he first-annual Card Player Player of the Year awards show was held in Hollywood,
on Feb. 15, 2006. The event, created by Card Player's Barry Shulman and sponsored
by Bodog.com, was put on to honor the player of the year as well as other poker
standouts. It was a first-class, gala affair that was a night to remember.
The invitation-only evening started with the players walking the red carpet for the press
and paparazzi. Then, there was an open-bar cocktail party, followed by the awards show.
The master of ceremonies for the evening was Brad Garrett, from the Ray Romano show.
Unless you've seen Brad do stand-up comedy, there's no way you would realize how
funny he is. And on this night, it was a no-holds-barred attack on poker players - and
they loved it.
A couple lines included: "I see Gabe Kaplan is in the house.
I think he had some kind of hit show when I was a fetus." "And Amir Vahedi is here
I met him in flight school." And, of course, he brutalized Mike Matusow: "Mike Matusow's
raising his hand. I see he still has the cuffs on."
The Player of the Year award is determined by a yearlong point system. It's one of
poker's most prestigious awards, and the 2005 winner was Men "The Master" Nguyen.
Incredibly, "The Master" has won that award four times in nine years!
That is amazing to me. Hats off to Men"The Master."
Players were nominated and voted on by the top players for awards in various
categories, and the top three vote-getters in each category were the finalists. Phil Ivey
was the big dog of the night, as he won three categories (Best No-Limit Hold'em Player,
Best Heads-Up Player, and Most-Feared Player). Chip Reese won two (Best Cash-Game
Player and Best Mixed-Game Player). Other awards went to Daniel Negreanu
(People's Choice Award for Favorite Player, as voted on by the public), Jennifer Harman (Best Female Player), Michael Gracz (Breakthrough Player), Allen
Cunningham (Most Underrated Player), Jennifer Tilly (Favorite Celebrity Player), Mike Matusow (Most Entertaining Player), and me (Poker Ambassador).
The highlight of the evening was Doyle Brunson receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award. The standing ovation he got was spine-tingling. Everyone in the
room showed appreciation for what Doyle has meant to poker over the past 40 years. It was fun seeing clips of Doyle as a young athlete (an amazing one, I
might add), and those of his distinguished poker career. His award was a well-deserved honor. Congratulations, Doyle!
I must say that I was quite flattered to win the Poker Ambassador award. At this stage of my career, I can think of no greater honor. The top three nominees
in this category were Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, and me, and topping those guys in any poker category is a thrill. Although we were the three
nominees, there are several other people who have given so much of themselves to take poker to a higher level who also might have been included on the
list of nominees. They include people like Linda Johnson, Mike Caro, Steve Lipscomb, Barry Greenstein, Barry Shulman, Jack Binion, Roy Cooke, and,
certainly, the past three world champions of poker - Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, and Joe Hachem - who have been great ambassadors for poker.
I owe a great deal of this award to a number of people who have aided me in my career. Let's start with my family, especially my father (Ray) and my brother
(Tom). They've always been my biggest supporters.
Much of the credit for my success in moving to the business side of poker goes to Linda Johnson. She once owned Card Player and hired me to write for the
magazine in 1996. (I haven't missed a column since.) That notoriety as a writer gave me credibility within the industry to create the Tournament of Champions
of Poker (TOC), which was held from 1999 to 2001. Putting that tournament on was a dream come true for me, and Chuck Humphrey was very helpful in
making that event happen. It was the TOC that led me to my jobs with PartyPoker.com and the World Poker Tour, and the success of both of those
companies has been truly amazing.
WPT founder Steve Lipscomb deserves a part of my Poker Ambassador award, as well. I never would have won the award without him hiring me to be a
commentator on the World Poker Tour. (Incidentally, I had no previous broadcast experience prior to him hiring me, so he really did take a shot on me.
Fortunately, his instincts worked out well for both of us.) That job put me in the spotlight, was the reason I wrote Shuffle Up and Deal (a book that made The
New York Times best-seller list), enabled me to teach at WPT Boot Camps, and provided me a platform from which I could talk about the virtues of poker to
both the media and the public.
I always tell anyone who will listen that the World Poker Tour is the primary reason for the growth of poker, and certainly the Travel Channel gets some credit,
as well. It put poker on its schedule in prime time on a weekly basis (Wednesday night is now "poker night" across America), and the popularity of poker
exploded soon thereafter.
If I had one wish as poker ambassador, it would be that all players treat the game, their opponents, and the dealers and poker room staffs, with dignity and
respect. Behaving properly should be a goal of all players. I also believe that everyone who makes a living in the poker industry should automatically be an
ambassador of the game, especially those who have become millionaires from playing poker. Think of the hundreds of thousands of players who dream
about becoming millionaires by playing a game they love. In my opinion, those who have succeeded and those who will succeed in the future have an
obligation to conduct themselves in a professional manner, give back to the game, and be goodwill ambassadors for poker.
Again, I want to thank everyone who voted for me and everyone who made it possible for me to even be nominated for such a prestigious award. In my view,
winning the Poker Ambassador award is the highest honor in poker. It was a night to remember.