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 most memorable moments from 2009.

The 2008 World Series of Poker may have ushered in poker’s youth movement, producing more young players and winners than ever before, but the following series in 2009 established that the young guns were not just a trend, they were the new norm.

Not only were the twenty-somethings of poker the rage of the Rio, younger players and gold bracelet winners came to alter the image of what the consummate poker pro was supposed to look like, shifting from a middle-aged male to a considerably more youthful face, the type who learned the game via the computer and online poker games.

Leading the charge of change in 2009 was Joe Cada, the 21-year-old winner of the Main Event that year.  He became the youngest World Champion in history, eclipsing Peter Eastgate’s “youngest winner ever” record just one year after it was set.  Cada topped a 6,494-player field and collected $8,547,044 for the victory.
Success at the WSOP was not exclusively reserved for the young though.  Russian poker player Vitaly Lunkin got off to a roaring start by winning the first open event, the special $40,000 buy-in 40th Anniversary Championship event, which paid the largest prize of his poker career, amounting to $1,891,018.  In fact, Lunkin enjoyed a huge series – winning the opener, then posting a second-place showing in a $10K buy-in event as well as a fourth-place finish in the ultra-prestigious $50K Poker Players Championship.  Lunkin also cashed in the Main Event, racking up five cashes in all, including three final table appearances.

Hard to believe, but Lunkin’s feat wasn’t nearly enough to win Player of the Year award.  That esteemed honor went to Jeffrey Lisandro, who enjoyed an even bigger series, with three gold bracelet victories.  Lisandro’s three wins wrapped up a Stud-based Triple Crown of sorts, giving him wins in all three forms of that poker variant – Seven-Card Stud, Eight-or-Better, and Razz.  Lisandro cashed six times and became the first triple winner since Phil Ivey accomplished the same feat at the 2002 WSOP.  Lisandro remains the last three-time winner within a single year at the WSOP.

Remarkably, in addition to Lisandro  three other players were multiple gold bracelet winners: Brock Parker, Greg Mueller, and Phil Ivey.

Proving that poker is a game of skill, several big names in poker enjoyed success, with gold bracelets going to pros like Jason Mercier, Phil Ivey, Keven Stammen, Brock Parker, Daniel Alaei, J.P. Kelly, Nick Schulman, Peter Vilandos, Roland De Wolfe, Leo Wolpert, J.C. Tran, John Kabbaj, Eric Baldwin, Brandon Cantu, David Bach, and Abe Mosseri.
The 2009 Main Event Championship included a bit of controversy.  As had been the case for four years, four starting days were needed to accommodate the big turnout.  While there were smaller turnouts on the first three starting days, the fourth and final starting day saw a deluge of players descend on the Rio. With not enough tables to accommodate the crowd, the event was declared a sell out.  This remains the only WSOP Main Event where players were turned away from competing.

Nonetheless, the Main Event continued as planned, with the largest number of starting chips ever given to players.  Chip stacks were tripled to 30,000 from the previous year, which was double the buy-in (20,000 in chips).

Cada may have taken the Main Event title, but the real star of the 2009 Main Event final table was Phil Ivey.  The first big name pro to make the November Nine, Ivey ahd already won two bracelets and was having a marquee summer before the Main Event even began.  As the field played down to the final table, all eyes were on a short-stacked Ivey, waiting to see if he could make the final nine.  Ivey made it to the final table short on chips, but even though he was low in the count, he was all poker fans could talk about in the break between the summer and the finale.  Though, the monster chip leader, a lumberjack from Western Maryland named Darvin Moon, was drawing a fair amount of attention.  The amateur turned a satellite seat from a West Virginia casino into a November Nine berth, but even with the big stack, Moon came up short, finishing second to Cada.

It was a year of multiple bracelet winners, pros returning the winner's circle, and an onslaught of young pros like Joe Cada redefining what it meant to be a poker pro.  Even in the midst of a global recession, poker seemed to be doing just fine.  Little did poker fans know, the next year would only be bigger.

Postscript:  Just days before this article was published, 2009 World Champion Joe Cada won his second career gold bracelet.  Ironically, just one day later, Eric Buchman, the fourth-place finisher that year, won his second gold bracelet.