Circuit was in full swing.

International players won more than their share of bracelets.  Of the 59 winners, 26 were non-Americans.  The number grew to 30 when foreign-born winners were included.  While Canada celebrated six gold bracelet wins, the real breakout nation of the series was the Ukraine, with four wins.  

Several well-known players and previous winners collected gold bracelets.  Among the most memorable victories were Jake Cody, Allen Bari, Eugene Katchalov, Brian Rast, John Juanda, Jason Somerville, Bertrand Grospelier, John Monnette, Mark Radoja, Andy Frankenberger, Sam Stein, Jason Mercier, Fabrice Soulier, Matt Jarvis, Ben Lamb, Andre Akkari, and Matt Matros.

The long dry spell for women players continued in 2011.  There were no female winners that year, extending non-win streak to 220 events.  Maria Ho came close to breaking the ice, finishing second in an event.   

Ben Lamb won the WSOP Player of the Year race, by virtue of five cashes, four final table appearances, and one victory.  Although he entered only 14 events that year, an all-time low for any Player of the Year winner, he posted 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishes.  Lamb performed at his very best in the biggest events, coming in 3rd in the $10,000 buy-in Main Event Championship, 8th in the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship, and first in the $10,000 buy-in Pot-Limit Omaha Championship.  Oddly enough, Lamb has not cashed in the three years since that breakout year.

The Main Event drew 6,865 entrants, making it the third-largest poker tournament in history.  The field included players from 85 different nations.  The November Nine was also the most international in history.  Players from seven different nations were represented, among them Belize, Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Ukraine, and the United States.

Pius Heinz staged a come from behind victory to become the first German World Champion in history.  The 22-year-old online poker pro from Cologne began play ranked seventh in the chip count among the nine finalists.  His epic heads-up battle against the runner-up Martin Staszko lasted six hours.  Heinz collected $8,715,638 in prize money, which was the third-highest payout in Main Event history.  Amazingly, this was the first year Heinz had ever attended the WSOP.

With Heinz’s victory, he became the fifth European to win the title, after Mansour Matloubi (England), Noel Furlong (Ireland), Carlos Mortensen (Spain), and Peter Eastgate (Denmark).

The 2011 WSOP will largely be remembered for the ambitious way it was shown on television, with extensive live in-depth coverage for the first time.  The series will also be regarded for the cosmopolitan makeup of players who were the most successful, continuing to broaden the mass appeal of poker’s biggest annual event.