Let’s be honest…2021 has been a pretty tough year for the tournament poker world (not as bad as 2020, however). We started the year with nothing going on except the hopes that the new COVID vaccines would allow players to get back to the felt. That gradually did, but the season has been beset with variants of the virus rearing their ugly head and, perhaps a worse plague, the only tournaments that seemed to go on were the “High Roller” events that have begun to dominate the tournament poker calendar.
But there were still some big moments during the year. While we could recount the “top players” of 2021 and give you a countdown, we have decided to head in a different direction. What follows are the three players, in no particular order, that were the most notable over the span of 2021. Yes, they all won major poker tournaments, but they also overcame obstacles along the way that added to their achievements. Without further ado, here are the top three most notable players of 2021.
Michael Addamo – Hot Streaks DO Still Exist
Prior to 2021, Michael Addamo was a name that maybe your hard-core poker fan was aware of. From 2018-2020, Addamo was able to earn north of $2 million per year, but you couldn’t say that he really became a known commodity in the poker world (possibly because his major victories came at the Aussie Millions in 2020 and in the online Super High Roller Bowl in June 2020). That all would change within an extremely brief period of time this fall.
Within the span of two days in September, Addamo demonstrated his vast array of skills. In the “elite clique” that the PokerGO Tour has become, and in particular the Poker Masters tournaments, Addamo did something that had never been achieved before. He had not cashed in the event leading up to Event #11 on the schedule, the $50,000 No Limit Hold’em event. But Addamo would dominate on this day, taking down the championship and a $680,000 payday for his efforts.
Most would have been satisfied with that effort, but Addamo went from the trophy ceremony right into the Main Event of the Poker Masters, the $100,000 Championship Event. Once again, Addamo would dominated en route to winning that event for a $1.16 million bounty. The back-to-back victories took him from not even on the leaderboard for the Poker Masters “Player of the Series” event to the victor, earning him another $50K on top of his earnings.
Addamo was not done, however. Ten days later, the 2021 Super High Roller Bowl, a $300,000 buy-in tournament, would take to the stage in Las Vegas. Once again, Addamo was on the top of his game. He would cruise to another championship there, taking home $3.4 million for his work, making his total take for the month of September more than $5 million.
If that were not enough to earn Addamo mention on our list here, he then went to the 2021 World Series of Poker and crushed all opposition. He would win BOTH High Roller tournaments on the schedule at the WSOP –$50,000 and $100,000 events – to earn another $3 million-plus. Toss in several other top finishes in the Aria High Roller series and Addamo has made almost $10 million in 2021, more than doubling his previous career earnings.
Miles Rampel – Out of the Shadows
The story of Miles Rampel is one of the best from the 2021 tournament poker season. A guy who himself admitted that he was not a professional poker player, Rampel and some friends decided to come to Las Vegas for what young people often come to Las Vegas for – a vacation spent in the clubs and gambling it up on the tables.
Rampel had another idea, however. While he was ready to gamble, he was going to the penthouse for his enjoyment. Rampel decided to take his shot, as young gamblers are wont to do, in the $25,000 Pot Limit Omaha event at the Poker Masters series that Addamo would later crush. Addamo did not appear in the Omaha event, however, which set the stage for Rampel to amaze.
Rampel’s anonymity was possibly his biggest advantage. Because the Poker Masters tournaments – and most High Roller events – are a cliquish collection of roughly three dozen players, nobody knew what to think of the young kid at the final table. It really did not matter what the opposition thought – Rampel was able to run roughshod over more experienced players such as Sean Winter, Ben Lamb, Jeremy Ausmus and Stephen Chidwick, to take home the first-place prize of $365,500.
So, what did Rampel do after his victory? Went right back into the shadows from whence he emerged. He did no interviews, he did not play another event on the Poker Masters schedule that week, he has not played ANY major tournament poker since his victory. A look at his Hendon Mob resume has that lone victory at the Poker Masters as his sole “achievement” in tournament poker.
That is the way that tournament poker used to be. Poker players would be more interested in cash games, where the players would make their REAL money, and the tournaments were a nice sidelight for players. Rampel, after that massive score, has seemingly gone back to his $2/$5 cash game in California. Will we ever see him again? I would prefer that he never did return to tournament poker – it would ruin the illusion that Miles Rampel has created in what was a magical year for him.
Vanessa Kade – Overcoming Obstacles and Becoming a Powerful Advocate
To say that Vanessa Kade has had a tumultuous year would be a massive understatement.
2021 started for Kade, who toiled as a poker player and affiliate entrepreneur, with the loss of one of her major forms of income. After the site she was an affiliate for, GGPoker, signed a deal with media figure Dan Bilzerian, Kade was a very outspoken opponent of the move. She railed across social media about the misogynist Bilzerian, prompting him to use Twitter to disparage her by saying, “Quiet hoe (sic), nobody knows who you are.”
Instead of acting against their new “ambassador” (who did little to help GGPoker improve its station in the poker world over the past year), GGPoker chose to instead terminate Kade’s affiliate relationship and refused to pay her any further for players she had brought to the site. That was the catalyst for a series of events that has seen Kade become a powerful figure in the poker community.
Following the termination of her affiliate contract, Kade would be signed as an ambassador for America’s Cardroom, but even bigger things were on the horizon. Vanessa would justify her signing by America’s Cardroom by winning the PokerStars Sunday Million 15th Anniversary event in March. Kade emerged victorious over a field of nearly 70K to win more than $1.5 million. She did it with class, also; during heads up play, Kade’s opponent disconnected from the tournament with computer issues, and Kade slowed her play down as much as possible to allow for her opponent to rejoin the match.
This was not all that Kade did in tournament poker for the year. She would make the final table of two events at the 2021 U. S. Poker Open and one tournament at the 2021 PokerGO Cup festivities. At the 2021 WSOP, Vanessa cashed in seven events (two online), with a 19th place run in the $5000 Six Handed No Limit Hold’em event as the highlight of her series. She would continue to show considerable class as, during the run of the WSOP, she showed symptoms of having contracted COVID; instead of trying to play on, she withdrew from all events she had planned to play so, if she were COVID positive, that she would not infect other players.
Throughout 2021, Kade has handled adversity head-on, taking the slings and arrows of many while she advocates for what she believes to be right. Vanessa has also shown that she has outstanding skills on the felt itself…you do not win a 70,000-person tournament by luck. The poker world is always in need of excellent advocates for the game and for its place in the world, and Kade is definitely stating her case to be one of those advocates that can draw respect to the poker community…more so than the person that GGPoker chose to represent them.