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 2012.

The 2012 World Series of Poker was the most expansive in history, both in terms of attendance and prize money.  It also featured the biggest buy-in tournament and single payout in poker history.

It would be hard to imagine anything in poker ever outshining the Main Event, which has been poker’s World Championship since 1970.  That said, the inaugural Big One for One Drop tournament raised anticipation and enthusiasm levels to new highs with the creation of what many thought was a preposterous notion – a $1 million buy-in poker tournament with a charitable component.

Guy Laliberte, the co-founder of the famed Cirque du Soleil global empire, sought a partner and a host for a special charity event that he hoped would raise millions for the noble cause of bringing fresh water to millions of less-fortunate people in the developing world.  Caesars Interactive Entertainment, headed by Mitch Garber, stepped up and made it all happen.  The $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop was not only a complete sell out, it also raised more than $7.2 million for the One Drop Foundation.

Aside from poker’s elevation to new heights and its proud association with a noble cause, the action at the tables was pretty spectacular, as well.  Antonio Esfandiari enjoyed basking in the brightest spotlight of the year, winning a staggering $18,346,673 in prize money – easily surpassing the previous high mark for any single poker win previously set by Jamie Gold when he won $12 million in the 2006 WSOP Main Event.  Esfandiari’s victory in the Big One for One Drop was seen on ESPN.  Millions watched as the popular poker pro nicknamed “The Magician” performed some magic of his own and was carried off the stage by a cheering crowd.

The WSOP schedule included 61 gold bracelet events.  Several notable feats were accomplished, with some well-known names writing familiar headlines.

Phil Hellmuth continued to distance himself from the rest of the poker world by winning his (then) 12th gold bracelet, putting him ahead by two wins in the chase with rivals Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan.  Hellmuth also managed to break a pattern by winning a non-Hold’em even for the first time.  He won the $2,500 Razz event, proving to whatever critics remain that he can play and excel in other games, aside from Hold’em.

What made Hellmuth's win all the more memorable was that it occurred simultaneously with a near-miss from Phil Ivey.  The two Phils each battled heads-up on opposite sides of the Rio Convention Center with fans ducking back and forth between the rooms to see who would prevail. While Ivey came up short, finishing second to Andy Frankenberger, Hellmuth prevailed in his first-ever non-Hold'em event, winning the Razz bracelet.

Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi also proved something, becoming the first player ever to win the prestigious Chip Reese Memorial Trophy two times, given for his triumph for the second time in the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship (HORSE).  Mizrachi added to his growing legacy with this third gold bracelet victory, just eight months after winning his second title the previous year at WSOP Europe.

Allyn Jaffrey-Shulman made her mark on the poker world, winning the largest Seniors Championship in history.  The attorney-writer and poker rights advocate topped a huge field of more than 4,000 players, winning her first WSOP victory.  Perhaps just as memorable was Jaffrey-Shulman finally breaking the curse of non-female winners in events open to both sexes.  Until her win, no woman had won an event other than the Ladies Championship during the span from 2008-2012, which included 248 events.  

Matt Matros, a part-time poker player and writer from New York City also deserves mention.  He managed to win a gold bracelet for the third consecutive year, no small feat in this era of tough players and huge fields.  Matros topped more than 1,600 players in the $1,500 buy-in Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em event.

Several other notable names won gold bracelets, including Andy Bloch, John Monnette, Brian Hastings, Andy Frankenberger, Ylon Schwartz, Larry Wright, Carter Phillips, David “Bakes” Baker, Max Steinberg, Chris Tryba, David “ODB” Baker, Peter Vilandos, Vanessa Selbst, Dominik Nitsche, and Nick Schulman.

The Main Event turnout remained consistent with numbers from the post-boom era.  Nearly 6,500 players posted the $10,000 buy-in, which was in line with numbers from the previous five years.

The Main Event also included a potentially historic moment, which didn’t quite happen.  When the tournament played down to the last 11 players, two females were still alive and seemingly destined to make history.  This prompted the very real possibility that not only would a woman make the final table for only the second time ever, it was actually quite possible that two women would take seats in that year’s November Nine.  

Unfortunately, the dream didn’t come true for either Elisabeth Hille, who finished 11th, or Gaelle Baumann, who ended up finishing 10th.  To date, Barbara Enright remains the only woman in history to make the Main Event final table, which occurred in 1995.

Still, some dreams did come true.  The November Nine was particularly kind to American players.  The previous year, just three Americans were represented among the final nine.  In 2012, eight Americans took seats at the championship table, with Andras Koroknai of Hungary as the lone international representative.

Greg Merson came into the Main Event with some serious momentum.  He won his first gold bracelet, which paid more than $1.1 million just days before the championship started.  That alone would have accounted for a hugely successful series.  However, big things were just beginning for Merson, who rolled past 6,494 players en route to the World Championship and another $8,531,853 in prize money.  

Two gold bracelet victories and the World Championship title might seem like the Player of the Year race was a walk in the park for Merson, but in actuality, it was a contest that came down to the wire.  Merson left Las Vegas with the lead after making the November Nine, but early in WSOP Europe action, Esfandiari won his third bracelet to move to the front of the pack.  That time on top only lasted a week or so though, as Phil Hellmuth added another bracelet to his tally, winning the WSOP Europe Main Event title and bracelet #13.  That win put the pressure on Merson, as he could only take the POY title if he won.  Clutch under pressure, Merson did just that, capping off one of the most impressive runs in WSOP history.

The 2012 WSOP will be remembered among the most successful in history.  Not only were the numbers higher than ever, a new standard of excellence was established with the creation of the Big One for One Drop tournament, which did so much good (and continues to do so) for many people we shall never meet, but who nonetheless shall benefit immensely from those kind souls who come and participate in the World Series of Poker.