Best Since Black Friday

Black Friday changed everything in the poker world. The online poker scene in the United States, long the breeding ground for poker’s next big stars, was gone and with it went that breeding ground. Poker has carried on though and there have still been a number of players who worked their way up the ranks and are poised to be household names as the game continues to grow.

BLUFF has identified 10 players who have enjoyed a tremendous amount of live success since Black Friday and could very well end up being the next faces of the game.

Note: All data listed is since April 15, 2011

Blair HinkleBlair Hinkle
Winnings: $2,412,767
Cashes: 18
Wins: 3
Final Tables: 8

Since Black Friday Blair Hinkle has won two WSOP Circuit events and the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open last August. His two WSOPC wins, both in Council Bluffs, Iowa, make up just $211,000 of his post-Black Friday earnings. The bulk came from that SHRPO win where he beat Justin Bonomo heads-up for the victory.

When Black Friday hit very few players had as much of their bankroll tied up on Full Tilt Poker as Hinkle did. Having chopped the FTOPS Main Event just weeks before the site was shut down Hinkle had to wait nearly three years to get a seven-figure payout. Rather than move overseas or find a 9-5, Hinkle shifted his focus to the live scene and proved he could hang.

Ole Schemion
Winnings: $4,629,013
Cashes: 38
Wins: 9
Final Tables: 29

Nobody has stormed the live tournament scene since Black Friday quite like Ole Schemion has. The German protégé has had the advantage of being able to play online but he’s been pretty dominant live as well. He’s booked a total of 38 cashes, with 29 of those being a final table appearance and when he gets to the final table he’s not slouch either, winning nine titles in three years.

Most impressive of all is that he’s accomplished those impeccable numbers without being able to play in the World Series of Poker. In 2013, he was contending for BLUFF Player of the Year when the WSOP began and saw his chances slip considerably when others made up points in events he couldn’t enter. He eventually finished fifth in the 2013 race by competing in only 10 months of the year.

Loni Harwood
Winnings: $1,078,344
Cashes: 35
Wins: 5
Final Tables: 14

The 2013 WSOP was a huge coming out party for Loni Harwood. Heading into the WSOP she was grinding away in smaller buy-in events on the WSOP Circuit. She then turned the Amazon Room at the Rio into her own personal playground. She cashed six times, made three final tables and was one of three women to win an open bracelet event after taking down a $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event for just over $600,000.

In pre-Black Friday days Harwood, 24, would have been beating sponsors off with a stick. Rather than bemoan the fact that her success came at a less financially fortunate time than others, Harwood got back on the grind and played the smaller buy-in Circuit events again. Since her WSOP bracelet win she’s cashed 12 times in events with buy-ins ranging from $365 to $10,000.

Mukul Pahuja
Winnings: $2,797,748
Cashes: 50
Wins: 4
Final Tables: 19

Just before Black Friday, Mukul Pahuja was grinding away at his day job in the financial world, dreaming of playing poker for a living. After a decent run on the live scene in early 2011, Pahuja made the decision to pursue his passions and packed up his things and he and his then-girlfriend (now wife) made the move to Florida so Pahuja could play in the growing live poker scene there.

The decision paid off right away with a few decent scores but the experience of focusing on improving his game by playing a high volume of events paid off spectacularly beginning in August 2013. Pahuja finished third in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open, earning $872,625, the biggest score of his career. He’s followed that up with three six-figure cashes since and won the Season XII WPT Player of the Year award.

Dan Smith
Winnings: $5,800,127
Cashes: 43
Wins: 7
Final Tables: 16

In the past three years, Dan Smith has won an impressive collection of high profile, big buy-in poker tournaments around the world. In January 2012, Smith beat an elite field in the Aussie Millions $100,000 Challenge to win $1,012,000. That April he went back-to-back-to-back in $5,000 buy-in side events at the EPT Grand Final.  Then in August he won the Super High Roller Event at EPT Barcelona to add $1,188,933 to his lifetime earnings. He added a $242,293 score at the Partouche Poker Tour Grand Final.

Smith was so successful in 2012 that he was leading the BLUFF Player of the Year race with only one event left on the schedule. For Smith to not win POY, Marvin Rettenmaier would have to finish no worse than second in that last event. Smith’s run good came to a crashing halt when Rettenmaier actually went on to win the event and pass Smith for POY.

After earning more than $250,000 over the first 11 months of 2013, Smith found the winners’ circle in the WPT Five Diamond Poker Classic to win $1,145,735 — the third seven-figure score of his young career.

Ari Engel
Winnings: $959,736
Cashes: 80
Wins: 11
Final Tables: 37

When he was primarily an online player, Ari Engel was known as one of the highest volume tournament grinders in the world. That ability was taken away from him on Black Friday, so Engel put that volume and work ethic to good use and went out on the live tournament circuit. Since April 15, 2011, Engel’s recorded an astounding 80 live cashes, including 42 in 2014 alone.

Nearly half of his cashes in the last three years resulted in final table appearances, and 30 percent of those final tables end in titles for Engel. He’s accrued quite a few frequent flier miles traveling the globe, and he’s had success everywhere he goes. Engel made his first EPT Main Event final table in Prague in 2011, won the Main Event of the Empire State Hold’em Championship at Turning Stone in 2012 and took home an HPT title along with the biggest live cash of his career in St. Louis in November of 2013.

Greg Merson
Winnings: $10,891,242
Cashes: 8
Wins: 2
Final Tables: 2

Greg Merson was predominantly an online cash game player when Black Friday hit, and a lot of his focus rolled over into live cash games rather than tournaments. When he has put his mind to tournaments, however, Merson has been absolutely deadly. Merson recorded just one cash at the 2011 WSOP, but the following year would see him put together one of the most impressive summers in WSOP history.

He owned the 2012 WSOP, starting with a fifth-place finish in the first-ever Four-Max event. Merson then beat out one of the toughest fields of the year in the $10,000 Six Max for $1,136,197 and his first bracelet, but he wasn’t done just yet. His tremendous run would carry through the entirety of that Main Event and into the November Nine, which he’d eventually win for $8.5 million, WSOP POY honors and his second career bracelet.

Merson added almost $1 million to his career earnings at the 2014 PCA, where he finished second in the $25,000 High Roller.

Matt Salsberg
Winnings: $1,400,058
Cashes: 83
Wins: 6
Final Tables: 19

Matt Salsberg doesn’t exactly fit the same mold as some of the other players on this list, but his success since April 2011 is undeniable. The writer and producer of “Weeds” really kicked up his tournament volume after a 70th-place finish in the 2011 WSOP Main Event, to the tune of 83 tournament cashes — primarily in his home state of California, but scattered all over the world.

Salsberg truly rose in prominence for his poker talent instead of his level of celebrity in 2012 when he won the Grand Prix de Paris. He followed that up with back-to-back sixth-place finishes at the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open and WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open, and Salsberg wasn’t done yet. Even though Salsberg narrowly missed out on two other final tables with a seventh-place finish at WPT Venice and a 10th at bestbet Jacksonville, he still earned Season XI WPT Player of the Year honors.

Mohsin Charania
Winnings: $2,815,660
Cashes: 34
Wins: 3
Final Tables: 7

Mohsin Charania had over $3.2 million in lifetime online tournament earnings when Black Friday hit, and though he certainly would have preferred to keep his ability to play online in the U.S., his live career has flourished in the last three years. Charania broke through with the biggest win of his career by far in April of 2012, when he won the EPT Grand Final Main Event for €1,350,000.

Charania made the second WPT final table of his career in September of 2012 in Paris, where he finished fifth. He returned one year later to win the very same tournament, adding a WPT title to his EPT win from the year before. In between his two final tables in the Grand Prix de Paris, Charania made a run at a WSOP bracelet too, finishing sixth. Even though he’s spent the majority of his time in the States since 2011, Charania’s still managed to add over $900,000 to his lifetime total online.

Anthony Gregg
Winnings: $7,253,500
Cashes: 13
Wins: 2
Final Tables: 7

Anthony Gregg’s profile reads similarly to his friend Greg Merson’s, though his online tournament results are a bit stronger. He was on quite a tear in the leadup to Black Friday with a Sunday Million victory in January, a Sunday 500 win in March and a second-place finish in the $100 rebuy just five days before Black Friday. That would be an impressive career for some players, but Gregg was just getting started.

Gregg finished sixth in the 2012 PCA Main Event, which was the second time he made that final table, and he won his a WPT title at the Parx Casino in Pennsylvania that August. 2013 would be the pinnacle of Gregg’s poker career, as he netted almost $1 million in the €25,000 High Roller at the EPT Grand Final and then topped that in a big way at the WSOP. That’s where Gregg claimed one of the biggest prizes in poker history by taking down the $111,111 One Drop High Roller for $4,830,619.

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